How many low budget Australian productions are invited to screen at the Sundance Film Festival and are shown at more than 25 locations in six continents?
Offhand I can think of only one in recent few years – and it isn't a feature film. Australian media artist Lynette Wallworth's Coral: Rekindling Venus has had the kind of exposure many Oz filmmakers would kill for. An immersive film experience that takes viewers underwater through fluorescent coral reefs in Australia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, it's the first in a series of non-theatrical ventures from John Maynard and Bridget Ikin's Felix Media.
The veteran filmmakers started producing screen-based works by visual artists last year, while maintaining their commitment to make feature films. The duo is developing several movies including Fell, a fable of revenge and renewal set in the primal darkness of a forest, penned by Natasha Pincus, which will mark the directing debut of Kasimir Burgess. His short Lily won the Crystal Bear at the 2011 Berlin International Film Festival.
Woman in the Tower is a love story set in Asia with Red Dog director Kriv Stenders, a project which Maynard likens in tone to Stenders' earlier films Boxing Day and Blacktown. Pincus is set to write and direct Clive, described by Ikin as the story of a privileged, successful man who loses both legs in a car accident and finds himself.
Explaining their move to diversify into a new, non-theatrical arena, Maynard tells SBS Film, “Our business is working with talent. We realised some of the best work is coming from visual artists. More than 800 galleries, museums, planetariums and other institutions around the world are digitally equipped. There's a big space which no one in Australia was occupying.”
Coral: Rekindling Venus premiered in the New Frontier section of the Sundance fest and in 14 full-dome planetariums throughout the US in January. The 45-minute production features deep-sea photography by Emmy Award-winning cinematographer David Hannan, with music by New York-based band Antony and the Johnsons, Australian Indigenous artist Gurumul and German composer Max Richter.
Typifying the rave reviews at Sundance, the Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan declared: “As close as most of us are going to get to feeling like we're in a James Cameron submersible, Coral is immersive cinema at its most spectacular.”
After the film played in the American Museum of Natural History, the Huffington Post reported: “Audible gasps filled the room, audience members clasped their hands to their chests and a few left the planetarium in tears. Through imagery and music, Wallworth offered audience members an opportunity to gain a personal connection to our oceans.”
In Australia, the film screened at the Wollongong Science Centre and Planetarium, the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium in Brisbane and the Melbourne Planetarium, Scienceworks.
Felix Media's second non-theatrical work was Angelica Mesiti's Citizens Band, a sound and video installation which features musical performances from migrants from disparate corners of the globe; it premiered in the New12 exhibition at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in Melbourne.
Ikin and Maynard are developing another venture with Mesiti, The Cooling, which will examine communities that communicate via whistling and will be filmed in Turkey, Greece and the Canary Islands.
Another project is William Yang, My Generation, in which the gay Australian photographer reflects on his experiences in the Sydney art scene in the 1970s and '80s, including his encounters with figures such as Patrick White and Brett Whitely. The one-hour doco will premiere at this year's Sydney Film Festival followed by a screening on the ABC.