Writer-director Richard Frankland is chuffed that his road movie Stone Bros. is being launched in the US on April 9 on all the major cable Video-on-Demand platforms which together reach more than 50 million homes.
One of the wave of Indigenous filmmakers that emerged in the past 10 years, Frankland is developing two movies: a drama based on his play Conversations with the Dead, which will be produced by Tait Brady and executive produced by Rolf de Heer; and an untitled horror movie, a contemporary tale which deals with the clash between white and black cultures.
He's also writing a play, Voices, to be staged by Melbourne's Malthouse theatre, which Wayne Blair (The Sapphires) will direct, based on Frankland's experiences as a teenager working in an abattoir in Portland in country Victoria.
All that's in addition to his 'day' job as a community worker who mentors individuals and organisations with a primary focus on “Lateral Violence,” which he says is endemic among Indigenous communities throughout the world, a hangover from colonisation and a condition which preys on fear, rage and distrust.
His debut feature which debuted in Australia in 2009, Stone Bros. follows a young Aboriginal in Perth (Luke Carroll) as he heads to the Outback to recover a sacred stone and reconnect with his black fella roots, accompanied by his cousin (Leon Burchill) and 187 joints. Odin's Eye Entertainment's Michael Favelle acquired the North American VOD rights from SBS Independent and is releasing the title through Warner Bros. Digital Distribution, through which he funnels up to 20 films and documentaries per year.
“It has strong niche marketing potential, which seems to be what is working best for us in that market,” says Favelle, who put the features Inseparable and Five Time Champion and docos Fighting Fear, First Love, Yes Madam, Sir, Pray for Japan and Salute through that pipeline. The arrangement gives Warner Digital the option of pressing physical DVDs though its manufacture-on-demand program.
In the US the film is retitled Stoned Bros. The release date ties in to the lead-up to National Pot Day, which many Americans celebrate on April 20. Former Village Roadshow exec Andrew Hazelton, whom Favelle recently hired as Los Angeles-based vice president of distribution and marketing, tells SBS Film he's running a grassroots (pun intended) marketing campaign via Facebook, weed blogs and websites and WB-controlled social media sites including those for the stoner movies Harold & Kumar, Dumb and Dumber and Friday Movie.
“I'm grateful that the film is going out in the US and getting exposure,” says Frankland. “It might do all right with its Cheech and Chong-type perspective on the world. It's about healing, family and home and it's about us [Indigenous people], warts and all.”
Conversations with the Dead is based on his experiences working as a field officer for the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in Victoria, Tasmania and NSW in 1988-1991. He said it was a “bloody hard” job that entailed a great personal and emotional cost, after which “I fell on my bum and life knocked me around a bit. I saw a lot of things that were shameful for Australians [but] the film is about hope and winning against the odds.”
He directed the play which was staged at the Malthouse in 2002, starring Aaron Pederson, and in Sydney's Belvoir Street Theatre the following year, with Wayne Blair as the lead. Brady saw the play and while he worked for the Film Finance Corp. collaborated with Frankland in developing Stone Bros.
As for the horror movie, Frankland said, “It scares me so much I don't write it in the dark or when I'm alone.”
Frankland directed the 2010 doco Among Us, the saga of the Stolen Generations of Victoria, where Aboriginal elders returned to the institutions in Ballarat from which they were removed as children between the 1950s and 1970s. His directing credits include episodes of SBS's The Circuit, Blue Heelers and the Nine network's children series Double Trouble.
He's understandably thrilled with the surge of Indigenous film, TV drama and factual programming, observing “It's exciting and scary, like a roller-coaster ride. We were voiceless for so long.”