Neill, Pearce, Otto sked '9 Weeks' in Oz

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SYDNEY -- Sam Neill, Guy Pearce and Miranda Otto will star in new Australian crime drama "How to Change in 9 Weeks," which begins shooting in Queensland this week, distributor Icon Film Distribution said Wednesday.

And in an unusual move for an Australian film, director Simone North and producer Tony Cavanaugh have tapped director-producer Sidney Lumet to serve as a mentor for North in her debut feature as a writer-director.

Lumet, who has been advising North for the past year as the project has developed, was bought on board by the film's co-producer, former Universal Pictures president Thom Mount.

Mount and Cavanaugh are producing the feature, which also will shoot in Melbourne, through North and Cavanaugh's production shingle Liberty Films International.

North and Cavanaugh have produced and directed a string of successful Australian telefilms and TV series.

The thriller is based on the story of a 15-year-old Australian student, Rachel Barber, who went missing in Melbourne in 1999 and was found to have been murdered by a former childhood friend, Caroline Reid.

Newcomers Kate Bell and Ruth Murphy have been cast in the key roles of Barber and Reid while Pearce and Otto will star as Rachel's parents. Neill plays Caroline's father, David Reid, and Rebecca Gibney plays her mother. Other supporting cast members include AFI Award winner Justine Clarke.

Financed by the Australian Film Finance Corp., Reliant Films International and the Pacific Film and Television Commission, "Weeks" is scheduled for release in Australia in early 2008.
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