After a bumper year in 2017, in which six Australian films premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, there are fewer Australian features on the ground at the celebrated indie festival this year, ourside of Warwick Thornton's outback western, Sweet Country, which will have its US launch in the festival's Spotlight section after significant wins at festivals in Venice, Toronto, Adelaide and at the APSAs.
Nash Edgerton, who has previously worked as an actor, stuntman and directed numerous short films, will premiere his debut as a television director on the series Mr. Inbetween, which screens in a new section of the festival, which is dedicated to showcasing independent work in TV and serialized storytelling.
Mr. Inbetween follows hitman Ray Shoesmith as he navigates his chilling business while also maintaining friendships, parental responsibilities and romance. Scott Ryan reprises his role from the 2005 movie The Magician, which he also wrote and directed and he again writes here. Brooke Satchwell and Damon Herriman, the scene-stealer from the US series, Justified, also star.
The festival has long been leading the way with its New Frontier program, encompassing new technology and virtual reality projects. There are two Australian projects of note in 2018. The first is Awavena (U.S.A, Australia, Brazil), from renowned digital artist Lynette Wallworth, who has worked with Indigenous Australians on previous projects including a digital installation related to Thornton’s We Don’t Need a Map, Still Walking Country, and received the Emmy Award for Outstanding New Approaches: Documentary last October, for her installation Collisions. In Awavena the Yawanawa, an indigenous Amazonian community, see immersive technologies as tools they can co-opt to share their connected worldview. Wallworth collaborated with the Yawanawa to share their visions of Hushahu, their first woman Shaman.
In the mobile VR space, South Australians Narelle Autio, Trent Parke, and Matthew Bate are taking their project, The Summation of Force, to Park City, after its premiere at the 2017 Adelaide International Film Festival. The project takes place in a moonlit suburban yard, as two brothers battle one another in an epic game of cricket.
Australians on screen
As always, Australians will figure prominently in international productions screening at the festival. Interestingly two films directed by prominent Australian were largely shot in the Czech Republic.
Los Angeles-based Ben Lewin, who made a big splash in Sundance with 2012’s The Sessions (about the sexual life of a disabled man, who hires a sex therapist) has a US film in the prestigious Premieres program. The Catcher Was a Spy, which was withdrawn from the Toronto Festival as it wasn’t ready, tells the real life story of Moe Berg (Paul Rudd), a professional baseball player and attorney who spoke nine languages and who also was a top-secret spy and helped the U.S. win the race against Germany to build the atomic bomb. Guy Pearce also stars.
Claire McCarthy (Cross Life, The Waiting City) who divides her time between Sydney and Los Angeles, will debut the UK production Ophelia, billed as a mythic spin on Hamlet told through a lens of female empowerment. It follows Ophelia (Star Wars’ Daisy Ridley) as she comes of age as lady-in-waiting to Queen Gertrude (Naomi Watts) and how her singular spirit captures the affection of Hamlet (George MacKay from Captain Fantastic). She finds herself trapped between true love and controlling her destiny.
Mia Wasikowska appears in two films at the festival: She’s opposite Robert Pattinson in the eccentric western Damsel, directed by the Zellner Brothers. Pattinson’s affluent pioneer travels across the American Frontier to marry the love of his life and he encounters many obstacles along the way; and Wasikowska is also in Piercing, a twisted playful love story which follows a man (Christopher Abbott from It Comes at Night) who seeks out an unsuspecting stranger to help him purge the dark torments of his past. His plan goes awry when he encounters a woman with plans of her own.
Rose Byrne stars in the UK comedy, Juliet, Naked directed by Jesse Peretz (Our Idiot Brother) and based on a novel by Nick Hornby. Byrne plays the long-suffering girlfriend of Duncan (Chris O’Dowd), an obsessive fan of obscure rocker Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke). When the acoustic demo of Tucker's celebrated record from 25 years ago surfaces, its release leads to an encounter with the elusive rocker himself.
Odessa Young is set to make a mark in a thriller bound for the Sundance Midnight program, Assassination Nation,directed by Sam Levinson. The film calls itself a one-thousand-percent true story about how the quiet, all-American town of Salem, Massachusetts, absolutely lost its mind. Bill Skarsgard (It), is also among the cast.
US actor Paul Dano casts another young Aussie talent Ed Oxenbould (Paper Planes and currently in The Butterfly Tree) in his directing debut Wildlife, a portrait of a family in crisis in 1960 Montana. It’s based on the novel by Richard Ford and Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal play Ed’s parents.
Elizabeth Debicki stars alongside Laura Dern and Ellen Burstyn in The Tale, an investigation into a woman's memory as she is forced to re-examine her first sexual relationship and the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive. It’s based on the experiences of the film’s director, Jennifer Fox.
Toni Collette appears in Hearts Beat Loud directed by Brett Haley, a Sundance regular whose 2017 film The Hero soon arrives in Australian cinemas. His new film, which stars the irrepressible Nick Offerman and rising young talent Kiersey Clemons, follows a father and daughter who become an unlikely songwriting duo in the last summer before she leaves for college.
Lismore-born Maia Mitchell, 24, who has been acting in television shows since an early age, stars in the US feature film Never Goin’ Back, directed and written byAugustine Frizzell. It follows two high school dropout best friends, Jessie and Mitchell’s Angela, who take a week off to chill at the beach.
From across the ditch
Kiwi newcomer Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie (The Changeover and soon to appear in Justin Kurzel's the True History of the Kelly Gang) is the latest discovery of Debra Granik, who effectively launched Jennifer Lawrence’s career with Winter’s Bone eight years ago at Sundance. Granik’s new untitled film, based on Peter Rock’s book My Abandonment, follows 13-year-old Carolin, who lives an isolated, mysterious existence with her father (Ben Foster) in Forest Park, a rainforest near Portland. A small mistake tips them off to authorities sending them on an increasingly erratic journey in search of a place to call their own. The 17 year-old actress will travel to Park City with her mother Miranda Harcourt, the acting coach who was invaluable in helping AACTA award winner Sunny Pawar achieve his stunning performance in Lion.
Jemaine Clement co-stars in the comedy, An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn directed by Jim Hosking. Aubrey Plaza plays Lulu Danger whose unsatisfying marriage to Emile Hirsch takes a turn for the worse when a mysterious man from her past (will Jemaine have a beard?) comes to town to perform an event called An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn; For One Magical Night Only.