Backyard Ashes stars Andrew S. Gilbert (The Dish) as a loveable Aussie bloke who develops animosity with his snotty new British neighbour (Felix Williamson, Redd Inc.; pictured) after accidentally incinerating his cat. The feuding neighbours agree to settle their differences by competing in a backyard cricketing challenge.
The self-funded debut feature of NIDA graduate Mark Grentell (who co-wrote with Peter Cox) is billed as a quintessential 'feel good' Australian comedy in the mould of Crackerjack, The Castle and The Nugget and explores the idea of mateship and how Australian ideals and values develop in a traditional backyard setting.
Screen Australia and Screen NSW subsequently helped fund the film in post-production. However, it's the film's unique distribution release strategy that is perhaps most significant. Independent local distributor Umbrella Entertainment is avoiding capital cities to instead focus exclusively on select regional towns including Wagga Wagga (where the film will premiere), Tamworth, Albury and Orange. Additional screenings will depend on the response from these audiences and exhibitors.
“We wanted to do things a bit differently and go with a grass roots release to the regional places we know will love the film,” explains Grentell. “Smaller films like ours need new approaches to compete and get seen on Australian screens. We wanted audiences to find this film for themselves, to see how funny and relatable it is and then to recommend it to their friends and family. Letting regional audiences have it first rewards them for their support in making the film and gives the film a chance to build an audience and to be seen and appreciated."
Backyard Ashes was the first film shot and supported entirely by the NSW city of Wagga Wagga, a location characterised by its rural diversity. “There is the Murrumbidgee River, numerous farm landscapes and great internal location options such as businesses and offices,” explains Grentell. “You can shoot a flowing river scene or lush rolling green hills one moment, then 15 minutes down the road a dry baron or dusty landscape if required.”
In addition to nabbing the two experienced lead actors, Backyard Ashes attracted some equally impressive collaborators for such a micro-budgeted independent feature debut. This included cinematographer Damian Wyvill, who worked on Goddess and The Great Gatsby, producer Anne Robinson (West) and recognisable character actors such as Rebecca Massey (The Black Balloon), Damian Callinan (The Wedge) and John Wood (Blue Heelers).
“I think Backyard Ashes is the kind of Australian film that we don't see enough of anymore,” says Grentell. “It's a colloquial, positive Australian comedy that people can identify with. It doesn't take itself too seriously and shows a small slice of Australian life.”
Backyard Ashes will premiere in Wagga Wagga on 6th November, with a DVD and VOD release planned for the future. LevelK has acquired the film's international sales rights.