Film buffs keen on Gael Garcia Bernal or Helen Mirren, Mads Mikkelsen or Susan Sarandon, have something for them in the next wave of independent films heading for Australian cinemas.
The star of Amores Perros and The Motorcycle Diaries plays a brash advertising executive who drives Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet out of office in No, while the legendary Mirren morphs into a maid to a well-to-do novelist in director Istvan Szabo's The Door. Mikkelsen plays a kindergarten teacher wrongly accused of molesting a child in The Hunt, from Thomas Vinterberg of Dogme fame, while US veteran Sarandon is one of the leading ladies in Still of Night, about the impact on a career woman when her sister goes missing, and is part of the ensemble cast in director Robert Redford's unfinished upcoming thriller The Company You Keep.
All five films are among more than 30 acquired by local distributors in the last two months. No and The Door are being ushered into Australian cinemas by distributor Rialto, The Hunt and The Company You Keep by Madman, and Still of Night by Pinnacle.
Independent local distributors regularly buy Australian rights to a significant number of films from all over the world with the intention of showing them on the big screen. They have to convince audiences to buy tickets and cinema operators to book the films in a very competitive environment. Having big-name home-grown actors helps because they are likely to have or are perceived as having a strong Australian following – and the chances of them coming to Australia to help promote a film are high.
Nicole Kidman playing former Hollywood star Grace Kelly would have been a factor in Hopscotch's decision to sign on to distribute Grace of Monaco in Australia. She is also in The Butler, about White House butler Eugene Allen who served eight American presidents in three decades, another just-acquired Hopscotch film.
Mia Wasikowska playing the title role alongside Paul Giamatti would have figured in Transmission's decision to sign on for Madame Bovary, yet another film sparked by Gustave Flaubert's 1850s French novel about a doctor's wife and her extramarital affairs. The many film versions include Claude Chabrol's (1991) starring Isabelle Huppert, and a more recent interpretation starring another Australian actor, Frances O'Connor.
Wasikowska is also appearing in Madman's The Double, Submarine director Richard Ayoade's comedy about a man driven insane by the presence of his doppelganger.
Having a director attached who is known for his or her remarkable or distinctive work helps spark interest among audiences. The latest batch of acquisitions includes the work of many auteurs. Michel Gondry's (The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) new film The We and The I, is another recent Madman pick-up, for example, as is Susan Bier's Love is All You Need and the prolific Michael Winterbottom's The King of Soho, This last film is about UK porn and property baron Paul Raymond, to be played by Steve Coogan, who worked with Winterbottom on 24 Hour Party People.
Certain biopics are seen as irresistible – an example being the Pinnacle film Jobs, about one of the world's revered entrepreneurs, Steve Jobs, who's being played by Ashton Kutcher – and world politics always gets a look-in. Iraq figures in two upcoming films for instance: the action thriller Code Name: Geronimo, about a group of Navy SEALs who learn that the identify of their target is Osama bin Laden (Transmission); and Bekas, about two homeless Kurdish boys who see Superman at the cinema and decide to go to America (Rialto).
Distributors acquire films all year around but one of the peak buying times is during – or just before or after – the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in May. It's one of the reasons that Australian rights have been purchased for so many films recently.
One of the newest distributors in Australia, Curious, acquired two films at Cannes including Granny's Funeral, billed as a French comedy about love, life and death; and Grand Prix winner Reality, a biting satire of reality television and Italian culture, written and directed by Matteo Garrone (Gomorrah).
Two films already mentioned – The Hunt and No – were also Cannes winners, the former earning Mikkelsen the award for best actor, and the latter winning the top prize at Director's Fortnight. Madman also picked up Beyond the Hills, which earned best screenplay for Romanian director Christian Mungiu (2007 Palme d'Or for 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days) and the best actress award for co-stars Cosmina Strata and Cristina Flutur. The story starts as a tale of friendship between two young women in an orphanage during the time that Nicolae Ceausescu ruled Romania and ends with an exorcism.
Transmission will be handling the local release of the winner of the top prize at Cannes, Michael Haneke's Amour, but acquired it as a pre-buy long before the festival. It is very common for distributors to buy films on the appeal of the script and/or director and cast. Amour examines how life changes for an elderly couple after one of them has a stroke.
While the consumer media hype generally concentrates on the red carpet goings-on, behind the scenes hundreds of not-yet-made films are being financed, bought and sold at the market.
Other recent Australian acquisitions include: the thriller Mission Blacklist and the comedy crime drama Dom Hemingway, starring Jude Law in the title role as a notorious safe-cracker (Transmission); the two comedies Sightseers and Whole Lotta Sole, starring Brendan Fraser and directed by Hotel Rwanda's Terry George (Rialto); Fly Me to the Moon from France, The Taste of Money from Korea (pictured) and US documentary Marilyn's Fragments, (Madman); Motor City starring Gerard Butler and the science fiction film Dark Skies from visual effects whiz Scott Charles Stewart (Pinnacle); The Winter Rose and Revenge of the Green Dragons (Hopscotch); and the surprise hit of the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, Holy Motors, starring Denis Lavant, Eve Mendes and Kylie Minogue (Icon).