Six Australian films will screen at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) next month following the overnight announcement that Around the Block and Canopy have been selected.

Both will have their world premieres as part of the festival’s Discovery program, which showcases works by “‘directors to watch: The future of world cinema.”

First-time writer/director Sarah Spillane’s Around the Block is the saga of an Aboriginal boy who is torn between his love of acting and the disintegration of his family. Hunter Page-Lochard, whose credits include The Sapphires and Bran Nue Dae, plays the lead alongside Christina Ricci as his unconventional, American-born drama teacher. Jack Thompson, Matt Nable, Damian Walshe-Howling and Daniel Henshall round out the key cast.

Produced by Brian Rosen and Su Armstrong, the film will open in Australia on November 7, distributed by Michael Wrenn's Greenlight Releasing. Rosen tells IF it will debut on 30-35 screens then expand to 50-60. International sales agent Arclight Films will introduce the film to international buyers at the Toronto festival’s market.

A WW2 drama set during the Japanese invasion of Singapore, Canopy marks the feature debut of writer/director Aaron Wilson. The plot follows an Australian fighter pilot (Khan Chittenden) who is shot down in combat and is forced to navigate through enemy territory in search of sanctuary. Taiwanese actor Mo Tzu-Yi plays a Singapore-Chinese resistance fighter who joins him in the struggle to survive.

The Australia–Singapore collaboration is produced by Katrina Fleming. Wilson has made numerous short films with a minimalist approach to narrative, including Rendezvous, Ten Feet Tall, Wind (Feng), Faux Pas and Leap Year. He works as a director at Airbag Productions in Melbourne.

Wilson said, “The project really began in 2006 through a personal connection with Singapore, evolving from of my work on my short film Wind. My producer and I met many Singaporeans whose families – like many in Australia, including our own – are still living with the legacy of WW2. The project developed into a passion for telling a personal account of war told through the eyes of two men, a pairing, symbolic of the shared history between Australia and Singapore.”

Michael Favelle’s Odin’s Eye Entertainment is handling international sales and will rep the film in Toronto. The film has just been completed and hasn't yet been shown to Australian distributors. 

Those two titles join four Australian films already announced to screen at TIFF: The Railway Man, Felony, Mystery Road and Tracks.

Spillane, Page-Lochard and Thompson will attend Q&A screenings in Toronto. The son of Bangarra Dance Theatre artistic director Stephen Page, Hunter is doing a screenwriting course at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School.

Rosen predicts, “He will become Australia’s premier indigenous filmmaker in the next 10 years and I will do everything I can to help him succeed.”

Test screenings in Australia have shown Around the Block appeals most strongly to women aged 30 plus. Rosen said the marketing campaign will target that demographic via social media and word-of-mouth screenings. “Toronto is the perfect place to launch the film as it has quite a universal story,” he said.

Wrenn said, "This is a wonderfully touching and life-affirming film told with great verve and wit. This is a positive and powerful message that addresses some of Australia’s and the world’s most important current events as well as long-standing issues."

Ricci was part of the voice cast of The Smurfs 2 and is set to begin work on US indie relationships drama Mother's Day with Sharon Stone and Susan Sarandon.

Heightening the Oz presence in Toronto, Australia is a guest country at the Producers Lab Toronto. Australian producers Melanie Coombs and Matthew Dabner will take part in pitching sessions, case studies and round-tables over the four-day event. TIFF runs September 5-15.


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