Underground: The Julian Assange Story is the prototype of a new form of distribution and exhibition.
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15 Mar 2013 - 2:01 PM  UPDATED 15 Mar 2013 - 2:01 PM

Filmmaker-distributor Robert Connolly aims to create a new paradigm for releasing Australian films that don't warrant a wide cinema release and playing up to six sessions a day.

Opening in Melbourne on March 17, Matchbox Pictures' Underground: The Julian Assange Story is the first release from Connolly's CinemaPlus initiative, which entails a select number of special event screenings around the nation.

That will be followed later this year by The Turning, the omnibus film based on a Tim Winton novel, and Michael Kantor's The Boy Castaways, a rock musical/drama that stars You am I's Tim Rogers, cabaret performer Paul Capsis and ARIA Award-winner Megan Washington.

Connolly is talking to other distributors about lining up more titles to be distributed under the CinemaPlus banner and he's figuring out whether Zak Hilditch's These Final Hours, an apocalyptic thriller which he executive produced and is distributing, is suited to the special event model.

Underground, which Connolly directed, launches at Melbourne's Cinema Nova and Palace Brighton Bay accompanied by events such as a Q&A with the WikiLeaks founder's mother Christine Assange, a meet-the-filmmaker session and a directing-the-actor workshop.

Starting March 27, the film will be showcased in one screening at one cinema in each of Sydney, Canberra, Byron Bay, Murwillumbah, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, featuring Q&A sessions with Connolly, Christine Assange and Alex Williams, who plays Julian.

Although more than 1.3 million saw the film when it premiered on Network Ten in October, Connolly is convinced people will be happy to see it in cinemas with the add-on events; each attendee will get a DVD-ROM packed with features such as behind-the-scenes footage, screenplay, extracts from Suelette Dreyfus' eBook, music from the soundtrack and a code so they can listen to Connolly's director commentary on their headphones.

Cinemas are charging the usual admission price as Connolly notes, “We don't want any barriers to entry. Also, in this era of piracy we want to reward people who choose to go to the cinema. If I had my way, in the future we'd give people who come to a CinemaPlus event a half-price ticket to the next film.”

Encouraged by the healthy level of advance ticket sales for the Melbourne screenings, Connolly says, “The response we've had so far suggests this kind of event cinema experience is what people are after. I just don't know how sustainable is the practice in the independent sector of having six sessions a day, seven days a week. We have to find a way to innovate in the exhibition space to make more interesting films and know they have a place in cinemas.

“The independent cinemas Nova and Palace and Luna in Perth have been really supportive. They don't want to have a film running six sessions a day where there are two people at the 10 o'clock. They have this idea that you're better off having one session and packing it out.”

The Turning will roll out nationally after premiering at the Melbourne International Film Festival in July/August, co-distributed by Connolly's Footprint Films and Madman Entertainment. “The scale of the release warrants having a partner,” says Connolly, who is still working out the release date and the CinemaPlus component of the distribution plan.

The Boy Castaways, which premieres at the Adelaide Film Festival in October, uses pop and rock music as the principal text to examine loss of innocence, middle-aged male narcissism and depression. He expects to stage events where, for example, Megan Washington would sing before the screening.