Launched at this year's Cannes Film Festival, The Beaver won plaudits from many critics for Mel Gibson's moving portrait of a depressed guy who regains his will to live with the unlikely help of a hand puppet.
Hoping that would be the springboard to box office success, Summit Entertainment opened the movie directed by Jodie Foster in the US and it bombed, winding up with less than $US1 million.
Yet the film is getting a substantial push in Australia, debuting on August 4 on 40-50 screens. A cynic may suggest that's because Icon Film Distribution is owned by Gibson and his longtime partner in Icon Entertainment, Bruce Davey, who's based in Sydney and is Icon's chairman.
But Icon executives insist they're treating the movie on its merits. “We've often had pics underperform in the US that have done better here,” Greg Denning, Icon's general manager, theatrical told SBS Film. “The pic has been better received in Europe (eg Cannes was a great success), perhaps because it is not a popcorn movie. We've had fabulous responses here from exhibs which is a pretty good gauge.”
Opting for a far wider release than Icon's The Tree of Life, which went out on 18 screens, the distributor is booking The Beaver into upmarket venues and those multiplexes where it figures the film have crossover appeal. “It's all about creating a strong word of mouth campaign to range against some of the negative stuff that came through from the US release,” Denning says.
Icon will open Gibson's latest movie, How I Spent My Summer Vacation, in which he plays a guy who ends up in a hardcore Mexican prison where he survives with the help of a 9-year-old kid, in 2012.
Despite the industry-wide drop in DVD revenues, Icon continues to handle 15-20 films theatrically and 20 titles straight-to-video each year. In Cannes it bought two 3D pics, Pompeii, the ultimate disaster movie about the volcanic eruption which destroyed the Italian city in 79 AD, directed by Paul W. S, Anderson, and an animated updating of Tarzan, plus Hyde Park on the Hudson, the saga of the affair between US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his cousin, starring Bill Murray and Laura Linney.
“In the past few years there have been fewer and fewer films on a viable scale coming from the traditional art house or crossover market,” says Icon chief operating officer Greg Hughes. In response Icon has acquired more big budget 'tentpoles,' diversified into alternative programming such as four upcoming Berlin Philharmonic concerts and Asian content typified by The Lost Bladesman and the Jet Li 3D action epic Flying Swords of Dragon Gate.
Hughes adds, “Our DVD business is still growing because we acquired the Dendy library, we've been remastering and re-releasing that library and we've been fairly aggressive in Blu-ray where we have over 100 titles and that market is growing exponentially. And we're acquiring more scripted TV dramas such as Lip Service.”
Icon has had mixed results recently with Australian films with South Solitary and Triangle under-performing, but it broke through with Oranges and Sunshine. Next January the distributor will open Stephan Elliott's A Few Best Men, a comedy about a chaos-filled wedding starring Xavier Samuel, Kris Marshall, Kevin Bishop and Olivia Newton-John. “It's going to be the next big Australian comedy in the vein of Muriel's Wedding, written and produced by the makers of Death at a Funeral,” says Lisa Garner, marketing director, theatrical.
Icon also is on board The Drowner, John Collee's adaptation of Robert Drewe's 1890s-set novel about a young British engineer who travels to WA to help build a pipeline from the coast to the country's gold fields, which Fred Schepisi is to direct; and The 20-Something Survival Guide, which will star Ryan Kwanten as a playboy who learns he will be infertile in a month and sets out to procreate as much as possible.