Madman Entertainment flies the Australian flag.
22 Aug 2011 - 10:05 AM  UPDATED 6 Nov 2012 - 1:30 AM

Stepping frequently into the minefield of releasing Australian movies, Madman Entertainment is as brave and committed as any Australian distributor.

This year the Australian company has achieved a very respectable result with Snowtown but struck out with Big Mamma's Boy.

Madman co-founder/co-managing director Paul Wiegard was delighted with the $1.1 million-plus gross for Snowtown, acknowledging the tough subject – the mass murders in a South Australian town – meant the film “wasn't for everyone,” and he's confident it will perform strongly on DVD.

Madman was involved at the development stage of that film, working with the producers Warp Films Australia to organise a workshop where more than 70 scripts were evaluated and the Snowtown script was selected. Revolver bought the UK rights and IFC will release the drama in the US after its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Madman is developing three projects with Warp and Wiegard hopes that at least one or two will go into production next year.

As for Big Mamma's Boy, Wiegard told SBS Film, “We like to back passion and enthusiasm. We had a good experience with the producers on a series they made for the Lifestyle Channel. They're hard working boys and we serviced the distribution facility for the film. It was a disappointing box-office result. If your film doesn't stand up in week one it's very tough.”

The distributor's next Australian release is The Hunter (pictured), a psychological thriller set in the Tasmanian wilderness starring Willem Dafoe, Frances O'Connor, Sam Neill and Morgana Davies. It will open October 6 on a fairly aggressive 40-60 prints.

Madman is waiting to see how writer-director Amiel Courtin-Wilson's Hail is received at next month's Venice International Film Festival, where it screens in the section devoted to 'new and redefining world cinema,' before dating the revenge saga which features former prisoner Daniel Jones and his real life partner Leanne Letch.

Two Australian films on its books for 2012 are Save Your Legs, a comedy written by Brendan Cowell about a D-Grade team of Australian cricketers who embark on a tour of India, which starts shooting in January; and Storm Surfers 3D, which follows Australian surfers Ross Clarke-Jones and Tom Carroll as they work with surf forecaster Ben Matson to hunt big waves and surf the most dangerous breaks of their careers.

Wiegard was encouraged to see Australian audiences have embraced a broad spectrum of local films this year, most notably the hit comedy Red Dog, dramas Oranges and Sunshine and Snowtown, and feature documentary Mrs. Carey's Concert.

As for the underperformers, he observed, “I think it's just reflective of how difficult it is for Australian films; there is a lot of very good cinema.”

Wiegard has identified two other Australian projects which he hopes will come to fruition in 2013.

Madman's upcoming slate is a typically eclectic mix including documentaries Fire in Babylon, which chronicles the great West Indies cricket teams of the 1970s/80s (September 15), and Bill Cunningham New York, which profiles a quirky photographer (November 3); Lars von Trier's Melancholia (Boxing Day); Japanese animated fantasy Arrietty; and Cindy Meehl's Sundance festival hit Buck.

Each year Madman typically releases 12-14 mainstream films (defined as those that go out on more than 10 screens in at least three States) plus 6-7 niche titles. Less typical is its strategy of acquiring 8-10 speciality films to launch through the Melbourne and Sydney film festivals and events such as the French Film Festival en route to the home entertainment market.

Despite the softening of the DVD market, Wiegard says it's still a very healthy business with annual retail revenues of more than $1.2 billion. However, he observes, “The decision on whether or not we release (a title) is becoming more complicated because while there are more revenue streams with digital channels the base numbers are reducing so it's putting stress on the viability of some titles.”