There is a lot riding of money and prestige riding on Mel Gibson’s WW2 violent drama Hacksaw Ridge when it opens in Australia on November 3 and the following day in the U.S. Not just because this is Gibson’s first shot at directing since Apocalypto in 2006 and that Lionsgate and Australian distributor Icon are putting a lot of resources and effort into the release.
The Australian film industry is hoping the critically-acclaimed movie, which tells the true story of U.S. Army medic and conscientious objector Desmond Doss, will spark a revival for the nation’s cinema which has not generated a single home grown hit this year.
Some 50 Australian titles released this year or earlier collectively have grossed $A12.8 million ($9.7 million) through last Sunday, according to the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia. That’s a sharp decline from the 2015 calendar year total of $A88 million, a record 7.18% market share, led by George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, Jocelyn Moorhouse’s The Dressmaker, Russell Crowe’s The Water Diviner, Stuart McDonald’s Oddball, Rob Connolly’s Paper Planes and Jeremy Sims’ Last Cab to Darwin.
The top-grossing Australian production is Alex Proyas’ $140 million fantasy-adventure Gods of Egypt, which collected just $A2.5 million. Simon Stone’s The Daughter, a re-imagining of an Ibsen play starring Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neill, Ewen Leslie, Paul Schneider and Odessa Young, made $A1.7 million while Jennifer Peedom’s superb documentary Everest earned nearly $A1.3 million.
Levi Miller and canine co-star Phoenix in ‘Red Dog: True Blue’ Exhibitors are confident the business will rally with Hacksaw Ridge followed by Red Dog: True Blue, the prequel to 2011 hit Red Dog in December, and true-life drama Lion in January.
Australian films face the same hurdles as indie titles from the U.S., the U.K. and elsewhere in securing screens and connecting with audiences in the ever-crowded theatrical market. “Films with strong local stories and ideas can cut through,” says Roadshow Films group co-CEO Joel Pearlman, who is distributing Red Dog: True Blue. “However the market is very unforgiving for anything that is not excellent in execution and original story and ideas . It is a global challenge; it has never been easy.”
Unusually Roadshow has no Aussie titles on its 2017 release schedule. Quite a few projects are in development but none is ready to announce. “The biggest challenge is finding great material,” Pearlman says. “I wish there was more of it.” Village Cinemas general manager Gino Munari concurs, “Aussie films just need to tell a good story and have good production values.”
Tait Brady, who runs boutique distributor Label, says, “I suspect that what we are starting to see now may be the result of the budget/financing squeeze that hit the production sector a while back. That has has resulted in driving budgets down and we are seeing films in two clear categories – the low budget dramas such as Joe Cinque’s Consolation, Early Winter, Killing Ground, Boys In The Trees and Bad Girl, and bigger, star-driven vehicles like The Dressmaker, Lion and the Red Dog prequel. The more conventional Aussie films budgeted at $A4 million-$A5 million are harder and harder to get up and, as good as these ‘smaller’ films are, they struggle to grasp audiences’ attention.”
Hacksaw Ridge stars Andrew Garfield as the pacifist U.S. Army medic who won the Congressional Medal of Honor after saving dozens of soldiers during the bloody Battle of Okinawa. Parr is confident it will gross $A10 million, opining, “Mel is back to his best. The film is as good as Saving Private Ryan but with a love story as a plus.”
Co-owned by Gibson and his producing partner Bruce Davey, Icon is releasing the drama on 255 screens in Australia and on 70 in New Zealand. “The reception for Hacksaw has been consistently strong from all quarters including festivals, reviewers, industry, interest groups, premieres and public previews,” says Icon CEO Greg Hughes. “We expect a strong gross box-office and our quietly optimistic estimates are not that far below some of the exhibitor forecasts.”
The national cinema is virtually certain to end the year on a high note with the December 26 debut of producer Nelson Woss and director Kriv Stenders’ prequel to Red Dog, which fetched $A21.5 million. The plot follows 11-year-old Mick (Levi Miller) who is shipped off to his grandfather’s (Bryan Brown) cattle station in the remote Pilbara region of Western Australia. While Mick expects a dull and tough rural life, instead he finds adventure and friendship with a scrappy, one-of-a-kind dog. Garth Franklin’s Lion chronicles the journey of Indian-born Australian Saroo Brierley who found his birth mother 25 years after they were separated, starring Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, David Wenham and Rooney Mara which had rave reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival, and will be released on January 19 2017.
On paper the outlook for 2017 looks promising. Apart from Lion the line-up includes Rachel Perkins’ Jasper Jones, a coming-of-age mystery starring Levi Miller, Angourie Rice and Aaron McGrath. Paul Currie’s 2.22 is a romantic thriller about an air traffic controller in New York who nearly causes a fatal mid-air collision and then falls in love with one of the plane’s passengers, featuring Game of Thrones’ Michiel Huisman and Teresa Palmer. Jeffrey Walker’s Dance Academy: The Movie, is a spin-off of Werner Film Productions’ globally-successful TV series. Dev Patel and Armie Hammer star in Anthony Maras’ Hotel Mumbai, a thriller based on the 2008 siege of the Taj Mahal hotel, which the Weinstein Co. acquired for the U.S.
In March/April Label is releasing Hounds of Love, the debut feature of writer/director Ben Young. The thriller stars Stephen Curry and Emma Booth as a couple who abduct a teenager (Ashleigh Cummings), who soon realizes she must drive a wedge between her captors if she is to survive. In a great example of talent development, Good Universe and Mandeville Films have hired Young to direct Extinction, a sci-fi thriller which follows a man haunted by nightmares in which his wife is assaulted and becomes a hero when Earth is invaded by an army bent on destruction. James McAvoy is in the frame to play the lead.
Don Groves – Forbes – Oct 24, 2016
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