Lucky Melbournians: You'll get the first chance to see the star-studded omnibus film The Turning, Mark Hartley's re-imagining of 1970s Australian thriller Patrick, and My Mistress, a drama starring France's Emmanuelle Béart and rising Aussie star Harrison Gilbertson. Plus These Final Hours, a thriller starring Wolf Creek's Nathan Phillips and Snowtown's Daniel Henshall; Galore, the saga of four teenagers caught up in the devastating Canberra bushfires of 2003; and feature-length documentaries Aim High in Creation and In Bob We Trust.
All are premiering at the 2013 Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF), which runs July 25 – August 11, thanks to the fest's investment arm. Those seven titles represent the biggest slate yet for the MIFF Premiere Fund, which launched in 2008 and thus far has supported 40 films and docos.
Among the films it has backed are Bran Nue Dae, Balibo, Blessed, Matching Jack, Last Dance, 100 Bloody Acres, Falling for Sahara and The Wedding Party, docudrama The First Fagin and docos Not Quite Hollywood, Autoluminescent, Bastardy and Mother of Rock.
Apart from the odd misfire such as Save Your Legs!, overall that's an impressive body of work, particularly considering the fund operates on a tight annual budget of $800,000. “The central consideration is guaranteeing a premiere for MIFF but we also look for films that have strong 'event' tie-in potential, which feeds into how to keep film festivals relevant in the age of downloads,” says Mark Woods, who serves as the fund's executive producer and as director of the MIFF 37ºSouth Market and its Accelerator program, which helps directors transition from short films to features.
“Folks will come for screenings that tie into bigger events” adds Woods, a former colleague of mine at Variety. Accelerator has been a stepping stone for numerous directors including Amiel Courtin-Wilson, Sean Byrne, Zak Hilditch, Rhys Graham and Ashlee Page.
The 2013 MIFF Premieres are full of promise. The Turning consists of 17 chapters directed
by a mix of seasoned hands including Rob Connolly (who's also the producer), Tony Ayres, Justin Kurzel and Claire McCarthy, and first-timers Rhys Graham, Ashlee Page, Shaun Gladwell, Benedict Andrews, Yaron Lifschitz, Stephen Page, Cate Blanchett, David Wenham, Ian Meadows and Mia Wasikowska. The top-shelf cast includes Blanchett, Rose Byrne, Hugo Weaving, Miranda Otto, Callan Mulvey, Susie Porter and Harrison Gilbertson.
Woods has seen 10 chapters and says, “Each has a very different narrative and filmmaking style but there is an underlying sensibility and central theme, which is the emotionally significant turning points in peoples' lives.”
Hartley's Patrick stars Jackson Gallagher (pictured), Sharni Vinson, Charles Dance and Rachel Griffiths in the saga of a comatose murderer with psychic powers who has a crush on his nurse. Rookie director Stephen Lance's My Mistress casts Béart as a French S&M mistress who tries to help a grieving teenager (Gilbertson) reconnect with life after his father's suicide.
Zak Hilditch's These Final Hours features Phillips as a self-obsessed young guy who makes his way to the party-to-end-all-parties on the last day on Earth but ends up saving the life of a young girl who's searching for her father.
Director/writer Anna Broinowski's Aim High in Creation examines the late North Korean ruler Kim Jong-il, who presided over one of the world's biggest, if little known, film industries. Remarkably, Broinowski secured the co-operation of the North Korean authorities and during the production she shot a short film which adhered to the dictator's filmmaking manifesto.
In Bob We Trust profiles Melbourne priest Father Bob Maguire who was forced by the church hierarchy to retire at 75 but continues to fight for the poor and serve the community. The producers are Ghost Pictures' Lynn-Maree Milburn, Andrew de Groot and Richard Lowenstein.
Already Woods has lined up five projects for MIFF 2014, including Tony Ayres' Cut Snake, a thriller which will star Sullivan Stapleton and Ryan Kwanten as ex-cons who set fire to a nightclub, killing 15 people, inspired by a real-life incident in 1973 when Brisbane's Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub was torched. Kriv Stenders will direct Kill Me Three Times, a black comedic thriller about murder, blackmail and revenge set in a surfing town, starring Abbie Cornish, Alice Braga and Sullivan Stapleton.
Subject to final financing, the fund will support three further projects. Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films is Mark Hartley's documentary about Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, Israeli-born cousins nicknamed the 'Go-Go Boys' who bought Cannon in 1979, moved to the US and churned out dozens of mostly cheap, rapidly-shot films.
Robert Connolly is set to direct Paper Planes, a children's film about an Australian boy's passion for flight and his challenge to compete in the World Paper Plane Championships in Japan. Sue Brooks aims to direct Driving Back from Dubbo, the tale of a 14-year-old girl who runs away from home with the contents of her dad's safe.