The Australian romantic comedy opens this week after a long and chequered journey.  
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9 Oct 2012 - 11:25 AM  UPDATED 9 Oct 2012 - 11:25 AM

Shot in April/May 2009, The Wedding Party opened the 2010 Melbourne International Film Festival and subsequently played at more than 20 international festivals but an Australian release has remained elusive—until now.

There is a lack of certainty in releasing Australian films, a lack of confidence among investors and distributors

The romantic comedy opens on October 11 in seven cinemas in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and the Gold Coast via Tait Brady's new distribution company Label. Its long, arduous journey to the screen is an intriguing tale of a glitch with the original distributor, rejections from other distributors, a recut by an Oscar-nominated editor, and the perseverance of first-time producer Nicole Minchin and director Amanda Jane.

Regardless of the Australian B.O. results, a release in cinemas and online in the US in early 2013 is assured through a deal with Los Angeles-based MouseTrap Films. Jane is optimistic about the film's prospects in the US after personally witnessing how strongly audiences responded at festivals across the country including in New York, Los Angeles, Kansas and Alaska.

The two leads, Josh Lawson and Isabel Lucas, who are based in the US, should give the film a reasonable profile there. Lawson plays Steve, a feckless guy facing financial ruin who agrees to marry Russian girl Ana (Lucas) for $25,000 so she can get her residency, but tries to keep it a secret.

The delay in securing an Australian release was a test for the producer and director. “Nicole and I were very determined to get some sort of cinema release,” Jane tells SBS Film. “We've learned the hard way how difficult that is. We went through stages of some distributors being very keen to be involved then moving on. We're thrilled that it's finally happening.”

The cast members are similarly relieved. “There is a lack of certainty in releasing Australian films, a lack of confidence among investors and distributors,” says Nadine Garner, who plays Steve's sister Lisa, who is grappling with gynaecological issues much to the frustration of her partner Tommy (Adam Zwar). “This film is a beautiful, light-hearted look at humanity with all its flaws and joys.”

“It has such great heart it really deserves to get out there,” says Zwar, who spent his first day shooting a sex scene with Nadine, which he describes as being “as awkward on set as it looks on screen.” He enjoyed playing his character whom he saw as “such a good guy, way nicer than I am”.

Garner, who had a five-week-old baby when she started filming, sounds more relaxed about that scene, describing it as “another day at the office”.

Jane started work on the screenplay with writer Christine Bartlett about eight years ago after Schoolies, a teenage film she had planned to make with Heath Ledger, was scrapped. Ledger, who had made his Hollywood debut in 10 Things I Hate About You, was keen to star in the film set during schoolies week on the Gold Coast but the project foundered during pre-production when the funding for a parallel TV series fell through.

The idea for The Wedding Party was sparked by Jane and Bartlett's desire to make an ensemble film about relationships and family dynamics. As the youngest of six children, Jane had long been fascinated with family relationships.

Funding came from the Australian Film Commission's IndiVision Project Lab, later Screen Australia, the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) Premiere Fund, Film Victoria, private investors including dentists and doctors, and the 40 percent producer offset.

Script evaluation executives at IndiVision and Screen Australia initially had problems with the screenplay because they regarded Steve as an unlikable character. Jane persisted, seeing Steve as an appealing, Hugh Grant-like character and the part was written with Lawson in mind. By the time the film was financed Lawson was establishing a career in Hollywood so the director wrote him a “love letter” asking him to come back for the film, albeit for not much money.

Lucas had just appeared in Transformers when she signed up. She immersed herself in Russian culture, hanging out at a Russian club, watching Russian films and listening to music. Her accent was flawless, according to Nikolai Nikolaeff, who played her Russian boyfriend Vlad.

Steve Bisley plays Steve's philandering father with Heather Mitchell as his mother, Kestie Morassi as his true love Jacqui, Geoff Paine as Steve's brother Colin, who has a bondage fetish, and Essie Davis as Colin's wife Jane. Bill Hunter played the priest.

Minchin started shopping the film to other distributors after deciding the relationship with New Zealand-based Arkles Entertainment “wasn't moving forward for various reasons”. It was voted most popular Australian film at MIFF but the consensus view of distributors is that it was overlong and needed tightening.

So Jill Billcock (Moulin Rouge!, Red Dog), who had seen the film at MIFF, was hired as supervising editor and she trimmed 19 minutes off the running time. Jane initially was afraid the recut would eliminate a couple of characters or focus more on the wedding angle but was delighted with Jill's seamless edit, which deleted some superfluous lines and just two small scenes.

Tait Brady came on board as the theatrical distributor after Madman Entertainment bought the DVD and TV rights. “We first met Tait at IndiVision. He loved the film and he's been a great supporter,” Minchin says.

The film will play at the Brighton Bay and Cameo in Melbourne, Hoyts Paris and Roseville in Sydney, Dendy Portside in Brisbane, Trak in Adelaide and Event Cinemas Robina on the Gold Coast.

Gary Hamilton's Arclight Films signed on as the international sales agent before the Cannes festival in 2011. Apart from the US only a handful of territories have bought the film, including Turkey, India and Vietnam. Minchin hopes sales will pick-up if the film performs well in Australia.