The cast and the creative team involved in The Sapphires are riding the wave of popularity of Indigenous-themed film and TV.
The producers, director Wayne Blair, writers Tony Briggs and Keith Thompson and the four leads are heading to the US in March to promote the film, which launches on March 22 in Los Angeles and New York, then rolls out in other cities, distributed by the Weinstein Co. “We have the best partners in the States,” said Goalpost Pictures' Rosemary Blight, who produced the film with Kylie Du Fresne. “It's so rare to have an Australian film given this opportunity.”
Blight was stunned when their film won 11 AACTA Awards last week, describing it as an “out-of-body experience to have so much support from the industry, your peers voting for you”.
Deborah Mailman and Shari Sebbens have starred in The Darkside, an anthology of ghost stories from writer-director Warwick Thornton, who was the director of cinematography on The Sapphires.
Miranda Tapsell played an Indigenous woman who gives birth by herself in the outback in Thornton's True Gods, a segment of omnibus film Words with Gods, produced by Mexican film financier Alex Garcia, filmmaker Guillermo Arriaga and L.A.-based Argentine producer Lucas Akoskin.
Jessica Mauboy is focussing on recording her third studio album for Sony Music Australia but her manager David Champion says, “Jess is very excited and open to the ideas of future acting opportunities”.
Blair is one of three directors who shot episodes of the ABC-TV drama series The Gods of Wheat Street, the chronicle of a modern Aboriginal family as it copes with death, financial difficulties and injustice. Blair has signed with US talent agency UTA where his reps are looking for suitable projects.
Du Fresne is developing Clever Man, a series for the ABC's Indigenous unit based on an original idea by Ryan Griffen, who worked as an intern at Goalpost. It imagines a world where creatures from the Dreamtime are living among us as refugees and focuses on a boy who has special powers. She's also developing Holding the Man, a movie based on Tommy Murphy's play which Neil Armfield will direct next year after he finishes the Ring cycle.
Blight is working with Thompson, Goalpost's head of development, on Six Mile Bottom, a drama set in the UK just before WWII, partnered with Tristan Whalley's London-based Goalpost Film. Blight is in post on Felony, director Matt Saville's crime thriller that stars Joel Edgerton (who wrote the script and co-produced), Tom Wilkinson and Jai Courtney.
Thornton was similarly surprised about the AACTA wins, telling SBS Film, “You never know anything about awards. But with the design of the script and the design of the film and the casting of the actors, in a certain way you can kind of dictate what your audience is.”
Thornton was speaking from the Melbourne opening of Mother Courage, his film and sculpture installation at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image. The exhibition was inspired by Bertolt Brecht's 1939 play Mother Courage and Her Children, set in a dilapidated campervan.
On Wednesday, Thornton is bound for the Berlin International Film Festival, where four of his films are screening in a special spotlight on Indigenous cinema: Payback (1996), a short about an Aboriginal prisoner's dream that he is freed from jail and subjected to Indigenous law; Green Bush (2005), which stems from the director's memories of being a DJ on the Aboriginal station in Alice Springs; Nana (2007), a short which portrays a small girl's admiration for her nana as they embark on a bush tucker hunting tour; and Samson and Delilah (2009).
The Darkside is at rough cut stage and has just been shown to the investors and the Australian distributor Transmission. To source the material, the producers did a call out for ghost stories throughout regional Australia via radio stations and newspapers. That yielded 120 stories, the best of which were recorded on audio. The actors then re-enacted each of the interviews selected for the film.
It was a challenge for the cast, which included Bryan Brown, Leah Purcell, Aaron Pedersen, Brendan Cowell and Sacha Horler, as each had to do a 10-12 minute monologue. Thornton plans to make available on the internet some of the stories which he couldn't use in the film on a website called The Other Side. In Berlin, Thornton and producer Kath Shelper will be talking to prospective sales agents and distributors.
Filming True Gods in 41 degree heat in Alice Springs was a big test for Miranda Tapsell. Says Thornton, “Working with Miranda on The Sapphires I very clearly knew she would go to amazing places with the director. She's very comfortable taking on very hard roles.”
Tony Briggs has two projects in development: The Athletes, a series about two young Indigenous footballers to be produced by Robert Connolly for the ABC; and The Grip, a film based on C.J. McKenzie's book How We Beat the Bandits in Australia, Las Vegas, Monte Carlo & London. It's the true story of three young Aussies in the 1960s who figured out how to make a fortune from poker machines by gripping the machines in a particular way; Briggs is writing the screenplay with David Field, who will direct.