The Melbourne-based filmmaker is on track to direct a TV bio of the early years of the WikiLeaks founder and is masterminding a groundbreaking Tim Winton project.
27 Feb 2012 - 11:10 AM  UPDATED 5 Nov 2012 - 9:30 PM

Moving seamlessly between film, TV and multimedia projects, writer-director-producer Robert Connolly starts shooting in April a telemovie centred on teenage computer hacker Julian Assange, followed by The Turning, an innovative feature based on a Tim Winton anthology.

He's also executive producing and mentoring These Final Hours, an apocalyptic thriller that's due to roll in August in Western Australia, with neophyte producer Liz Kearney and writer-director Zak Hilditch.

On top of all that, he's developing several projects including a children's movie entitled Paper Planes, about a boy's passion for flight which leads him to compete in the world paper plane championships; a TV series, The Athletes, about two young Indigenous footballers which involves a number of emerging Indigenous writers and directors; and WarCo., a computer game in which users will film war correspondents.

“This is a very exciting time in Australian TV,” Connolly told SBS Film. “The public love it and watch in their millions. They're interested in our local stories told for television, and there are some great thinkers in the drama departments at all the networks.

“Cinema going has changed. There's a profound shift in how audiences consume their screen content. People still go to the cinema but they go for a blockbuster event or for art house cinema so the really edgy cinematic stuff is being made for TV.

“So my interest is in re-owning the cinema space as a place for people to go out as a true event, a point of difference.”

Commissioned by Network Ten, the Assange telemovie Underground is based on the 1997 novel Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier by Suelette Dreyfus with input from Assange.

It's being produced by Matchbox Pictures, which made the acclaimed ABC-TV series The Slap, for which Connolly directed two episodes.

To play the 19-year-old Assange, the writer-director has unearthed a newcomer thanks to Mullinars casting consultant Jane Norris (Connolly's spouse), whose name is under wraps.

The telemovie looks likely to get major exposure overseas, distributed by NBCUniversal International, which owns a majority stake in Matchbox.

“Melbourne was the leading part of the world for computer hacking in the late 1980s and Assange was at the pinnacle of that,” he said.

Connolly is producing The Turning, which he describes as a “cinema event” based on Winton's book of short stories set in a fictional West Australian town and spanning 30 years. There will be 17 segments, to be directed by a combination of experienced hands (including Cate Shortland, Tony Ayres and Connolly) and first-timers Cate Blanchett, Mia Wasikowska, David Wenham, Bangarra Dance Theatre artistic director Stephen Page, visual artist Shaun Gladwell and theatre director Benedict Andrews.

“I asked all the directors I sent the book to to see if there was one they emotionally responded to,” he said. “Interestingly they didn't really compete for the same stories so there wasn't much overlap in interest.”

It'll shoot in the second half of this year, co-financed by Screen Australia and the Melbourne International Film Festival. Connolly and John Maynard's company Footprint will distribute in Australia and he says several offers for international distribution are on the table.

Connolly's segment, 'Aquifer', is the story of a man who reflects on an event in his past which has long haunted him, and was scripted by Justin Mongo, who did the stage adaptation of Winton's Cloudstreet.

He envisions a broad, multi-media release which will span a month-long run in cinemas, perhaps as a two-parter, plus galleries, regional community centres and online, which might enable users to collate episodes as they wish.

“I've always championed low budget methodology and innovative ways of making stuff,” he said. “Part of the pleasure of watching it will be that each chapter will be stylistically completely different. We're still financing but the budget will be modest but reasonable.”

Casting is underway for These Final Hours, the saga of a self-obsessed young man who's on his way to a party on the last day on Earth and ends up saving the life of a little girl searching for her father. It's been funded by the West Coast Visions initiative, designed to support emerging filmmakers.