Guiding an installation-film project to Sundance is just another feather in the cap of the producer's remarkable career.
17 Dec 2012 - 4:45 PM  UPDATED 17 Dec 2012 - 4:45 PM

When Lynette Wallworth's installation-film project Coral: Rekindling Venus was announced as part of the Sundance Film Festival's New Frontier program, it came as a surprise to find John Maynard's name as producer. I gave him a call.

Is he Mr Adventurer in the Australian producer's realm?

“There's not a lot of innovation or people wanting to work outside of the square in Australian cinema and I think it's about time that changed,” admits the Shepparton-born producer of films including Jane Campion's Sweetie and An Angel at My Table (with his partner Brigid Ikin) and The Boys, The Bank and Balibo (together with his business partner Robert Connolly). “It's terrific that Screen Australia and Screen New South Wales have supported this. It's great to be able to make something that's quite new, but it also kind of bookends what I've done in my life.”

Maynard is referring to his early start in art galleries over 40 years ago when he created what he calls “some very radical works”.

“I was the foundation director of the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Zealand so Coral: Rekindling Venus is not unusual for me. I've spent my life working with artists in one way or another and many of them are filmmakers. So it's just what I do and it's where I'm most comfortable. I really enjoy it.”

When I look up Maynard on IMDb it says he is “regarded as a producer with an instinct for talent and original projects”. It also says he is 70 in January which comes as a surprise. I get a strong reaction when I mention it. Then he settles down to convince me he's at the height of his powers. In many ways Maynard is a national treasure like the coral itself.

“I feel I'm starting to do my best work, without a doubt,” he says. “Producers should benefit from their experience and also from the confidence they gain over a lifetime working in this area. But the most important thing I believe is that you should be doing mature work when you are mature. Look at architects, most of them don't do really good work until they're really old. I mean Frank Lloyd Wright did his best work in his 80s and 90s. I just see it as sort of a new beginning. Brigid and I have started a new company called Felix Media specifically to work with artists. That's how Annette's work came about because we had decided to get really serious and work with visual artists who wanted to work in a bigger format. That's where the most interesting work is.”

Coral: Rekindling Venus is an immersive fulldome film experience, which has been produced to screen in fulldome cinemas and planetariums. The film project has been selected to screen in Sundance's New Frontier program, which celebrates experimental and innovative screen work.

Wallworth spent the last five years developing the project, an immersive, kaleidoscopic journey through the glowing underwater coral cities of Australia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. Featuring cinematography from Emmy Award-winner David Hannan and a soundtrack featuring specially recorded songs from Antony (of Antony and the Johnsons), as well as film composer Max Richter and Gurrumul, Coral: Rekindling Venus is a unique cinematic experience that reveals to the audience a complex community living in the oceans most threatened by climate change.

As the film is intended for fulldome digital planetariums, it will screen in a portable fulldome cinema in Park City and at the Clark Planetarium in Salt Lake City as part of the festival before rolling out, day and date with the festival, in approximately 20 planetariums across the 6 time zones of the US through the Sundance USA program.

New Frontier will also feature Rekindling Venus: In Plain Sight, the companion work to Coral: Rekindling Venus. In Plain Sight is an Augmented Reality (AR) application that opens a virtual porthole to coral reefs around the world. Audiences access the work through a set of seven coral posters that open to a series of 3D fluorescing corals when activated by the app on smart phones. The app provides an update on sea surface temperatures for the world's threatened coral reefs and is designed to give viewers of the Coral: Rekindling Venus film a means of staying connected to what is happening on the world's reef.

Besides his work as a producer Maynard also runs a distribution company, Footprint Films, and has distributed adventurous movies including Samson and Delilah and My Year Without Sex, as well as the highly lucrative Once Were Warriors. Such financial windfalls have helped keep Maynard on his artistic path. Is there a market for Coral: Rekindling Venus?

“Who knows? We're actually creating a market, we're not servicing one, which is quite an interesting thing. In June this year we released it in 25 cities around the world to celebrate the transit of Venus. We held one screening at institutions in each of the cities, mainly on the day of the transit of Venus. That was bold and innovative marketing.”

Incredibly it hasn't been in Sydney, where Maynard resides, as there is no planetarium.

“There's a very good planetarium in Brisbane where we screened it as part of BIFF. We also screened it in Melbourne, where they have been big supporters of the project and it's even screened in Launceston at the Breath of Fresh Air Festival—they have a tiny planetarium there as well. Overall there are six planetariums in Australia, only four of them are up to scratch. Oh and it screened in Wollongong.”

The rest of Australia is putting Sydney to shame, I suggest. “It would be nice to have a planetarium here,” he responds.

Showcasing the work at Sundance he says marks the project's big international breakthrough into the cinema realm. “We've been mainly working with art, beauty and science in its initial release. It's a hybrid work which belongs partly in science—obviously it has a lot to do with the environment and what's happening with our coral—and in terms of artistic innovation this is the first time an artist has been able to work at this level.”

Someone who likes to stay behind the scenes, Maynard usually sends his directors to festivals. “There's no point of me going when I've got work to do,” he notes in his straightforward manner.

He says he has many projects on the boil, “a little feature called Fell directed by a new Melbourne director called Kasimir Burgess,” being one of them." Burgess, whose short Lily won the 2011 Berlinale's Crystal Bear, makes his feature directing debut with Fell, a fable of revenge, redemption and renewal. The film is written by Natasha Pincus and produced by John Maynard and Mary Minas with executive producer Bridget Ikin.

“I'm also doing two or three things with artists," Maynard notes. "They're almost ready but it's too early to talk about them.”

For more information about Coral: Rekindling Venus visit the
official website.