Australian Features Boosted by New Funding, Festival Selection

Toronto Film Festival

Sam Worthington, Toni Colette, Baz Luhrmann head home for new projects.

SYDNEY -- There was a dizzying number of announcements from Australian producers and national agency Screen Australia this week, with the agency committing production and development funding to a raft of features with some major names attached, as well as the selection of three Australian films in the Toronto Film Festival and a fourth chosen for the Venice Film Festival.

At the same time two new local features headlined by Sam Worthington and Toni Collette go into production, while Baz Luhrmann has returned home to finish prepping The Great Gatsby in 3D ahead of the start of production, now set for mid-September at Fox Studios Australia.

Screen Australia announced AUD$18 million ($19.6 million) in production funding for six features and eight TV projects, triggering AUD$85 million in production, while development funding has been given to another eight features by the agency.  

Projects receiving production funding include Wolf Creek sequel, Wolf Creek 2, with Greg McLean back to direct, and high budget action adventure feature Jungle, based on the true story of Israeli- Australian Yossi Ghinsberg who gets lost in the Bolivian jungle. It is being produced by Emile Sherman and Iain Canning alongside Chris Brown and Dana Lustig, while Daybreakers helmers, Peter and Michael Spierig will direct.

Feature documentary Storm Surfers 3D, made by Ellenor Cox and Marcus Gillezeau, which grew from the two Storm Surfers series they made for Discovery Channel, also received production funding.

Screen Australia is also helping develop Oscar winner Adam Elliot’s new animated feature, Ernee, and a new project from director Bruce Beresford, writer David Roach and producer Bill Leimbach, Banjo & Matilda, which tells the story of the classic Australian folk song Waltzing Matilda.

Aussie music legends Bon Scott (AC/DC) and Michael Hutchence (INXS) are to get the biopic treatment in separate projects also to receive SA development funding.  Sophie Edelstein, director Eddie Martin and producer Lizzette Atkins are attached to Bon Scott, while Sue Murray and Domenico Procacci  will produce writer/director Richard Lowenstein’s telling of the Michael Hutchence story in Michael.

Elsewhere Xavier Samuel will join Sam Worthington, Lesley-Ann Brandt and Myles Pollard in the surf film, Drift, which starts shooting in Western Australia next week, And Toni Collette this week reunited with her Muriel’s Wedding director PJ Hogan on the Gold Coast for Mental.

Liev Schrieber has joined the cast of Mental which has Collette starring as a crazy hothead hitchhiker who becomes a nanny to bent politician Schreiber’s five daughters, following the breakdown and hospitalisation of his wife.

The new crop of features comes as it was announced Thursday that Jonathan Teplitzky’s romantic comedy Burning Man, starring Rachel Griffiths and Matthew Goode and Daniel Nettheim’s eco-thriller,The Hunter, starring Willem Dafoe, Frances O’Connor and Sam Neill will have their world premieres at the Toronto Film Festival in the Special Presentations program, while Fred Schepisi’s The Eye of the Storm, with Geoffrey Rush, Charlotte Rampling and Judy Davis will also have its international premiere in the same sidebar. The Eye of the Storm was well received when it had its world premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival Saturday night.

Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s feature film Hail has been selected for the 68th Venice International Film Festival, screening in the Orizzonti section, which has a focus on "new and redefining world cinema."

It is just the third Australian feature selected for Venice in the last decade, and follows a visit down under by one of the festival’s key selectors, Paolo Bertolin, last month.

“It’s great to have such a tangible and immediate result for Australian cinema, at what is one of the elite film events of the world,” said Screen Australia’s Head of Marketing Kathleen Drumm.

“We’re thrilled that original and vibrant stories from talented Australian filmmakers continue to gain recognition on the international stage. 2011 has been a stellar year for Australia at international A-list festivals. Toronto provides a high-profile opportunity to launch these films in the North American market,” she added.