Screen News in Brief: Australia’s summer films catch fire, doco funding announced and more

We're heading back to cinemas; Causeway's supernatural horror comes home from Serbia; and awards, opportunities and opinions abound in this final instalment of News in Brief for 2020.

Cinemas are open again with lots of Australian films

This is the final News in Brief column for 2020, and what a relief it is to reach this point and say that our cinemas across the nation are well and truly open for the summer season. Now is the time to support your local physical cinema if you want it to keep existing. Australian films on offer now in selected cinemas include Rams, Brazen Hussies and Babyteeth. But also look out for:

The Furnace: Out now, the debut feature from WA writer-director Roderick MacKay, premiered at the 2020 Venice Film Festival. Set during WA’s 1890s gold rush and filmed in the ruggedly beautiful country around Mount Magnet in the Mid West, the story is an unlikely hero’s tale about a young Afghan cameleer (rising Egyptian star Ahmed Malek) who falls in with a mysterious bushman (David Wenham) on the run with two stolen Crown gold bars. Pursued by a zealous police sergeant and his troopers, they must race to a secret furnace where they can reset the bars to remove the mark of the Crown.

The Dry: Director Robert Connolly’s adaptation of Jane Harper’s best-selling crime thriller, starring Eric Bana. Produced by Made Up Stories (Bruna Papandrea, Jodi Matterson  and Steve Hutensky), the film has advanced screenings 17, 18, 19 December before it’s 1 January wide release through Roadshow.

Penguin Bloom: Glendyn Ivin directs this adaptation of the best-selling non fiction book. Naomi Watts stars as the young wife and mother who finds hope through a baby magpie after she’s paralysed by a near-fatal accident. Also produced by Made Up Stories, Penguin Bloom is released by Roadshow on 21 January.

Read More: The Most Anticipated Films of 2020

High Ground: An action thriller set in 1919 and filmed in the Northern Territory, High Ground stars In a bid to save the last of his family, Gutjuk (Jacob Junior Nayinggul), a young Aboriginal man, teams up with ex-soldier Travis (Simon Baker) to track down Baywara (Sean Mununggurr), the most dangerous warrior in the Territory, his uncle. Directed by Stephen Maxwell Johnson, and produced by David Jowsey, Maggie Miles, Witiyana Marika, Greer Simpkin and Stephen Maxwell Johnson, High Ground premiered at the 2020 Berlin International Film Festival and is in national release through Madman on 28 January.

Occupation: Rainfall: A new Australian alien invasion wannabe blockbuster, produced entirely independently, will release across more than 120 screens on 28 January, distributed by Monster Pictures. Directed and written by Luke Sparke (Occupation) and produced by mother and daughter duo Carly & Carmel Imrie (Occupation, Red Billabong) and co-executive producer Todd Williams (The Nun, Alex and Me). Boasting ‘eye-popping visual effects by local industry leaders including Creative Cupids, FIN and countless independent artists with backgrounds working on major studio pictures’, the cast includes Ken Jeong (Crazy Rich Asians), Daniel Gillies, Dan Ewing, Dena Kaplan, Temuera Morrison, Mark Coles Smith and Vince Colosimo.  Check out the trailer here.

Documentary News

  • Screen Australia announced this week more than $2.5 million of funding for five documentaries through the Commissioned program, six through the Producer Program, and one through the Indigenous Department. Incarceration Nation is a feature-length doc for NITV  telling the tragic story of Aboriginal people’s experience of the Australian justice system, from writer-director Dean Gibson and producer Helen Morrison (Wik vs Queensland).
  • Other projects include Chris Phillips and Katy Roberts’ Black Summer, an online documentary about Australia’s bushfires through the first-hand account of photographer Matthew Abbott, whose photos propelled the Australian bushfires to the top of the global news cycle; Ningaloo, a TV series with Tim Winton exploring WA’s magnificent reef; Anonymous Club, a feature doc about singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett, produced by Philippa Campey and Samantha Dinning; and Cleaning Trauma, a feature doc following larger-than-life trauma cleaning business owner Dandra Pankhurst as she searches for her birth mother and reinvents herself as an icon for resilience. Cleaning Trauma is directed by Lachlan McLeod and produced by Charlotte Wheaton, David Elliot-Jones and exec produced by Good Thing Productions.
  • Norita, a feature documentary by director Jayson McNamara (Messenger on a White Horse) and producers Rebecca Bennett (Ghosthunter) and Daniel Joyce (Barbecue), has been announced as the winner of the inaugural New Perspectives Pitch Laba pitch training initiative to support non-fiction talent with a social impact project in development or production. Announced this week by AFTRS, Doc Society, AIDC and Screen NSW, the Pitch Lab will see the Norita creative team participating in pitching opportunities at the 2021 Australian International Documentary Conference (AIDC) and receiving complimentary all-access passes to the Conference. Norita is set in Argentina. ‘In 1977, Nora Cortiñas’ son was kidnapped by Argentina’s dictatorship. During her forty-year search for him, Nora is transformed from a conservative housewife into a trailblazing activist and celebrated icon, inspiring a new generation to fight for their democracy.’
  • The Australian International Documentary Conference (AIDC) runs 28 February to 3 March 2021. 

Policy Updates

  • Screen Producers Australia (SPA) has welcomed the Senate’s support for new rules to guarantee online streaming services contribute to Australian culture on our screens. CEO Matthew Deaner stated: “The Senate’s motion, moved by Senator Hanson-Young [on Tuesday], is timely recognition of the urgency of this issue, and comes on the back of the welcome release of regulatory proposals in the Government’s Media Reform Green Paper.
  • Feds launch entire new TV reform package. It’s back to the future as the government lays out plans for two new media sector support funds, extracting cash from the streaming companies, and nagging the government broadcasters. All without paying for it.

Production: Anticipating Causeway Films’ You Won’t Be Alone 

Principal photography has wrapped in Serbia on the supernatural horror film You Won’t Be Alone from Causeway Films’ Kristina Ceyton and Sam Jennings, the producers of The Babadook and The Nightingale. You Won’t be Alone is the debut feature from Australian-Macedonian writer-director Goran Stolevski, whose short film Would You Look at Her won Best International Short film at 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

The acclaimed international cast includes Noomi Rapace (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), BAFTA Award-winning Romanian star Anamaria Marinca (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days), Australian actress Alice Englert (Ratched), Portuguese actor Carloto Cotta (Tabu) and Lumières Award-winning French actor Félix Maritaud (Sauvage). Stolevski also reunites with Would You Look At Her star, Macedonian actress Sara Klimoska.

Read More: Bruce Miller talks about the inner workings of The Handmaid’s Tale

Here’s the synopsis: ‘Set in an isolated mountain village in 19th century Macedonia, You Won’t Be Alone follows a young witch who is left to go feral in the woods. Curious about life as a human, she accidentally kills a peasant in the village, then takes her shape to see what life is like in her skin. This ignites her deep-seated curiosity to experience life inside the bodies of others.’

The production will now move to Melbourne to complete sound and picture post-production with support from post-production partner KOJO Studios. Focus Features has acquired worldwide rights, with Focus handling domestic distribution and Universal Pictures International handling international territories.

Games News 

Awards and Congratulations

Opinions

Festivals

  • The Revelation Perth International Film Festival is back with a physical fest underway right now (9 – 20 December) at venues including Luna Cinemas, the Windsor and Luna SX. Known as ‘the fearless film festival’ with its eclectic and adventurous program, this year’s Australian highlights include Parish Malfitano’s Bloodshot Heart, Robert Woods’ An Ideal Host, Isabel Peppard and Josie Hess’s Morgana, and Chris Elena’s award-winning short Audio Guide. In documentary, the program includes Joseph Londoni’s The Beloved, and Cathy Henkel and Sam Lara’s Laura’s Choice.
  • The Coffs Coast’s Screenwave International Film Festival (SWIFF) is regional NSW’s most highly attended film festival. It has announced plans to re-emerge in 2021 with a new autumn timeslot, running 16 days of films and experiences from April 14 – 29. Founded in 2015 and traditionally held in January, Screenwave is co-directed by Dave Horsley and Kate Howat and will host over 100 feature film screenings, as well as the return of the SWIFF Live hybrid performance-screening program, the Nextwave Youth Film Awards, and a reimagined workshop and industry program for filmmakers.

Internships, Attachments and Opportunities

  • Applications for the Victorian Screen Development Internships are now open and close January 14. More info here. Nikki Tran and Davey Thompson will also talk about their internship experiences during a live Q&A on Film Victoria’s Facebook page on December 15, 11am AEDT. Register now.
  • Diverse screen producers, apply for these 2021 opportunities now. A roundup of opportunities in 2021 for LGBTQIA+, POC, Indigenous, Disabled, and gender diverse screen producers.
  • Screenworks is currently running its annual fundraising raffle, offering the chance to win 30 minute one-on-one Zoom sessions with prominent screen industry experts. You choose which one you’d like to speak to and buy as many tickets as you dare. Over the coming weeks Close-Ups are offered with Virginia Whitwell (Good Thing Productions), Stuart Beattie (screenwriter and director), Jocelyn Moorhouse (screenwriter and director), Sally Riley (ABC), Deb Cox & Fiona Eagger (Every Cloud Productions), Angie Fielder (Aquarius Films). Open to everyone in all states except WA and SA.
  • Are you a film critic in the making? Apply now to be part of the Melbourne Women in Film Festival (MWFF) Critics Lab, taking place in February 2021. This program is designed to support the critical perspectives of people of marginalised genders, including women, non-binary folks, trans men and people with Indigenous gender identities comfortable with taking part in a MWFF initiative. As part of the Lab, participants will be involved in mentoring sessions with established screen critics and will produce a range of content for publication before, during and after the festival. Applications (cover letter and 300 word sample review) should be sent to whitney@mwff.org.au by midnight, January 3, 2021.

Interviews

Reading and listening around the net

  • We’ve long been fans of director Jessica Hobbs (Love My Way, The Slap, The Split). In this written piece she talks about how the Australian television industry prepared her for working on hit Netflix series The Crown. Screen Australia interview.
  • If you missed some of AFTRS’ excellent Facebook live-streamed events this year, they’ve now launched the Talks @ AFTRS Podcast, a series of candid conversations with creative leaders. The 11-part series includes directors Daina Reid and Emma Freeman and creative teams writer Tony McNamara and producer Marian Macgowan and Helen Bowden and Tim Minchin, as well as VR pioneer Lynette Wallworth, actor/martial artist/stuntwoman Maria Tran and Triple J Hack host Avani Dias. Season one is out and available to stream now via Acast.
  • Spectrum Films takes over Definition Films’ post at Fox. Sustaining the highest sound and post production quality is a kind of religion, and its Sydney temple is under new management. 
  • How NZ Kept Cameras Rolling. NZ Film academic Dr Gabriel Reid offers an insight into what has been an extraordinary year for the industry, particularly in Aotearoa.
  • Box office: Australia’s reputation depends on Babyteeth’s world streamers. How much did the AACTAs win push Babyteeth, after the glow of glory died? Rams passes the woolly $4 million mark.
  • The Tourist brings biggest TV production to South Australia. The re-announcement of the Stan/BBC One series from the producers of Fleabag gives government a chance to tout their boosted location offset.

Rochelle Siemienowicz is a journalist for Screenhub. She is a writer, film critic and cultural commentator with a PhD in Australian cinema. She was the co-host of Australia's longest-running film podcast 'Hell is for Hyphenates' and has written a memoir, Fallen, published by Affirm Press. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram