Screen Australia’s Documentary Producer Program Supports 11 Diverse Projects

Media Release – Tuesday 22 December 2015

A diverse array of 11 documentaries tackling everything from the challenges of Year 12, to the murder case of child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsay are set to receive funding as part of Screen Australia’s Documentary Producer Program.

This round includes six feature film documentaries, two iview premieres, and three television docos, proving the innovative and wide array of ways Australian producers are connecting these unique stories to audiences.

“Not only are we supporting a record number of documentaries for the Producer Program with this round, but we are hitting every platform, from online to television to features,” Screen Australia Chief Operating Officer Fiona Cameron says.

“These documentaries present a fascinating array of stories, told from established as well as emerging filmmakers.”

Casting JonBenet, about the unsolved death of the six-year-old beauty queen, is the second feature film from emerging director Kitty Green. Green’s first feature premiered at Venice Film Festival and her most recent work won Best Documentary Short at Sundance Film Festival. Green is producing, along with Scott Macaulay.

Another true-crime flavoured doc is the feature length Ghosthunter. From first-time director Ben Lawrence, producer Rebecca Bennett and executive producer Margie Bryant, it follows the story of a man whose life-long search for an absent father leads to an horrific revelation.

Equally terrifying, but in an entirely different way, is what the final year of high-school presents for young Australians. Produced by Karla Burt and executive produced by Laura Waters, Year 12 Diaries tells the true story of that intense journey, through the kids living it.

Meanwhile Spookers isn’t as scary as it sounds. Australian production company Madman (That Sugar Film) have teamed up with New Zealand filmmaker Florian Habicht for this tale about a close-knit farming family who open the most successful scare park in the Southern Hemisphere.

Making its premiere online is 10-part documentary web series No Strings Attached, where producers Lisa Kovacevic and Emma Watts tackle the topic of trying to connect in the 21 st century through a cast of puppets, who re-enact stories of dating app users.

Moving from social phenomena to social impact, Blue tells the story of our changing oceans and the crisis looming beneath the waves from director Karina Holden and producer Electra Manikakis of Northern Pictures.

The arts also feature heavily, from Ella’s Journey, which follows Ella Havelka, the first Indigenous dancer accepted into the Australia ballet, to multiplatform project Slam TV – a series about slam poetry, which is set to premiere on iview.

Meanwhile An Australian Nightmare presents a kind of Shakespearean film-within-a-film as producer/writer/director Gary Doust follows the journey of actor/filmmaker Craig Anderson making his first really low budget horror film with his own life savings.

And arts-inspired docos with a biographical edge include Gurrumul- Elcho Dreaming,  about the celebrated Indigenous musician, and a television documentary about visionary architect Harry Seidler titledSeidler – Brutal or Beautiful.

“This round of documentaries delivers a bit of everything, from chilling true crime, to spooky fun, to important issues impacting Australians now and in the future,” Ms Cameron said.

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Quentin Tarantino and Samuel L. Jackson are happy to be in each other’s company again in controversial and timely Western ‘The Hateful Eight’

When a furious Quentin Tarantino scrapped plans to make “The Hateful Eight” after his original script leaked, the director sent the screenplay to one of his trusted longtime collaborators for a friendly look. After reading it, Samuel L. Jackson was not about to let the filmmaker ditch the project. “I called him and said, ‘Dude, how are you not going to make this movie?’” Jackson recalls.

That kind of cajoling, along with a chorus of disappointment among Tarantino’s fanbase, helped bring the director back to the drawing board. He decided to work through the material at a Los Angeles live reading of the script in April of last year, then announced he would proceed with plans to make the post-Civil War Western.

“The Hateful Eight” — which debuts in limited release on Christmas Day and goes wide on Jan. 8 — marks the sixth collaboration between Jackson and Tarantino, but this is the first time the veteran actor could be considered the lead of one of his films.

Theirs has become a storied collaboration, not unlike famed film tandems such as Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, or John Ford and John Wayne.

It makes sense that Tarantino would cultivate such a relationship, as some of his favorite directors pulled from stock companies of actors. “That always seemed like the way to go,” Tarantino says. “With me, though, there’s a bit more of a practicality to it: Not every actor can do my dialogue. It’s very specific, and you have to be able to capture the rhythm.”

Many of the duo’s collaborators often cite comparisons with recording artists. “If Quentin is like a musician, no one has ever recorded his music in the way that Sam can,” says “Hateful Eight” producer Stacey Sher.

Harvey Weinstein, who has backed all of the features Tarantino has directed over the past 23 years, adds: “Sam is the world champion pianist who interprets and plays Quentin’s music like nobody else. It’s a language unto itself.”

Two decades and counting, it’s a relationship largely based on trust and respect.

“There are some people who, when they call you, you don’t care what they’re doing — you just drop your s— and do it,” Jackson says. “There’s no better place in the world to be than on a Quentin Tarantino set. He knows what he wants to do. He knows how he wants to do it. But in the framework of that, it’s like, ‘Show me what you want to do.’ It’s freeing. I’m just proud of the fact that he trusts me with his stuff.”

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5 Trends Making the Movie Business Lose Sleep

Blockbusters like “Jurassic World” and “Furious 7” powered the movie business to record numbers in 2015. But not everything Hollywood touched turned to gold.

There were plenty of “Pans” and “Victor Frankensteins” to splatter red ink around.

Here are five things that should keep the studios and filmmakers up at night.

Arthouse cinemas are beginning to feel like ghost towns.

Sundance favorites like “Dope” and “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” scored big deals, only to die at the box office. In response, distributors kept their checkbooks closed at the Toronto Film Festival. Plus, there are fewer buyers after Relativity Media went belly up and the Weinstein Co. cut the number of movies it will release in half.

Incredible Shrinking Stars

Norma Desmond was wrong. It’s not the pictures that got smaller, it’s the stars. Bignames like George Clooney, Channing Tatum and Adam Sandler couldn’t save “Tomorrowland,” “Jupiter Ascending” and “Pixels.” Diminishing drawing power threatens that most cherished of Hollywood institutions — the passion project.

Hoping to nurture relationships with the likes of Sandra Bullock and Angelina Jolie, studios greenlit such risky projects as “Our Brand Is Crisis” and “By the Sea,” losing millions of dollars in the process.

Netflix and Amazon Fail to Make a Stir

Streaming services can write big checks and field buzzy TV shows like “House of Cards” and “Transparent,” but they haven’t had a breakout movie. Netflix says “Beasts of No Nation,” a brutal drama about child soldiers, was widely viewed online, but it was barely seen in theaters. The company’s deal with Sandler also raised eyebrows after “Pixels” flopped. Amazon has been more tentative, launching its first theatrical release with Spike Lee’s “Chi-Raq.” Though the services have revolutionized the way content is watched at home, they haven’t made many revolutionary movies — yet.

R-rated Comedies Are Running Out of Laughs

Amy Schumer emerged as a bona fide star with “Trainwreck,” but most films hoping to ride raunch to box office gold derailed. “Vacation,” “Ted 2” and “The Night Before” left audiences cold, and even well-reviewed “Spy” fell short of previous Melissa McCarthy efforts such as “The Heat” and “Identity Thief.” Nothing matched the success of 2014 smashes like “22 Jump Street” and “Neighbors,” and some studio executives fret that gross-out gags aren’t delivering belly laughs.

Feast or Famine

The hits were big, but so were the flops. For the first time, at least five films this year will top $1 billion globally. But even as movies like “Jurassic World” mint money, misses like “Pan” are leading to nine-figure writedowns. Fall was weighed down by adult dramas that cannibalized one another, leaving the likes of “The Walk” and “Steve Jobs” to wither. The year had two of the 10 best openings in history with “Jurassic World” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” but also suffered four of the worst wide-release debuts ever with “Burnt,” “Victor Frankenstein,” “Jem and the Holograms” and “Rock the Kasbah.” Not every record is worth breaking.

Brent Lang – Variety – December 10, 2015

Australian film has had its biggest year at the box office ever. Why?

Last year we didn’t want to know about Australian movies. This year, they set a new box office record. What’s behind the massive turnaround?

Which Australian movies did you see at the cinema in 2014? If you’re like most Australians, the answer is probably none. But this year, there’s a good chance you saw at least one.

Maybe it was Mad Max: Fury Road. Or Last Cab to Darwin or The Dressmaker or Russell Crowe’s wartime romp The Water Diviner. Or maybe it was one of the surprise family movie hits, Paper Planes or Oddball, to which you might have taken your kids or grandkids during the school holidays. Each of them has taken more (in some cases much more) than $7 million from seemingly satisfied Australian punters.

This has been a record year for Australian movies, which have collectively taken $84 million at the local box office, or 7.7 per cent of the total. That’s the biggest result ever in raw dollar terms, and the best share since 2001. What makes it truly remarkable is that just a year ago the local industry looked to be in terminal decline.

In 2014, Australian movies accounted for just 2.4 per cent of the total Australian box office. Only once since 1977, which is as far back as the Screen Australia database goes, has it been lower; the 1.3 per cent share in 2004 makes that Australian cinema’s annus horribilis. What’s more, last year’s result ($26.2 million) came on the back of a poor 2013 as well ($38.5 million, 3.5 per cent share). Had it not been for The Great Gatsby ($27.4 million), 2013 would have been a complete disaster.

So what has happened? Why has Australian cinema bounced back, and is this recovery sustainable?

A little over a year ago, I ran through the possible reasons you couldn’t pay Australians to watch Australian movies at the cinema. All of them were mined from the comments posted on our websites every time we ran a story about Australian movies. Those comments tended to have the following views:

Australian films are dark and depressing

Australian films are full of outmoded ocker stereotypes

Critics are too soft on Australian films

Australian films come and go without us even knowing they’ve arrived

Australian films should be cheaper to watch than Hollywood films because they

aren’t as spectacular

Australian films are rubbish

Ouch. So what has changed? Is it possible that the Australian movies of 2015 are fundamentally different? To answer, let’s start at the bottom, simply because it’s the most obvious explanation.

Are this year’s movies just better?

Some people would answer with a resounding “yes”, but let’s just remember that for every person who thinks film A is a work of genius, there’s usually another (or another 10) who think it’s not.

Reviews for Russell Crowe’s The Water Diviner (released on Boxing Day 2014) were mixed, both in Australia and abroad, but it did terrific business here and in Turkey (though it tanked in the US). On imdb, it gets a rating of 7.1 from the averaged votes of more than 45,000 people. On metacritic.com. it scores just 50/100 from professional critics. So, is it a good film or not? It’s largely down to personal taste.

At the other end of the scale, one of the most lauded Australian films of 2014, The Babadook, barely registered at the Australian box office (though its distributor claimed to be happy with its haul of $268,044 from 13 screens). But it did solid business overseas, catapulted writer-director Jennifer Kent into the Hollywood hot zone, and got stellar reviews (both at home and abroad). Was it a success? Yes and no. Was it a good film, as good at least as those that have done so much more business this year? Absolutely.

What is different, says Village Cinemas general manager Gino Munari, is that this year’s crop appears to have been made with a clear intention to engage audiences rather than simply satisfy the creative urges of the filmmakers. “I think there’s a commercial sensibility that’s crept into the psyche of the Australian filmmaking community,” he says. “The magic is in telling stories that people want to hear, stories where they can engage with the characters.”

Are we beginning to see the light?

The idea that we only make dour, introspective dramas about inner-city junkies is as reductive (and wrong) as it is popular, but looking at this year’s hits a couple of things stand out: they mix comedy and drama, they aren’t afraid of a bit of sentimentality, and family is at the heart of many of them.

Is there darkness? Well, yes. Last Cab to Darwin is about a man with stomach cancer who drives 3000 kilometres to meet a doctor he hopes will kill him. But there are laughs along the way, a bit of romance, an interesting take on black-white relations.

Light and shade, in other words. Death casts a shadow in Paper Planes, Oddball and The Dressmaker too. And it’s at the very heart of Holding the Man.

Perhaps the reason these movies have resonated is precisely because they don’t shy away from the dark stuff – but nor do they become trapped by it. Australians are resilient, resourceful people, able to rise above the challenges they face (or so we like to tell ourselves). It makes sense that we want to see those traits reflected back to us on screen, and are ready to embrace the films that do just that.

Goodbye, Sir Les and your ilk?

Have we really consigned the Ocker stereotype to the garbage bin of history? Hell no. Have you seen The Dressmaker? Last Cab? Oddball? These movies all dabble in caricature (though the denizens of Jocelyn Moorhouse’s country town ion The Dressmaker could have come straight from the pages of an Australian commedia dell’arte). What makes them work is a lightness of touch, a willingness to draw on the stereotype while seeking to flesh it out – to make the familiar just a little surprising.

Michael Caton’s cabbie is instantly recognisable as a type – but the relationship with his indigenous neighbour Polly (Ningali Lawford) adds shades and detail that we at first don’t expect.

At any rate, the success of these three movies in particular – and to some extent also The Water Diviner – suggest there’s still as much appetite for characters from “the land” now as there was in the era of Dad and Dave. We just want them to be a little less like cartoons these days.

You must have known it was on?

One of the reasons some of last year’s Australian movies failed at the cinema was that people were given scant opportunity to see them. A week or two on a dozen or so screens with scant marketing barely counts as a release strategy when you’re up against Hollywood movies on 500 screens with saturation advertising. But that’s the fate of many an Australian movie.

Those that cut through this year, though, tended to benefit from a wide release and hefty promotional spend. The Water Diviner went out on 299 screens, Oddball 289, The Dressmaker 384 and Mad Max: Fury Road a Hollywood-sized 542 screens.

A wide release means a distributor can target their campaign around a narrow window of time, maximising bang for buck. Shane Jacobson did such a sterling job talking up Oddball it’s doubtful anyone in Australia didn’t know at least a little about the film by the time it hit cinemas.

But it takes a certain kind of product for distributors to have the confidence to go wide: an appealing story, star talent, good production values. This year’s batch ticked those boxes, “but you can’t reverse engineer it”, says Screen Australia chief Graeme Mason. “If the distributors are spending millions of dollars – literally – putting it out there, they’re not going to do that unless they see something commercially appealing in it.”

Not every film that hit its mark this year went wide, though; Holding the Man opened on 31 screens, fairly typical for an Australian drama of the sort you might find in an arthouse cinema rather than a multiplex. That Sugar Film opened on just three, but rapidly expanded to more than 10 times that number on its way to becoming the highest-grossing non-IMAX Australian documentary in history. It is still possible to do it the old way, but it takes a hell of a lot of work.

How many stars did you give it?

Fairfax’s reviewers weren’t especially kind to Oddball – both Jake Wilson and Sandra Hall gave it two-and-a-half stars out of five – and News Ltd’s Leigh Paatsch gave it three. But if the critics were lukewarm, audiences were anything but. Our guys liked Mad Max: Fury Road a lot more – Wilson gave it three-and-a-half, saying it was “finally, a sequel that doesn’t disappoint”, while Craig Mathieson gave it four and a half, calling it “gloriously twisted”. They were perfectly in sync with the greater Australian public, which propelled the film to almost $22 million locally.

On the other hand, Partisan got just two stars from Paul Byrnes; at the box office, Ariel Kleiman’s debut feature made $115,439. Personally, I thought it had plenty to admire, but it’s hard to argue there was a huge disconnect between critical and audience response.

It’s hardly Hollywood, is it?

Few Australian movies can compete with Hollywood in the visual stakes, but Mad Max: Fury Road is an exception. In fact, you can bet plenty of people in Hollywood will cite its influence on their work in years to come.

Generally, though, we work cheaper and make more modest films (though our budgets are considerably higher than those in America’s indie sector, whose films are our direct competition for arthouse screens).

Is that a turn-off? Not at all, says Village’s Gino Munari. “We don’t need to spend tens of millions on films, we just need to tell stories that connect,” he says. “We’ve got a unique lovable culture that we should celebrate. We’ve got great talent, when the writers, directors actors all come together – when all the molecules coalesce – that’s when the magic happens.”

So, is everything OK now?

The trouble with setting a new high is that there’s a great chance it will be followed by something lower, and that creates the impression of relative failure. The truth is, the movie business is cyclical. This has been a big year for cinema generally – and Star Wars will likely push it to a new record – but the fundamental challenges for Australian cinema remain.

The reality is that most Australian films are not made for the multiplex. That’s about budget, it’s about availability of star talent, it’s about our desire to tell stories that are uniquely Australian.

Multiplex staples such as horror, thrillers and sci-fi might work internationally but, says Mason, “genre does not work theatrically in this country; it never has”. Even the best of them are destined to play only on the ever-diminishing arthouse circuit.

Screen Australia chief Graeme Mason is bullish about what lies ahead – he has high hopes for Simon Stone’s The Daughter, an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck; Lion, based on Saroo Brierley’s memoir about searching for his birth parents in India; and Sherpa, a documentary about a brawl between climbers and their guides on the slopes of Mt Everest. But nothing is certain.

What matters for Mason is that our filmmakers think first and foremost about making movies with an audience in mind. “We have to aim to make stories that connect with people,” he says. “I don’t mean everything has to be at the multiplex, but there’s got to be a story that could – if the stars align – really resonate and connect with an audience.

“You can’t make stuff for what an audience SHOULD want. You have to think, ‘Would I go see it, where would I go see it, and would my friends go and see it?’ “That,” he adds, “is the reason for the success of this year’s crop”.

More than a mil: The Australian movies that passed the million-dollar mark in 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road ($21.67 million) – action blockbuster

The Dressmaker ($15.23 million) – rural period comedy drama

Oddball ($10.8 million) – family film with animal

The Water Diviner ($10.18 million) – rural period war saga

Paper Planes ($9.65 million) – family film

Last Cab to Darwin ($7.32 million) – dying with dignity drama

Blinky Bill the Movie ($2.89 million) – kids animation

That Sugar Film ($1.71 million) – documentary

Holding the Man ($1.24 million) – gay drama

Karl Quinn – SMH – December 6, 2015