For a low-budget Australian feature whose only exposure thus far has been the Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne film festivals and a clutch of international fests, Hail is proving to be a strong catalyst for the careers of the key cast and creatives.
Ex-convict Daniel P. Jones, whose colourful life inspired the docu-drama written and directed by Amiel Courtin-Wilson, was invited to the US to play a lead role in Andrew T. Betzer's indie movie Young Bodies Heal Quickly.
His co-star and real-life partner Leanne Letch will appear in a short film about prostitution in 1920s Melbourne to be directed by Zohie Castellano, who was the costume and production designer on Hail.
Caroline Ingavarrson, the casting director on Courtin-Wilson's movie, is producing a documentary focusing on women who form relationships with men in prison. Tentatively entitled MWC- Met While Incarcerated- the docu was commissioned by Lars von Trier's Danish production company Zentropa Entertainments.
Courtin-Wilson and Michael Cody, who together produced Hail, are co-directing and co-writing a film set in Cambodia, a love story featuring two young Cambodians who both emerged from traumatic experiences. The working title is Om Tuk, which refers to the annual 3-day water festival which celebrates the end of the wet season and draws massive crowds.
The idea for that film germinated when they stopped off in Cambodia last year after their film screened at the Venice International Film Festival. They obtained financial backing from Cambodia's Hanuman Films and quickly assembled an Australian crew including cinematographer Ari Wegner (who shot Kivu Ruhorahoza's Rwandan drama Matière Grise /Grey Matter) and a cast of locals. The lead male was the only professional actor, the lead female is a circus performer and the rest were non-actors.
They shot 80 per cent of the film in Phnom Penh and are looking to raise more funds in Australia and return to Cambodia in December to complete principal photography. Working in a foreign language with the help of translators was a novel experience. “It was liberating to look at the performances through the prism of body language and behaviour,” Amiel told SBS Film.
The director is thrilled to see Jones, Letch, Castellano and Ingavarrson quickly move on to other projects. Jones first met writer-director-producer Betzer at the 2009 Cannes festival where Betzer's short film John Wayne Hated Horses screened in Directors Fortnight. Jones was there as the star of Courtin-Wilson's short Cicada.
In Young Bodies Heal Quickly Jones plays an Australian Vietnam Veteran who lives in the US and is estranged from his two sons. The sons (played by pro wrestler Gabriel Croft and Hale Lytle) seek out their father after being accused of murder and he forces them to take part in a re-enactment of the war, which turns deadly. Financed by private investors and New York post production lab Cineric Inc., it was shot mostly in coastal areas and state parks in Maryland, wrapping in July. Betzer tells SBS he will arrange distribution when the film is completed.
Finally set to open in Sydney and Melbourne on October 25 via Madman Entertainment, with other cities to follow, Hail was funded by the Adelaide Film Festival, Screen Australia and Film Victoria and shot in 34 days on a budget of $580,000. The director credits the agencies with giving him total creative freedom. Jones plays Danny, an ex-con who reconnects with his partner Leanne but struggles to find work while battling with booze and inner demons.
The film has garnered mostly positive reviews on the festival circuit – last week it won The Age critics' award at the Melbourne International Film Festival - but the international sales agent, Danish-based LevelK (which also handled Kieran Darcy-Smith's Wish You Were Here) hasn't closed any deals yet. Courtin-Wilson hopes further festival exposure will help secure some distribution overseas.
Meanwhile he's developing several projects including the screenplay for a US comedy to be directed by New Zealand-born, Los Angeles-based cinematographer Nigel Bluck (who shot The Home Song Stories and The Tree and second unit on The Lord of the Rings trilogy) and Orderly, the saga of a serial killer in Memphis. And he's mulling the idea of writing another film for Jones, this one about pirates.