Christina Ricci to Star in Australian Urban Drama 'Around the Block'

Pan Am Christina Ricci - P 2012

Pan Am Christina Ricci - P 2012

Jack Thompson is executive producing and also stars in the film set in an aboriginal enclave in Sydney.

SYDNEY -- Christina Ricci will star alongside Jack Thompson in an indigenous urban drama set in Sydney’s aboriginal enclave of Redfern, producers said Friday.

Thompson also will executive produce Around the Block, the story of Liam (Hunter Lochard Page), an indigenous boy who is torn between his dream of acting and following in the footsteps of his criminally minded brother.

Ricci stars as energetic, idealistic American drama teacher Dino Chalmers, who finds herself at Redfern High School in an inner-city suburb that is notorious for its tough indigenous inhabitants, history and lifestyle.

She attempts to stage a production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet with her class, and by comparing the rhyming couplets of the Bard’s dialogue to those of famous hip-hop artists, an alternative world of parallels emerges.

“This is a story about freedom, the ability to choose one's own path in life and create one's own destiny," said debut feature writer-director Sarah Spillane. "As Liam is led down two opposing paths by his criminally minded brother and optimistically inspiring drama teacher, he becomes painfully aware that he must make a decision that will shape his life forever.”

Other cast to join what is billed as a universal “feel-good movie infused with the true gritty reality of contemporary urban life” include Matt Nable, Ruby Rose, Madeline Madden, Mark Coles Smith, Dan Henshall and Damien Walshe-Howling.

Thompson said Around the Block first sparked his interest several years ago.

“I've been looking forward to making this film for a couple of years now," Thompson said. "I believe this is the most exciting Australian project for me since working with Baz Lurhmann on Australia. I know that Christina Ricci will bring her own special quality to join an already fabulous cast."

Around the Block is the first feature for new production company Tree Productions, headed up by the husband-and-wife production team of Su Armstrong (Good Will Hunting) and Brian Rosen, the former CEO of local agency Film Finance Corp., before it was folded into Screen Australia.

It steps away from recent indigenous dramas such as Ivan Sen’s Toomelah and Warwick Thornton’s Samson and Delilah, based on the travails of disenfranchised outback aboriginal communities.

“Although this is a hard, gritty urban tale set in the cauldron of The Block in Redfern, what attracted us to this story is that it does not look at past grievances but rather the strengths and opportunities of the future, which is what is happening at The Block right now,” Armstrong and Rosen said in a statement.

Indeed The Block is the subject of a new TV drama series, Redfern Now, being made by Blackfella Films for national broadcaster ABC TV. The six-part drama is notable as the first primetime network drama to be made entirely by indigenous filmmakers. Redfern Now was developed in collaboration with Jimmy McGovern.

The projects join Goalpost Pictures' upcoming musical, The Sapphires, which had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, as an increasing number of indigenous-themed and -made films find audiences in Australia.

Principal photography on About the Block starts this month.

Former NZFC and Celluloid Dreams exec Michael Wrenn has picked up Australian rights through Curious Distribution and plans to release the film locally in 2013. Arclight Films will handle international sales.