'The Dry'.

Eric Bana in ‘The Dry.’

Roadshow will launch Robert Connolly’s The Dry on January 1 and Glendyn Ivin’s Penguin Bloom on January 21, raising exhibitors’ hopes of a strong start to the year on the proviso that a raft of Hollywood titles are not postponed.

Seeing gaps in the market, Roadshow moved up Connolly’s crime thriller adapted from the Jane Harper novel, starring Eric Bana, Genevieve O’Reilly, Keir O’Donnell and John Polson, from April.

The distributor shifted Ivin’s drama starring Naomi Watts, Andrew Lincoln and Jacki Weaver, adapted from Bradley Trevor Greive and Cameron Bloom’s novel, which had been scheduled for New Year’s Day, to the Australia Day long weekend.

The Dry is a great addition for Roadshow,” says Wallis Cinema’s Bob Parr, adding that it would be a disaster for cinemas if more Hollywood tentpoles such as Warner Bros’ Wonder Woman 1984 and Universal’s No Time to Die went straight to streaming.

Hoyts Group CEO Damian Keogh welcomed The Dry’s dating but tells IF: “With global COVID-19 numbers currently at a record high, particularly in the US and western Europe, we are anticipating more Hollywood movies may move back from the traditional Christmas and Boxing day release schedule.

“This is not good news for the struggling local industry. Without the Federal Government JobKeeper program, which is subsidising labour costs, the majority of Australian cinemas would currently be closed. Certainly Hoyts would be.”

Expressing similar doubts, Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace GM Alex Temesvari said: “As for the holiday season line up, I’m not holding my breath.

” While I applaud Roadshow for dating The Dry on January 1, which is a great date for what is clearly a quality and mainstream film, we simply cannot trust almost any other release date currently set and it would be foolish to act like any of those dates are a sure thing. 

“I’ve instructed my team to act as if the big Hollywood films don’t exist until further notice and while we remain committed to showing the best of the films that are on offer we’re equally focused on promoting the Orpheum as a multi-purpose live venue and have many live shows on offer before the end of the year including concerts, live comedy, musical theatre, live opera and more.”

Village Cinemas national programing manager Geoff Chard said: “If every film holds its current release date it will be a cracking December/January, but with the US situation deteriorating each day we need to be prepared for some of these films to be pushed out once again.

“As a consequence, it makes films like The Dry and Penguin Bloom even more important to the release calendar. So we thank our friends at Roadshow for showing faith in the industry and releasing these titles into the market.”

‘The War With Grandpa.’

Pre-pandemic, Roadshow Films originally intended to launch The Dry in August and after numerous changes to the release calendar opted for January 1. “It seems like a phenomenal opportunity to position a major Australian film, which has all the ingredients to be a summer blockbuster, for the holiday corridor,” CEO Joel Pearlman says.

“It also give us the opportunity to bring Penguin Bloom to audiences for the Australia Day weekend and we envisage strong playability for this eagerly awaited film.”

Majestic Cinemas’ CEO Kieren Dell is confident of strong Christmas/New Year trading if release dates hold. Observing the broad mix of movies, he said: “There will be something for everyone, so the success of the summer period will rely more on whether people feel comfortable coming to the cinema and what any capacity restrictions are.  There is not a lot of other product waiting in the wings. So we really need the existing schedule to hold to have a good summer.”

The slate includes action-adventures Wonder Woman 1984, Monster Hunter, Mortal Kombat and The 355; family/animation Peter Rabbit 2, The Croods 2, Dragon Rider, Connected and The Witches; comedies SuperIntelligence and The War with Grandpa; and dramas Death on the Nile, Nomadland, Promising Young Woman, Summerland and News of the World.

Connolly is delighted with the prime holiday date for The Dry, observing: “It’s a wonderful opportunity to encourage people to go safely back to cinemas.”

Produced by Made Up Stories’ Bruna Papandrea, Jodi Matterson and Steve Hutensky and adapted by Connolly and Harry Cripps from Harper’s novel, the thriller stars Bana as Aaron Falk, a federal cop who returns to his country hometown to attend the funeral of his childhood friend Luke.

The local cops believe Luke killed his wife and child before taking his own life. Falk reluctantly agrees to look into the crime but the investigation opens an old wound — the death of Ellie Deacon, Aaron and Luke’s childhood friend.

When he starts to suspect these two crimes, two decades apart, are connected, he finds himself pitted against the prejudice and pent-up rage of a terrified community.

O’Reilly plays Falk’s childhood friend Gretchen, with O’Donnell as the local detective Raco and Polson as the school’s headmaster Scott Whitlam.

Produced by Emma Cooper, Watts and Made Up Stories’ Papandrea, Matterson and Hutensky, Penguin Bloom had its world premiere in Toronto, garnering rave reviews.

Watts plays Sam Bloom, who broke her back after a railing snapped and fell head-first six metres onto a concrete floor while holidaying with her family in Thailand in 2013.

After being diagnosed as a paraplegic, she slipped into depression and hopelessness until her son Noah found a frail, injured magpie chick. By caring for the little bird, which the family named Penguin for her black and white plumage, she regained her strength and confidence. Lincoln plays her husband Cameron with Weaver as her mother Jan.

Dell added a sobering note: “I think it will take two-to-three good years to reverse the effects of 2020.”

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