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Monday
Sep232013

WEEKEND WITH KATE: REVIVING SYDNEY'S CINEMA CULTURE

For three decades, the all-consuming tide of multiplex-cinema expansion has consigned Sydney’s arthouse auditoriums of yesteryear to movie buff memory. But the Golden Age Cinema, located in the fully-restored Paramount Pictures Building, is bringing back the days of retro-cinema glory. Charged with re-introducing a modern metropolis to the big-screen thrills of such diverse classics as Badlands and Caddyshack is film programmer, Kate Jinx (pictured, below).

“I grew up with the Valhalla posters in my family house, thanks to my older sister who wallpapered her room with them, and until I was old enough to get there myself in the 90s, I’d memorise the sessions - Meet the Feebles, Bliss, Koyaanisqatsi, Betty Blue,” Jinx reminisces of the iconic, long-gone Glebe fleapit as an abiding influence on her love of cinema. “I think that independent cinemas are hugely vital to a city’s culture. I miss the Valhalla! I miss the Mandolin! I miss what the Chauvel was like when Palace also had the Academy Twin. I think it’s the right time for a new, independent cinema such as Golden Age that has both new and repertory programming to open up and to be offering a new kind of experience.”

Her obsession has led to a varied career, including a popular review show on radio station FBi and film-themed performance pieces at venues such as The Museum of Contremporary Art. However, getting the film programming duties at Sydney’s first new inner-city venue in many years was particularly daunting. “I experienced the full four stages of shock, I think,” she laughs, admitting, “no one has never entrusted me with a whole cinema, let alone a brand new one.” Putting his faith in Jinx is Barrie Barton and his projects-based collective Right Angle Studios whose mission is to ‘understand and improve life in our cities’; among many of the group’s initiatives was the launch Melbourne’s Rooftoop Cinema in 2005, now an integral part of the southern capital’s movie culture.

The refurbished 60-person cinema is steeped in Sydney film history; its Surry Hills venue (pictured, right) has been a cherished site for the industry since it opened in 1940, when it screened newsreels for service personnel. “The design of both the cinema and the bar are very much in-keeping with its history, but with a modern sense of drama and a flash of futurism,” says Jinx, pointing out that those who have attended the first few weeks of screenings have been a wonderfully eclectic cross-section of new and old buffs. “It’s been fantastic to see who turns up for our Sunday classics - it’s always a total mix of people who have seen the film dozens of times and people who are seeing it for their first.”

Frankly, it is a dream job for any lover of film and Kate Jinx is fully aware of the privilege that programming for The Golden Age Cinema affords her. “I’ve got a bit of a lengthy, completely ridiculous list I’m working on. Jacques Rivette’s Celine & Julie Go Boating tops it,” she confides, citing the 1974 head-trip classic. “I’m as excited to be able to play a fully restored 2k version of The Battle of Algiers or Badlands as I am about playing a rock documentary like Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me or Poltergeist on a Friday night. I just want the space to be able to show a good variety of films we like and believe in and think deserve an audience. [And] to bring some of the charm and romance of ‘going to the movies’ back.”

Session times and venue details are available here.

Thursday
Aug292013

SOUTHERN COMFORT: THE 2013 ADELAIDE FILM FESTIVAL PREVIEW

A programme strand celebrating water in films, an interactive multimedia horror event and a trip down memory lane to the days of ‘drive-in theatre’ glory are some of the left-field highlights to emerge from the launch of the 2013 Adelaide Film Festival (AFF).

The sixth edition of South Australia's biennial celebration of cinema opens on October 10 with the Australian premiere of John Curran’s Tracks, starring Mia Wasikowska. Under the stewardship of CEO and debutant Festival Director Amanda Duthie (pictured, below), the 11 day event will close October 20 with the highly-touted Cannes entrant A Story of Children and Film (pictured, above), director Mark Cousins’ cinematic-essay featuring clips from 53 films that capture the role of children in the development of the artform.

Audiences will savour works from 48 countries, including an official In Competition strand that features 12 new films from such world cinema giants as France’s Claire Denis (Bastards), Chile’s Alejandro Jodorowsky (The Dance of Reality), England’s Kevin McDonald (How I Live Now), the U.S.A.’s Jim Jarmusch (Only Lovers Left Alive) and Iran’s Asghar Farhadi (The Past).

The 2013 jury is presided over by producer Al Clark (Priscilla, Queen of the Desert; Chopper) and includes Animal Kingdom producer Liz Watts and The Sapphires’ director Wayne Blair, as well as international guests Maryanne Redpath, Director of the Berlinale Generations section, and Lawrence Wechsler, Artistic Directort of the Chicago Humanities Festival.

Of the 28 world premieres that are launching during AFF, eight diverse projects will have emerged directly from the festival’s own Investment Fund initiative. In addition to Tracks (featured, above), these include Rolf de Heer’s walkabout drama Charlie’s Country, starring iconic indigenous actor David Gulpilil; Sophie Hyde’s 52 Tuesdays, a chronicle of one year in the life of a teenager whose parent is undergoing gender transformation surgery; and director Warwick Thornton’s The Darkside, an all-star omnibus film of traditional ghost stories featuring the likes of Deborah Mailman, Aaron Pedersen and Sharri Stebbens.

International cinema that will be screening for the first time on these shores includes Declan Lowney’s Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, the first big-screen outing for Steve Coogan’s comedic cult-figure; James Toback’s Seduced and Abandoned, in which the director and star Alec Baldwin traverse the Cannes Film Festival's independent funding quagmire; Alain Guiradie’s homosexually-graphic murder mystery, Stranger by the Lake; co-director’s Luigi Acquisito’s and Bety Reis’ Beatriz’s War, the first feature shot by the nation of East Timor (pictured, right); and, legendary documentarian David Attenborough’s 3D odyssey of the insect world, Micro Monsters.

The eclectic events calendar that runs concurrently with the screening schedule will feature the high-profile honouring of Shine director and local lad-made-good Scott Hicks with the Don Dunstan Award; a seminar hosted by acclaimed artist Bill Morrison on the power of the clip-footage image, entitled ‘Art of the Archive’ (accompanied by a rare screening of what many consider his masterwork, Decasia; featured, below); a retrospective of 1960’s American activist filmmaker Shirley Clarke; and, Ursula Dabrowsky’s reimaging of her ‘Demon…’ trilogy of low-budget horror works as an interactive tablet narrative, retitled Demon House.

If all of that sounds like too much time spent inside, take your passion for films outdoors. On Saturday October 12, the Adelaide Showground Main Arena will transform into a drive-in theatre for a screening of Randal Kleiser’s blockbuster 1978 musical, Grease.

For full details of the 2013 Adelaide Film Festival programme of events and to book tickets, click here.   

Tuesday
Aug272013

THAT'S A WRAP: THE 2013 AMERICAN SUMMER MOVIE SEASON IN REVIEW

It was the Summer Season that drew more attention for its misses than its hits. US audiences took to the studio chum, as expected of them, but they were also merciless in their ambivalence if the film gathered a stink and generous in their love if something felt fresh. SCREEN-SPACE takes an analytical eye to the US summer movie season to see what worked and what didn’t (all figures in US$, as of August 27)…. 

BLOCKBUSTERS: The top 6 films at the American summer box office were, not altogether surprisingly, five sequels and one reworking of an old property. The crown for the season went to Iron Man 3 ($408.6m/#1), followed by Despicable Me 2 ($350.7m/#2, which surged after what was considered by many an underperforming $83.5m opening), the Superman reboot Man of Steel ($290.3m/#3), Monster’s University ($261.8m/#4), Fast & Furious 6 ($238.5m/#5) and Star Trek Into Darkness ($227.4m/#6). Numbers 7 through to 10 represent the real achievers; these were fresh, untested visions that had troubled production histories, up-and-down pre-release tracking and shifted release dates. But World War Z (Brad Pitt’s biggest box office hit ever, with $199m/#7), the Sandra Bullock/Melissa McCarthy vehicle The Heat ($156.3m/#8) and The Great Gatsby ($144.9m/#9) defied the odds. The greatest achiever, however, would have to be James Wan’s chilling The Conjuring ($131.7m/#10), which proved the word-of-mouth sleeper hit of 2013’s warmer months, despite no A-list stars and its embracing of the horror genre (often considered a niche market sector). Sony Pictures had their toughest box-office summer in years, their top-grosser the number eleven title, Adam Sandler’s low-brow safe-bet Grown Ups 2 ($128.9m/#11; pictured, right).

SURPRISES: An early-season opening slot allowed the high-concept adventure Now You See Me enough time to grow legs, ultimately conjuring up $116.4m/#13. Alternatively, the late-summer slot for Lee Daniel’s The Butler is proving a very savvy bit of late-season programming, with the Forrest Whittaker film at $51.7m/#28 after only 2 weeks. The Wolverine ($125m/#12) and The Hangover Part III ($112m/#14) maxed out the current potential of their respective franchises, in all fairness. Studios love it when relatively inexpensive properties hit big, with returns on such mid-range investments as Sony’s This is The End ($96.8m/#17), Warner’s We’re The Millers ($91.2m/#18), Universal’s The Purge ($64.4m/#24) and the Lionsgate/Summit stand-up concert pic Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain ($32.2m/#33) helping to offset huge tentpole budgets. The arthouse sector found no breakout smash hit this year, but still secured a share of the season takings with The Way Way Back ($18.6m/#35), Fruitvale Station ($15.2m/#36), Blue Jasmine ($14.5m/#37) and the music-doco 20 Feet from Stardom ($4.3m/#48) all solid performers.

DISAPPOINTMENTS: Much has been written about The Lone Ranger since its limp opening and there is no escaping the fact that Disney will take a bath given its cost, but it did manage to creep up to an ok $90m/#19. Same thinking applies for wannabe blockbusters that underperformed, such as Pacific Rim ($99.2m/#16, though home-vid will be a boon for Warners), White House Down ($72.4m/#21), Elysium ($69m/#22) and The Internship ($44.6m/#31). The audience answered the question, “Do we really need sequels to these films?” with Red 2 ($51.6m/#29) and Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters ($48.4m/#30) finding little love. Apart from the two Top 10 animated sequels, family audiences weren’t impressed with the summer offerings, with Epic (#107.3m/#15) Turbo ($78.7/#20), The Smurfs 2 ($62.5m/#25) and Planes ($59.6m/#27) all below par. And much buzzed-about prestige titles that sputtered along but found no traction included Before Midnight ($8.1m/#42), The Bling Ring ($5.8m), Frances Ha ($4m/#49), The East ($2.2/#52; pictured, right) and What Maisie Knew ($1m/#65)

BOMBS: We cut The Lone Ranger some slack, but there is no defending the financial black holes that were After Earth ($60.5m/#26) and RIPD ($32.7m/#32). The last few weeks of summer are traditionally not a happy launching ground; this year, the Harrison Ford/Gary Oldman thriller Paranoia ($6.2m/#44) felt the sting of audience apathy and final figures for several still-in-release films, such Kick-Ass 2 ($22.5m/#34) and The World’s End ($8.7m/#41), could go either way. DOA titles in the summer of 2013 were Only God Forgives ($775k/67; pictured, right), The Hunt ($540k/#72), Lovelace ($334k/#78) and Prince Avalanche ($118k/#93).

All figures with thanks to Box Office Mojo.

Wednesday
Jul242013

TORONTO WELCOMES FOUR OF OUR FINEST

Four Australian features have been selected to screen at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), one of the most prestigious gatherings on the international calendar.

Amongst the 37 world premieres that will unspool between September 5 and 15 are fresh works from filmmakers Paul Haggis (Third Person), Bertrand Tavernier (Quai d’Orsay), Dennis Villeneuve (Prisoners), Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyers Club), Jason Reitman (Labor Day) and Richard Ayaobe (The Double). Opening the event will be Bill Condon’s Wikileaks expose The Fifth Estate, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange; closing out the fest is Daniel Schecter’s Life of Crime, an adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s The Switch and starring Jennifer Aniston, John Hawkes and Tim Robbins.

Joining the list of world firsts will be Matthew Saville’s Felony, his long-awaited second feature after the success of 2007’s Noise; and Jonathan Teplitzky’s UK/Australian co-production, The Railway Man (pictured, right).

Just as Noise examined a police officer struggling with reality, so too does Felony, which tells of a decorated cop who covers up the fatal consequence of his night on the drink. Backed by two of Australia’s most high-profile production outfits in Goalpost Pictures (The Sapphires) and Blue Tongue Films (The Square), Saville has corralled a top-notch cast that will ensure TIFF buzz is high – on-the-cusp Hollywood star Jai Courtney (Jack Reacher; A Good Day to Die Hard), Joel Edgerton (doubling up as screenwriter) and Melissa George.

Teplitzky’s The Railway Man is the director’s first international effort, after well-received local films Burning Man, Getting’ Square and Better Than Sex. Starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, it recounts the true story of Eric Lomax and his quest to find the Japanese officer who tortured him while he was a World War 2 POW.

John Curran’s Tracks (pictured, top), already announced as the Opening Night engagement for this year’s Adelaide Film Festival, will have its North American premiere in Toronto. The screening will represent the beginning of the final stages of the film’s marathon chronology; the project, which tells the real-life story of a young woman (played by Mia Wasikowska) who travails the West Australian desert on camel, was in pre-production 20 years ago with Julia Roberts attached to star.

And Ivan Sen’s Mystery Road, which had its world premiere as the opener for the Sydney Film Festival in June, has secured its first offshore slot ahead of its mid-August national release on local screens.

Wednesday
Apr032013

THE 60TH SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL'S 'FIRST 27'

Ahead of the full programme launch on May 8, the Sydney Film Festival has released the names of 27 of the films to screen in this year's 60th anniversary schedule (including David Gordon Green's Prince Avalanche, pictured below), beginning June 5.

Highlighlights include the World Premiere of Australian performance artist William Yang’s documentary William Yang: My Generation; the Australian premiere of Park Chan-Wook's thriller Stoker, starring Mia Wasikowska and Nicole Kidman; and, the Australian documentary Red Obsession, from directors David Roach and Warwick Ross and narrated by Russell Crowe. In all, the selection represents 24 Australian premieres spread amongst the 16 features and 11 documentaries.

Of particular cultural signifigance will be the special event screening of a digitally restored print of Ned Lander's seminal aboriginal rock docu-drama Wrong Side of the Road, featuring the music of Us Mob and No Fixed Address. Also announced was the Australian premiere of video artist Jeff Desom's Hitchcock-inspired 'Rear Window Loop', an installation that will be the centrepiece of the popular festival meeting place, The Hub, in Sydney's Lower Town Hall. 

The 27 films announced are (in alphabetical order):

The Act of Killing (Directors: Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn and Anonymous; Denmark, Norway, UK)

Blackfish (Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite; USA)

Blancanieves (Director: Pablo Berger; Spain, France)

Comrade Kim Goes Flying (Directors: Kim Gwang-hun, Nicholas Bonner and Anja Daelemans; Belgium, UK, North Korea)

Exposed (Director: Beth B.; USA)

Fallen City (Director: Zhao Qi; China)

A Few Hours of Spring (Director: Stephane Brize; France)

Frances Ha (Director: Noah Baumbach; USA)

Frankenstein's Army (Director: Richard Raaphorst; USA, The Netherlands)

The Human Scale (Director: Andreas Mol Dalsgaard; Denmark)

The Look of Love (Director: Michael Winterbottom; UK, USA)

La Maison de la Radio (Director Nicholas Philibert; France, Japan)

Midnight's Children (Director: Deepa Mehta; Canada)

Miss Nicki and The Tiger Girls (Director: Julia Lamont; Australia)

Oh Boy (Director: Jan Ole Gerster; Germany)

Outrage Beyond (Director: Takeshi Kitano; Japan)

Prince Avalanche (Director: David Gordon Green; USA)

Rear Window (Director: Alfred Hitchcock; USA)

Red Obsession (Directors: David Roach and Warwick Ross; Australia)

Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's (Director: Matthew Miele; USA)

Stoker (Director: Park Chan-Wook; UK, USA) 

Stories We Tell (Director: Sarah Polley; Canada)

Wadjda (Director: Haifaa Al Mansour; Saudi Arabia, Germany)

What Maisie Knew (Directors: Scott McGhee and David Siegel; USA)

What Richard Did (Director: Lenny Abrahamson; Ireland)

William Yang: My Generation (Director: Martin Fox; Australia)

Wrong Side of the Road (Director: Ned Lander; Australia)

Tuesday
Mar262013

NIGHTMARE FACTORY: A GREG NICOTERO RETROSPECTIVE

As one of the key behind-the-scenes creatives on the TV series, The Walking Dead, legendary Hollywood makeup effects artist Greg Nicotero has reached the A-list of his Hollywood below-the-liners. With fellow effects maestro’s Howard Berger and Bob Kurtzman, Nicotero heads up KNB Efx, the 25 year-old Hollywood visual effects outfit that has on their resume such hits as Oz The Great and Powerful, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, Kill Bill Vols. 1 and 2 and Misery.

Ahead of the Australian premiere of Donna Davies’ Nightmare Factory, a feature-length documentary that traces Nicotero’s rise, SCREEN-SPACE decided to check out some of the great man’s most famous works, sick visions and little known contributions to the world of makeup visual effects…:

DAY OF THE DEAD and EVIL DEAD 2

Nicotero did his apprenticeship with two legends of the horror genre on two of the 80s most ground-breaking works, George Romero’s Day of the Dead and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2. On Day…, he would be under the tutelage of the great Tom Savini; the team would win a Saturn Award for their wildly horrific scenes of gore, "In the late 80s you had make-up people like Rick Baker and Rob Bottin and films like ET, and The Thing, and The Howling," says Nicotero in an interview with Bizarremag.com, "and suddenly make-up effects became the reason people would go to the movies.”

DANCES WITH WOLVES

Kevin Costners’s Oscar-winning epic is perhaps best remembered for the vivid and exciting buffalo hunt sequence. KNB Efx had been steadily building a reputation over 2 years when they got the job on what would become the most successful western ever released. Nicotero told the Icons of Fright website that the film’s success made him somewhat anxious. “I was really nervous, because I was terrified that we’d be remembered for Dances With Wolves!” he recalls. “I thought, ‘Jesus, we’ve peaked in two years.”

THE BLOODY WAVE OF 1990’S HORROR

It would be the decade that established Nicotero and his team as the go-to guys for the industry’s finest make-up effects results. From Bride of Re-Animator and Tales From The Darkside: The Movie in ‘90; Army of Darkness in ‘92; Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday in ’93; In The Mouth of Madness and Lord of Illusions in ’95; From Dusk ‘til Dawn and Scream in ’96; Spawn in ’97; The Faculty in ’98; and, House on Haunted Hill in ’99. “We've done 12 projects with Sam Raimi, we've done 7 projects with Robert Rodriguez, we've done 5 with Quentin Tarantino, we've done 3 with Spielberg,” Nicotero told Horror.com in 2005. “The people that we work for call us back over and over again. It's something that I'm very, very proud of.”

BOOGIE NIGHTS

“I have friends who will introduce me to people as, 'This is Greg Nicotero – he did the dick in Boogie Nights',” Nicotero told Time Out London, 2009. Despite a career crafting some of the most intricate physical effects in cinema history, it would be for enhancing Mark Wahlberg’s appendage (pictured, right) that has fuelled the legend of Greg Nicotero. “The first penis we had sculpted, it was pointing at a 45 degree angle. And (the studio) said ‘We need to get the tip to point down, pointing out is bad.’ They were concerned about the rating, and if he appeared semi-aroused, that would be a problem.” He has became Hollywood’s leading expert in prosthetic penis’, outfitting James Franco in Milk and John Cho in A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas.

THE MIST, PIRAHNA 3D and THE GREY

KNB Efx have created some of the most terrifying screen villains ever to come from the animal kingdom. The eagle-sized flying insects in Frank Darabont’s The Mist, the savage underwater carnivores (and their impact upon human flesh) in Alexandre Aja’s Pirahna 3D and, in some of Nicotero’s most subtle effects work, the wolves that stalk Liam Neeson in Joe Carnahan’s The Grey. Talking to Horror.com, Alexandre Aja (who worked with Nicotero on his The Hills Have Eyes remake in 2007) said of their working relationship, “You go to see him and you say, This is what I would like to see.’ Even if it’s impossible, he will find a way to make it happen. He can create prosthetics that looks absolutely amazing. I can’t imagine working without him.”

Nightmare Factory will screen at A Night of Horror / Fantastic Planet Film Festival on Saturday, April 20.

Tuesday
Mar192013

LITTLE FCCAS: THE 2013 FILM CRITICS CIRCLE OF AUSTRALIA AWARDS

Hosted with a ‘fun-uncle’ vibe by the organisation’s president Rod Quinn at  Sydney’s Paddington RSL Club, the 2013 Film Critics Circle of Australia (FCCA) honours were split amongst Kieran Darcy-Smith’s Wish You Were Here, Cate Shortland’s Lore, Wayne Blair’s The Sapphires and Peter Templeman’s Not Suitable for Children.

Blue Tongue Film’s Wish You Were Here (pictured, above; cast members Antony Starr, Joel Edgerton, Felicity Price and Teresa Palmer), a drama chronicling the ill-fated adventures of a group of young holidaying eastern suburb well-to-do types, scored Best Picture honours for producer Angie Fielder, a Best Actor trophy for Joel Edgerton and FCCA kudos for Best Screenplay and Best Editing.  With much of the cast and crew absent, it was left to Fielder to accept all but Jason Ballantine’s cutting nod.

Mirroring the recent Oscar moment, the Best Supporting Actor gong was shared between the film’s Antony Starr and Not Suitable For Children’s Ryan Corr. The charismatic Corr got the night’s biggest laugh when he suggested that, in response to the AACTA awards being called ‘The AACTA’, the FCCA trophy should adopt its own acronymic moniker (just try it…).

Cate Shortland’s long-in-development follow-up to Somersault, the German-set World War 2 drama Lore, took home the coveted Best Director gong, as well as Best Performance by a Young Actor for lead Saskia Rosendahl (pictured, left).

 

Box-office winner The Sapphires nabbed Best Cinematography for Warwick Thornton and Best Music Score for Cezary Skubiszewski. In addition to Corr’s win, co-star Sarah Snook surprised many when she snared a Best Actress nod for Not Suitable for Children ahead of The Sapphires Deborah Mailman and Wish You Were Here’s Felicity Price.

Adding to the left-field choices was Rebecca Gibney’s Supporting Actress win for PJ Hogan’s critically-divisive dramedy, Mental. Gibney seemed genuinely moved by the recognition and proved to be a good sport when asked, at the last moment, to present the Best Documentary honour, won by Ian Darling’s Paul Kelly: Stories of Me.

Other presenters included entertainer Paul Capsis (“I was asked to do this, like, five minutes ago”), actor/director Jeremy Sims, actor Steve Le Marquand and sponsor Foxtel executive James Bridges.

Thursday
Jan172013

21st CENTURY MAN: THE BOB WRIGHT INTERVIEW

Thirty years ago, Bob Wright was my boss, and he frightened me a bit. He was, in modern management parlance, the COO of the Australasian division of CBS Fox Home Video (later, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment). He carried with him an air of gravitas that has not diminished. But he is a deeply humble man (he refuses to supply a photo of himself for this article), one of those old-school hard-workers who deflect any mention of achievements while discussing a career in the Australian home video industry that has spanned over three decades. He agreed to meet at a cafe in Sydney’s northwest for what would be his only Australian media interview. SCREEN-SPACE caught him at his most candid; only a few days earlier, the independent home video distribution outfit he co-founded in 1990, 21st Century Pictures, closed its doors after more than two decades.

(Above: CBS Fox employees at an industry function, circa 1990. Wright, in glasses, is positioned back-row, far right)

“When I told all the buying groups that I was leaving, all but one said that I had jumped too early,” recalls the stoic industry veteran. “Personally, I think I did it at time where I know (the titles) I’ve got were going to struggle as new releases. I have no outstanding advances from films, so I’ve basically been able to walk away with a very clean sheet.”

21st Century Pictures began when Wright and fellow CBS Fox exec Ray Robinson (pictured, right: in 1985) saw the market was ripe for a new Australian-owned outfit. ““The main aim was to be a strong independent distributor. Robbo was a tremendous salesman; he was the frontman and I was the backman. He spoke with Andrew Pike of Ronin Films and, within a year, Frank Cox from NewVision and got them on board,” recalls Wright of the company’s inception. “Only a few months after we started we had Ronin product and, of course, they had Shine (pictured, below) which was a huge success for us. When NewVision, which became Hopscotch, came on board, well...we had their last film in April (2012), Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. That’s a 16, maybe 17 year relationship.”

The heady days of overseeing the release of big studio product for the Fox corporation (he balanced the sheets on the Australian sector release of such home video hits as Die Hard, Working Girl and The Abyss) still hold a special if distant memory for Wright. “When I first started at Fox, we were getting $100 a unit per title and a new account had to pay cash up-front. The first order had to be at least 5000 bucks and cash up-front for six months!” he says, with an ironic laugh. “Bring those days back and I think I might have stayed on!” There were drawbacks that Wright doesn’t miss, though. “The problem with that was overseas bosses and the midnight phone calls; ‘why haven’t you reached your numbers?’, pressure like that. It has always been great working for myself.”

In addition to the strong ties he and his team established with the local sector, Wright became a well-liked and savvy negotiator in the international marketplace. “We used to go to AFM, Cannes and MIFED,” he says of the high profile he enjoyed at the content industry’s coalface. “Cannes mainly because of our involvement with Hopscotch, but it’s a very expensive market to attend, with everyone caught up in the hype of the film festival. Sometimes we’ve gone there and not bought a film. Often the best time to be at those markets are when people are packing up their offices and have movies they want to offload, meaning we could negotiate a reasonable price.”

Driving units into the ultra-competitive rental market never became easy for 21st Century Pictures, whose monthly releases would range from high-brow cinema titles (Kiss or Kill; Mysterious Skin; Leaving Las Vegas [pictured, right]; Source Code) to what the industry kindly calls ‘filler’ (Pterodactyl; Bong of the Dead; Sand Sharks). Wright is pragmatic about the perception of and reception afforded his company. “We never got the recognition of the major film studios, never developed the reputation of Roadshow Home Video, which was obviously the major independent distributor,” he says. “But, month to month, it came down to the product. If you did the numbers and got the (per unit) price you wanted, we did very well, but we were never courted to the extent that the majors were.”

The consolidation of the retail sector into franchise-run buying groups shifted the power from the distributors, who traditionally wielded might based on the commercial strength of their titles. Able to now buy big unit numbers via head office/single price-point agreements, the chains (predominantly Video Ezy, Civic Video, Top Video and, eventually, Blockbuster) had the upper hand. The new paradigm hurt independent operators like 21st Century, who saw their per unit asking price plummet just to ensure multiple units of their titles found shelf space.

“Once the industry got to the point where the business was controlled by the (buying) groups, and you basically had to go to their office every month to get a deal, then, yeah, it was a struggle,” recalls Wright, who handled such negotiations along with stalwart sales managers like Dan Quinn and Martin Gallery after the departure of Robinson, who took an executive position with Roadshow Home Video. “But even then, when you had the product, had a theatrical title that had taken a million bucks at the box office, whether you were Columbia Tri-Star or CIC, you would get the support and get your share of the money. In some cases I reckon we did better with the retailers because we were independent. The ‘Aussie spirit’, and the support afforded smaller operators, did help us at certain times.”

It would be the ending of 21st Century Pictures’ contract with Hopscotch that made Wright realise his operation had reached a fork in the road . “When I knew that the Hopscotch stuff was going, I thought, ‘Well, I won’t buy anymore films but just release direct-to-dvd titles and see what happens.’ They didn’t do very well so I decided that, ok, it’s time to pull up stumps and call it quits.” The DVD retail operations have been absorbed by Melbourne-based Griffin Entertainment and Wright, exhibiting his keen business sense, signed a download deal with Bigpond that extends the life of his catalogue to nearly 7 years; the last film Wright owns under the 21st Century banner has a rights expiration date of 2021. “If I was 20 years younger, I probably would have thought, ‘Ok, what can we do as an alternative to keep us going?’” he says, contemplatively. “But at the age I am, I’m ready to retire. 21st Century Pictures was now 20 years old and I would’ve been in the rental market for nearly 30 years, so it was time to put (my) feet up and have a rest.”

When I ask him to cite the one aspect of 21st Century Pictures of which he is most proud, his trademark rapid-fire response fails him. He is reflective. “I’m most proud of the staff,” he finally says, softly. “The team has always been very good and very supportive. And I’ve no regrets. I’ve enjoyed what we’ve done.”

Tuesday
Dec042012

AACTA NOMINATIONS ANNOUNCED

End-of-year award season buzz kicked into top gear when Australia's leading film and televsion industry body revealed its contenders for the 2013 AACTA's in Sydney.

The Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) announced its second annual award nominations at a modest media event at Sydney’s Darling Hotel. The gaudy, glitzy ambience of the nearby Star City Casino was nowhere to be found at the far more refined gathering of journalists and publicists; a smattering of on-screen talent attended, their presence an early indicator as to who would contend for the coveted AACTA trophy at the award ceremony on January 30.

National treasure and AACTA Board Member Sigrid Thornton emceed the announcements (fluffing her tele-prompted lines on more than one occasion) and industry figureheads Damian Trewhella, AACTA CEO, and Alan Finney, AACTA Chairperson (pictured, right), voiced their views on AACTA’s importance and the year in Australian film and television. Nominees were announced by actors Alex Dimitriades and Diana Glenn.

Leading the field of film nominations was Wayne Blair’s box-office hit The Sapphires with 12, including Film, Actress (Deborah Mailman), Actor (Chris O’Dowd), Supporting Actress (Jessica Mauboy), Direction and Adapted Screenplay. Other Best Film nominees are Cate Shortland’s Lore (8 nominations), PJ Hogan’s Mental (8 nominations) and Kieran Darcy-Smith’s Wish You Were Here (8 nominations). Though nobody wept over the omission of Kath & Kimderella and Bait 3D in all categories, there was some head-shaking when lauded works Hail, from Amiel Courtin-Wilson, and Toomelah, from last years’ Byron Kennedy award recipient Ivan Sen, were shut-out; others who found no AACTA love were John Duigan’s Careless Love, Tony Krawitz’s Dead Europe and David Pulbrook’s Last Dance.  

Peter Templeman’s inner-city dramedy Not Suitable For Children earned four nominations, including a Lead Actress nod for Sarah Snook (her second consecutive AACTA acknowledgement after winning last year for the telemovie Sisters of War; pictured, left); other films in the mix include Pauline Chan’s 33 Postcards (2 nominations, including a Best Actor slot for Guy Pearce), Gary McKendry’s Killer Elite (2 nominations) and one-offs for A Few Best Men, Iron Sky, X, Swerve and The King is Dead. The prized Raymond Longford Award, given for an individual’s extraordinary career contribution to the Australian sector, will be presented to producer Al Clark (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert; Muriel’s Wedding; Chopper) at an event luncheon on January 28.

Film nominations are below; visit the AACTA website for full coverage of all nominees:

BEST COSTUME DESIGN - Burning Man. Lizzy Gardiner; Lore. Stefanie Bieker; Mental. Tim Chappel; The Sapphires. Tess Schofield.

BEST LEAD ACTOR - Joel Edgerton. Wish You Were Here; Matthew Goode. Burning Man; Chris O'Dowd. The Sapphires; Guy Pearce. 33 Postcards.

BEST LEAD ACTRESS - Toni Collette. Mental; Deborah Mailman. The Sapphires; Felicity Price. Wish You Were Here; Sarah Snook. Not Suitable For Children.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR - Ryan Corr. Not Suitable For Children; Liev Schreiber. Mental; Antony Starr. Wish You Were Here; Gary Waddell. The King Is Dead!

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS - Essie Davis. Burning Man; Rebecca Gibney. Mental; Deborah Mailman. Mental; Jessica Mauboy. The Sapphires.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY - Lore. Cate Shortland, Robin Mukherjee; The Sapphires. Keith Thompson, Tony Briggs.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY - Burning Man. Garry Phillips ACS; Lore. Adam Arkapaw; The Sapphires. Warwick Thornton; Wish You Were Here. Jules O'Loughlin ACS.

BEST EDITING - Burning Man. Martin Connor; The Sapphires. Dany Cooper ASE; Wish You Were Here. Jason Ballantine ASE; X. Cindy Clarkson.

BEST SOUND - Burning Man. David Lee, Andrew Plain, Gethin Creagh; Lore. Sam Petty, Michael Busch, Robert Mackenzie, Antony Gray, Yulia Akerholt, Brooke Trezise; The Sapphires. Andrew Plain, Bry Jones, Pete Smith, Ben Osmo, John Simpson; Swerve. Pete Smith, John Simpson, Martyn Zub, Des Kenneally.

BEST ORIGINAL MUSIC SCORE - 33 Postcards. Antony Partos; A Few Best Men. Guy Gross; Mental. Michael Yezerski; Not Suitable For Children. Matteo Zingales, Jono Ma.

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN - Burning Man. Steven Jones-Evans APDG; Killer Elite. Michelle McGahey; Lore. Silke Fischer; The Sapphires. Melinda Doring.

BEST FILM - Burning Man. Andy Paterson, Jonathan Teplitzky; Lore. Karsten Stöter, Liz Watts, Paul Welsh, Benny Drechsel; The Sapphires. Rosemary Blight, Kylie du Fresne; Wish You Were Here. Angie Fielder.

BEST DIRECTION - Burning Man. Jonathan Teplitzky; Lore. Cate Shortland; The Sapphires. Wayne Blair; Wish You Were Here. Kieran Darcy-Smith.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY - Burning Man. Jonathan Teplitzky; Mental. PJ Hogan; Not Suitable For Children. Michael Lucas; Wish You Were Here. Kieran Darcy-Smith, Felicity Price.

Monday
Nov192012

WATCHING SHORTS ON BONDI BEACH

The thriving Eastern Suburbs film community kicks off its local summer season with the 12th annual Bondi Short Film Festival. The event's director, Francis Coady (pictured, below), spoke to SCREEN-SPACE about the state of the industry for short filmmakers.

After 12 years, what have you seen change in the shorts that approach the Festival for consideration? Where do 2011 short-filmmakers differ from the ones from over a decade ago? 

In 2012, it is common to see shorts that don’t exactly ‘fit inside the box.’ Today, short-filmmakers are all about pushing the boundaries, showing off their creative ingenuity and expressing their personal voice. With less restraints, I‘d say the film makers in this day in age are definitely more liberated to speak their mind and shake things up a bit.  Also the overall production values of short films have increased dramatically due to reduced costs in production equipment and editing.

How does the iconic Australian setting infuse the Festival?

With Bondi’s surf, sun, sea, and sand, there is no better place for a short film festival. I am a firm believer that the surroundings and scenery of any event can really make an impact to the overall feel and atmosphere of it. So it’s quite hard to not have a good time at the Bondi Short Film Festival because you’ve got the best of both worlds. Fourteen of Australia’s finest short films set to the backdrop of Australia’s most iconic beach (pictured, right, director Brodie Rocca's Julia).

Are the current crop of short-filmmakers making work with a social conscience or are there a lot of gag-films and zombie comedies to wade through?

The work of the current crop of short-filmmakers is definitely geared towards themes of the social conscience. The shorts from this year’s finalists explore real life issues ranging from unhealthy and abnormal relationships, the struggles and pressures of performers and professional athletes to the everyday hardships of society. Some will make you shed a tear and some will make you laugh uncontrollably, but all in all each one will leave you with a new insight into the world around us.

Is there sufficient industry infra-structure and support for the short film sector? Are first time directors finding it harder or easier than when the Festival began?

There is support for young, emerging film makers in Australia through government funding bodies and scholarship programs. However, the majority of films that we screen and have reviewed over the last twelve years have been generated by extremely passionate and enthusiastic individuals or collaborative teams of film makers, who have done it on their own. Some years the major film schools will produce excellent short films and we support them accordingly. (pictured, left, director Christopher Kezelos' The Maker)