CinemaPlus: a game changer for indie films?

Underground: The Julian Assange Story is the prototype of a new form of
distribution and exhibition.

Don Groves / 15 March 2013 / SBS FILM

Filmmaker-distributor Robert Connolly aims to create a new paradigm for releasing
Australian films that don’t warrant a wide cinema release and playing up to six
sessions a day. Opening in Melbourne on March 17, Matchbox Pictures’
Underground: The Julian Assange Story is the first release from Connolly’s
CinemaPlus initiative, which entails a select number of special event screenings
around the nation.

That will be followed later this year by The Turning, the omnibus film based on a
Tim Winton novel, and Michael Kantor’s The Boy Castaways, a rock
musical/drama that stars You am I’s Tim Rogers, cabaret performer Paul Capsis and
ARIA Award-winner Megan Washington.

Connolly is talking to other distributors about lining up more titles to be distributed
under the CinemaPlus banner and he’s figuring out whether Zak Hilditch’s These
Final Hours, an apocalyptic thriller which he executive produced and is
distributing, is suited to the special event model.

Underground, which Connolly directed, launches at Melbourne’s Cinema Nova and
Palace Brighton Bay accompanied by events such as a Q&A with the WikiLeaks
founder’s mother Christine Assange, a meet-the-filmmaker session and a directing-
the-actor workshop.

Starting March 27, the film will be showcased in one screening at one cinema in each

of Sydney, Canberra, Byron Bay, Murwillumbah, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth,
featuring Q&A sessions with Connolly, Christine Assange and Alex Williams, who
plays Julian.

Although more than 1.3 million saw the film when it premiered on Network Ten in
October, Connolly is convinced people will be happy to see it in cinemas with the
add-on events; each attendee will get a DVD-ROM packed with features such as
behind-the-scenes footage, screenplay, extracts from Suelette Dreyfus’ eBook, music
from the soundtrack and a code so they can listen to Connolly’s director commentary
on their headphones.

Cinemas are charging the usual admission price as Connolly notes, “We don’t want
any barriers to entry. Also, in this era of piracy we want to reward people who choose
to go to the cinema. If I had my way, in the future we’d give people who come to a
CinemaPlus event a half-price ticket to the next film.”

Encouraged by the healthy level of advance ticket sales for the Melbourne screenings,
Connolly says, “The response we’ve had so far suggests this kind of event cinema
experience is what people are after. I just don’t know how sustainable is the practice
in the independent sector of having six sessions a day, seven days a week. We have to
find a way to innovate in the exhibition space to make more interesting films and
know they have a place in cinemas.

“The independent cinemas Nova and Palace and Luna in Perth have been really
supportive. They don’t want to have a film running six sessions a day where there are
two people at the 10 o’clock. They have this idea that you’re better off having one
session and packing it out.”

The Turning will roll out nationally after premiering at the Melbourne International
Film Festival in July/August, co-distributed by Connolly’s Footprint Films and
Madman Entertainment. “The scale of the release warrants having a partner,” says
Connolly, who is still working out the release date and the CinemaPlus component of
the distribution plan.

The Boy Castaways, which premieres at the Adelaide Film Festival in October, uses
pop and rock music as the principal text to examine loss of innocence, middle-aged
male narcissism and depression. He expects to stage events where, for example,
Megan Washington would sing before the screening.

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