'Samson' shows boxoffice strength

Local film established new mark for take per screen

SYDNEY -- The Australian indie sector may have finally found a film to end its long run of poor boxoffice with the opening of indigenous love story "Samson and Delilah."

The feature, which will unspool in the Festival de Cannes' Un Certain Regard section Saturday, took in a whopping AUS$17,170 ($12,705) per screen over the weekend for a total of AUS$194,000 on its 12 screens.

That's the highest per-screen average for any Australian film released nationally since Ray Lawrence's "Lantana" in 2001. That take would have been higher, but does not include Thursday figures for the largest market of Sydney, as the film opened one day later there than in the rest of the country.

The film's pedigree was not unexpected -- it took the audience award for best feature at the Adelaide Film Festival, which part-financed the feature.

Critic David Stratton, writing in the Australian newspaper, called the film "quite simply, one of the finest films ever made in this country."

"Anyone who cares about Australian cinema should see this film," he said. "I'd go further and suggest that anyone who cares about Australia should see it."

"Samson" first time writer-director-producer Warwick Thornton said he is delighted with the audience response.

"This is very, very cool. It is a great feeling to know that as I fly off to France, the Australian public is looking after our baby 'Samson and Delilah,' " he said.

Distributors Footprint Films are planning to expand to 30 screens this weekend and then a wider release in the coming weeks.

If the solid reviews and weekend boxoffice transfers to strong word of mouth, it will certainly boost local films' results at the boxoffice, which in 2008 were a meager 3.8% of the total and included takings from Baz Luhrmann's "Australia."

To date, just a handful of this year's crop of more than 30 expected Aussie films have been released so far, with Adam Elliot's "Mary and Max" the most successful, taking more than AUS$1.12 million. Eric Bana's documentary, "Love the Beast," which pays homage to his rally car, has taken AUS$771,000.

"Samson" follows a series of well-received locally themed films in recent years, from Phil Noyce's "Rabbit Proof Fence," Rolf de Heer's "Ten Canoes" and, to a lesser extent, Baz Luhrmann's "Australia."

However unlike those, there's an Aboriginal at the helm of "Samson and Delilah." Thornton, who hails from the Central Australian communities where the film was made, has been working as a cinematographer and recently lensed SBS' landmark documentary series "First Australians," which told the history of the country through its indigenous inhabitants' eyes.

The film was produced by the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Assn. and Kath Shelper's Scarlett Films, with financing from the indigenous branch of Screen Australia, the NSW Film and Television Office, Australian Broadcasting Corp., Adelaide Film Festival and the NT Film Office.

Footprint Films is handling local distribution alongside Transmission Films and Paramount Pictures Australia, while France's Elle Driver is handling international sales.