Festival accolades have translated to a significant commercial deal for first-time director Kim Mordaunt’s Laos-set feature The Rocket, which will be released in US cinemas nationwide in the northern autumn.

The deal was negotiated at the Cannes Film Market last week with US distributor Kino Lorber by Tine Klint of Danish-based international sales agent LevelK. That’s the fifth Australian film to secure theatrical release in the US this year, or six if The Great Gatsby is included. The Sapphires has raked in $US2 million after nine weeks, now playing on 102 screens, for The Weinstein Co. 

Dada Films gave P. J. Hogan’s Mental a token exposure at 12 screens in key cities in March, released on the same day on Video-On-Demand platforms. Kieran Darcy-Smith’s Wish You Were Here premieres on June 7 via eOne and Wrekin Hill Entertainment will launch Ben Nott and Morgan O’Neill’s Drift in August.

The Rocket will have its Australian premiere at the Sydney Film Festival next month and will debut in cinemas on August 29 via Curious Film. Hailing the US deal, producer Sylvia Wilczynski of Red Lamp Films said, “We're really happy that our film is in the very capable and dedicated hands of Kino Lorber and that a wide US and Canadian audience will have the chance to see it.”

Kino Lorber will release the film on digital, VOD and home media platforms in 2014.

The plot revolves around a boy, Ahlo, a twin, who fears he is cursed because his tribe is convinced twins bring bad luck. To try to disprove that belief, he sets out to build a giant rocket to compete in the lucrative but dangerous Rocket Festival.

Writer-director Mordaunt, Thai-based casting director Raweeporn Jungmeier and location casting director Tanawat Punya auditioned children in schools, markets, temples, drama and youth groups and on the streets. They cast 10-year-old Sitthiphon Disamoe to play Ahlo and eight-year-old Loungnam Kaosainam as his friend Kia. Veteran Lao/Thai actor and comedian Thep Phongam plays Purple, a former CIA soldier who becomes a mentor to the young hero.

At this year’s TriBeca Film Festival in New York the film and won best narrative feature, the audience award for best narrative film and best actor in a narrative feature for Disamoe. At the Berlinale festival in February, it nabbed the gongs for best first feature, the Amnesty International prize and the Crystal Bear for best feature in the Generation KPlus section.

“Very few Australian films get a cinema release in the US and I think early on in the production nobody would have expected that The Rocket would be one of the few that do, being set in a country most Americans have never heard of, so far away, with a modest budget and in Lao language,”  Wilczynski told IF.  “But Kim and I always aimed to make a film that would be accessible to a wide audience, not an ‘Arthouse’ with a capital A film. We wanted to make a universal story that anyone could relate to whilst also enabling the audience to enter a world they have never seen before.  Americans (and Australians) love an underdog story, and New York audiences responded to The Rocket's fresh take on this; they were so taken with the guts and ‘never give up’ attitude of the main character Ahlo that they loved the film.

”Once we started seeing the response of audiences at TriBeca, reading the flood of great press out there, and seeing it at the top of the daily audience favourites, we knew it would have a strong chance at a release in America. And when the film won the awards at TriBeca – especially the Audience Award – we knew it would happen. There were  many offers and it was a case of collaborating with the distributor who would treat the film with the love and care it needs and hand-craft a release that suits this film. Kino Lorber is the perfect fit.”

As for the next project from Red Lamp, Sylvia says, “It is a love story set between Australia and an international location, within the context of the legacy of war.  That is a theme we simply cannot leave.”

Read more here: 

The Rocket wins best debut feature film at Berlin Film Festival

The Rocket bags a number of awards at TriBeca

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