Umbrella Entertainment keeps faith in Oz films and documentaries
‘In Like Flynn.’
Robert Slaviero has joined Umbrella Entertainment as head of sales as the distributor continues its commitment to release a sizable slate of Australian feature films and documentaries.
While some distributors have largely shied away from handling local films Umbrella is keeping the faith with three titles scheduled to open in October and eight on the slate for 2019.
“We like working with people who are passionate about their work and who have a commercial sensibility,” Umbrella MD Jeff Harrison tells IF, pointing to collaborators including Causeway Films’ Kristina Ceyton and Sam Jennings, Catherine Scott, Carver Films’ Sarah Shaw and Anna McLeish, Paul Ireland and Damian Hill, Steve Jaggi and Justin Dix. “We are very happy with what we’re doing.”
Head of acquisitions Ari Harrison says the firm evaluates up to 50 scripts at any one time and he laments the shortage of projects aimed at older females. “People still want to watch Australian films; we just have to make good ones,” Ari says.
Slaviero, the former MD of Studiocanal who took over from Dov Kornits last month, worked on the campaign for Mark Grentell’s The Merger. The AFL football-themed comedy-drama has grossed a disappointing $317,000 in 12 days, including festival screenings, despite glowing reviews following its MIFF premiere.
The distributor was hoping for more and with hindsight believes the release date coinciding with AFL and country finals in a crowded theatrical market may have made it hard to reach males. However Harrison expects healthy DVD sales this Christmas and is confident of securing pay TV and free-to-air deals.
Russell Mulcahy’s Errol Flynn biopic In Like Flynn, which stars Thomas Cocquerel, Corey Large, William Moseley, Clive Standen, Callan Mulvey, Isabel Lucas and David Wenham, opens on more than 70 screens on October 11.
Jeff Harrison says it’s a fun film which looks at Flynn before he became a Hollywood star as he searches for gold, braving cannibals and crocodiles in Papua New Guinea.
Lliam Worthington’s One Less God, which chronicles the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks from both the perspective of the terrorists and victims, starring Joseph Mahler, Taylor Kieran, Reilly O’Byrne-Inglis and Nathan Kaye, will launch on the same day following Q&A screenings.
Catherine Scott’s Backtrack Boys, which examines a youth program run by rule-breaking jackaroo Bernie Shakeshaft on the outskirts of Armidale NSW, will open on around 50 screens on October 25. Voted as the top feature documentary at MIFF, the film will make audiences laugh and cry, Harrison predicts.
The first quarter 2019 slate includes Nicholas Wrathall’s Undermined: Tales from the Kimberley, which tells of the David-and- Goliath battle between Indigenous peoples and mining companies and agribusinesses.
Set in rural Cambodia, Rodd Rathjen’s debut feature Buoyancy follows a young Cambodian boy who is sold to a Thai broker and enslaved on a fishing trawler, produced by Causeway Films.
Nathan Phillips, Alyssa Sutherland and Christopher Kirby star in Blood Vessel, Justin Dix’s survival horror/thriller which looks at the survivors of a torpedoed hospital ship in the north Atlantic in 1945. Adrift on a life raft with no food or water, the crew boards an abandoned German minesweeper and discovers it houses a frantic German sailor, Nazi treasure and two vampires.
Disney Channel star Sofia Wylie makes her feature film debut in Louise Alston’s Back of the Net, produced by the Steve Jaggi Company. Sofia plays a schoolgirl who coaches her soccer team of no-hopers in competition with the school’s star player (Tiarnie Coupland).
Damian Hill and Paul Ireland, the creative team behind Pawno, reunited for M4M, a modern take on the Shakespeare play ‘Measure for Measure’ set in Melbourne’s commission flats. Hugo Weaving plays crime boss Duke, with Megan Smart as a young Muslim woman who has a romance with a loner musician.
Dee McLachlan’s The Wheel is set in a near future where prisoners are the subjects of scientific experiments, starring David Arquette, Jackson Gallagher and Kendal Rae.
Natalie Erika James is getting ready to shoot her debut feature, psychological horror movie Relic, co-written with Christian White. Produced by Carver Films’ Sarah Shaw and Anna McLeish and a US producer who is yet to be revealed, the film will centre on three generations of women – daughter, mother and grandmother – who are haunted by a manifestation of aged dementia that takes over their family home.
John Cleese, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Angus McLaren and Natasha Liu Bordizzo star in producer/director Alan Lindsay’s The Naked Wanderer, which was shot in WA. The romantic comedy follows a heartbroken young man who decides to walk 4,000km up the coast naked for charity with the secret goal of making his ex-girlfriend jealous.
Serge Ou is set to direct the feature doc Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks, which will profile the legendary Shaw Brothers Studio founded in 1925.
Meanwhile Umbrella is continuing its initiative of restoring classic films such as Alex Proyas’ debut 1989 feature Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds. A sci-fi adventure about a brother and sister who are alone in a post-apocalyptic Outback until the sudden arrival of a stranger, it will be released in Oz on Blu-ray and Umbrella is arranging distribution internationally.