A unique multi-screen adaptation of Tim Winton's short stories has some big names attached.
23 Mar 2012 - 10:37 AM  UPDATED 23 Mar 2012 - 10:37 AM

UPDATED: Due to scheduling issues, Cate Blanchett was later forced to pull out of directing her segment and was replaced by Simon Stone. Blanchett instead starred alongside Richard Roxburgh and Robyn Nevin.

An all-star "event" adaptation of novelist Tim Winton's The Turning, a book of interconnected short stories, has received backing from the national film funding agency, Screen Australia.

Producer Robert Connolly spoke to SBS Film about the project, which has 17 directors attached (of which he is one), and will have a unique distribution model: The Turning will screen as a single feature film in cinemas, and as smaller vignettes in galleries, live theatre venues and online.

“We [filmmakers] have always created content in a way that suits us but we are going to realise this project in a way that suits the audience,” Connolly said.

Well aware that Hollywood blockbusters dominate cinemas, he is planning to give the new film “event” status in a different way: audiences might see them on a series of screens on a gallery wall, or on a digital screen at a theatre company on a Monday night when it is usually dark.

“We want to shake up what cinema is, provide a great playful experience for the audience,” he said. “For some, part of the adventure will be not watching all the parts at the same time. Part of the pleasure will be finding the connections and threads, just as you have to in the book, and stitching them all together.”

The board of federal film agency Screen Australia agreed to fund The Turning yesterday in Sydney, along with three other features including an adaptation of Tracks, Robyn Davidson's book documenting her 1977 journey across the desert with four camels and a dog (see below).

The Turning is Australia's best-selling book of short stories ever,” said Connolly, who invited a range of people to tell him which stories they most responded to and how they would adapt them to the screen if given the opportunity.

The group of directors he subsequently chose included many who had not directed for the screen before including actors Cate Blanchett (pictured), David Wenham and Mia Wasikowska; writer/actor Ian Meadows; dancer and choreographer Steven Page; circus artist Yaron Lifschitz; and video artist Shaun Gladwell.

The experienced directors include Tony Ayres (The Home Song Stories), Justin Kurzel (Snowtown), Jonathan auf der Heide (Van Diemen's Land), Claire McCarthy (The Waiting City) and the documentarian Rhys Graham (Murundak: Songs of Freedom). The co-producer of The Turning, Maggie Miles, produced Van Diemen's Land.

Some will tell their stories in a traditional way; others will take a more experimental approach. Some of the directors wrote the scripts while others had the script written for them.

Cameras roll on the first short in July and a year later all 17 will be in the can. A number are being made in Winton's home state of Western Australia. The project will premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival in 2014.

Connolly directed The Bank and Balibo and produced The Boys and Romulus, My Father. He was speaking while looking for locations for Underground, a telemovie he is directing about the subversive early life of whistleblower Julian Assange.

Screen Australia is also investing in the following films:

The Babadook
Writer/director Jennifer Kent.
Cast Essie Davis.
Producers Kristina Ceyton, Kristian Moliere.
Synopsis: A single mother plagued by the violent death of her husband battles with her son's fear of a monster lurking in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her.

Writer/director Rhys Graham.
Producer Philippa Campey.
Synopsis: Billie and Laura, two reckless teenage best friends, share everything, except for Billie's biggest secret: she's crazy in love with Laura's boyfriend.

Director John Curran.
Producers Emile Sherman, Iain Canning.
Co-producer Julie Ryan.
Synopsis: The inspirational true story of Robyn Davidson's solo camel trek through the harsh centre of Australia, aided only by her faithful canine companion Diggity and the National Geographic photographer who chronicled this epic modern adventure.