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Australian film production eyes a strong 2014


- Australian cinema: perspectives for the next year are quite optimistic.

Several analysts are predicting that 2014 will be one of the strongest years yet for Australian films at the local and international box office. The buzz started at the Toronto and Venice Film Festivals, where several 2014 films debuted and gained international distribution. Opening in Australia on Dec. 26 and the U.K. on Jan. 1 is The Railway Man [+see also:
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 starring Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman and Stellan Skarsgård. In this drama, a British soldier who was tormented by a Japanese interpreter while a prisoner during World War II discovers that the man is still alive and sets out to find him. The Weinstein Company has U.S. rights.

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TWC also has U.S. distribution for Tracks [+see also:
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, releasing March in Australia and April in the U.S. In 1977, Robyn Davidson traveled for nine months across 2,700 kilometers of Australian desert from Alice Springs to the West Coast with one dog and four unpredictable camels. Along the way, she met a National Geographic photographer who recorded the trip. During the 1980s and ’90s, several films were announced about the journey, with Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman at various times named as the lead. But it was not until October 2012 that filming finally started with rising Australian star Mia Wasikowska as Robyn.

Late January is the worldwide release date for a big-budget contemporary version of the Frankenstein tale based on the graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux, I Frankenstein. This one stars Aaron Eckhart, Bill Nighy, Jai Courtney and Miranda Otto.

In 2005, an unheralded outback thriller, made for A$1 million, Wolf Creek, took the Australian box office by storm, grossing around A$6 million locally and another US$16 million in the States. Actor John Jarratt is back as the villain, with some new backpackers to terrorize in Wolf Creek II, opening mid-February in both Australia and Italy. Director Greg McLean again handles the thrills.

Around the Block, a coming-of-age drama starring Christina Ricci, gained high praise at Toronto. Ricci plays a teacher at a tough inner-city Australian school who encourages a young Aboriginal student to break out of the cycle of violence and seize his potential. It has been called an Australian Dangerous Minds. Release is early 2014.

Four thrillers, all with strong casts, have real potential. Robert Pattinson created a stir when he arrived Down Under to film The Rover with Guy Pearce. David Michod directs this outback thriller set ten years after the collapse of the Western economic system. In the heist thriller Son of a Gun, Ewan McGregor is Australia's most-wanted criminal, who’s working with a new young protégé (Brenton Thwaites). Kill Me Three Times has already been scheduled for release in both the U.S. and Australia in 2014. Simon Pegg, Bryan Brown and Luke Hemsworth head the cast, as three tales of murder in an Australian surfing town are all interconnected. Matt Saville's thriller Felony concentrates on three detectives, one of whom is guilty of a crime. This film gained a strong reaction at Toronto and stars Tom Wilkinson, Joel Edgerton and an actor on a real roll, Jai Courtney. The latter has moved from Australian soap operas to the TV series “Spartacus,” Jack Reacher with Tom Cruise and I Frankenstein, noted above. He is currently filming Unbroken, which Angelina Jolie is filming in Sydney, and then moves to Russell Crowe's The Water Diviner.

Australian comedies don't always travel well, but Roadshow has high hopes for Now Add Honey, in which a Hollywood teen star returns home to suburban Melbourne and finds her life turned upside-down. The film stars Portia de Rossi and Robyn Butler.

Rounding out this partial list of Australian films for 2014 is Canopy, a war drama that received praise in Toronto. Khan Crittenden and Mo Tzu-Yi star in this tale of an Australian fighter pilot who is shot down near Singapore and must find his way through dangerous jungle terrain to safety.

The Australian Movie Convention held in October 2013 was a real success. I have been to exhibition conferences in Europe, Asia and the USA, but this remains one of the friendliest and most welcoming I have attended. The weather was a beautiful 25 to 30c (77-86 Fahrenheit) and I managed to grab some time at the beach, just minutes from the venue at Jupiters Hotel. The 1,500-seat theatre at Jupiters was transformed into a state-of-the-art digital and 3D cinema, with superb picture and sound. This was done thanks to Digipex, Dreamweavers, Hoyts Cinema Technology Group, Deluxe Australia, Doremi, RealD and Christie Digital. (A CP2220 projector was installed for the duration.) At least 200 trailers and excerpts were screened as well as 10 features. There were some most informative industry discussions and speakers in the more formal aspects of the Convention.

An excellent initiative is the Deluxe Network Bar, a bar open exclusively for conference attendees at 10 p.m. every night. One night at the bar I was talking to one country exhibitor who is about to change over to digital. "I have been carrying heavy cans of film around for 40 years," he told me. "It is time for me to have a lighter load." He then went on to explain how he had attended the Christie Training Workshop and spoken to a variety of suppliers at the trade show. "I have learnt more in the last three days about installing digital than I would have in six months trying to phone and e-mail suppliers. This has been the perfect conference for me."

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