Sunday, September 06, 2009

The Australian Connection

Glenn here from Stale Popcorn here. Nathaniel is travelling somewhere that has - wait for it - bad internet connection(!!!), which is a horrifying prospect to say the least. He asked myself and some others to keep you occupied.

Nathaniel has been a wee bit lax lately in his coverage of world cinema and so I thought, while he's away, I'd do my bit and spruik it for all its worth. This is actually an early version for a piece I have been planning for my own blog to publish at years end. SNEAK PEAK!!!

As a member of the "international" film community (doesn't that term sound just a smidgen condescending?) there are many things to be angry about. Whether it is poor distribution tactics (The Hurt Locker is going Direct-to-DVD in Australia) or bad foreign cinema clogging up cinemas that could be reserved for local fare. I, however, have a big problem to share with you today and it's one that I am sure many other "foreigners" experience when it comes to film from their home country.

I am from Australia, as I'm sure you are aware, and I love this country. It's a wonderful country, doncha know. Any place that, in the span of just a few days, can have stories about Cate Blanchett being knocked out mid-performance and Russell Crowe daring a journalist to join him for a bike ride around Sydney has got to be worth your time, right?

Unfortunately, as any Australian will attest to, our film industry has the tendency to be a bit... shall we say, on the nose. The Academy will be bringing in TEN nominees for next year's award ceremony, meanwhile our national awards - The Australian Film Institute (AFI) Awards, which I regularly blog about - barely manage to find the annual four in any given year. In 2009 though we seem to have an over-abundance of great movies. So many of such high quality in fact that some, myself included, have raised the theory that 2009 is the greatest year for Australian films ever. EVER! It's out very own 1999, if you will (I could say 1939, but Australia was 2008 and so I thought "no"). If it isn't the best then it is certainly one of the best.

One thing that myself and everybody else within the Australian film watching circle has with our industry is how uniformly similar it is. Each year we get the same sort of films; depressing socio-realist dramas about suburban woe and bleak miserabalism, usually involving drug addicts, or drug dealers, or drug dealers' families, or... well, you get the picture. An influx of writers-slash-directors who think audiences want to watch them relive their traumatic childhood when all audiences really want are Crocodile Dundee and Kenny driving in a car to go fishing.

This year, however, movies that have been released or are set for release later in the year include musicals (Bran Nue Dae, my review), westerns (Lucky Country, my review), political dramas (Balibo, my review), stoner comedies (Stone Bros.), epics (Mao's Last Dancer), horror ghost stories (Lake Mungo, my review) and period pieces (Bright Star). And there's plenty more where they came from, too.

Why am I still angry then? Shouldn't I be jumping for joy? On one hand I am, but on the other I am not and the reason is that because nobody seems to care. Nobody outside of Australia seems to have taken any notice. Usually when a movie produces the number of excellent product that Australia has this year terms like "renaissance" and "new wave" get thrown about willy nilly. Sure, our movies have won awards at Cannes, Toronto, London and elsewhere, but distributors just don't wanna bite.

How is it that John Malkovich gives the best performance of his career in Disgrace and it can't get a release in America? How can an Oscar-winning short animator produce a star-studded feature that, by all rights, should garner him a Best Animated Feature nomination not get distribution and yet Delgo does? Samson & Delilah has been hailed as one of the very greatest film of all time from this fair land and nobody wants to put it out there. And it's so disappointing to see people whose job it is to see movies like this will snub it just so they can see an American movie that's due for release in two weeks anyway. I'll never understand that about film festivals.

I know I shouldn't bother asking, because I already know the reason. It's because we don't speak French or [insert whatever Asian country is popular right now, probably South Korea]n and whenever we have an auteur like Almodovar or Haneke they jump ship to America. I am sure there are plenty of Spaniards and Austrians out there who wish cinephiles would pay attention to the other films from their home countries. Same goes for everybody else out there who feels their country is under-represented.

So my mission for you dear readers is to let everyone know what movies from your homeland we should all be paying attention to. Have the critics and the press gone wild over a movie or two that nobody outside of your country has even heard of?


Unknown said...

Reaaally? I had no idea this great crop of films weren't getting off the ground overseas. I thought we had a good showing at Toronto?

The Hurt Locker going straight to DVD here is just ridiculous. Though there are whispers that might change.

But back to local fare, surely Balibo and Disgrace will get some sort of a run. If Anthony "Without a Trace" LaPaglia and John Malkovich can't get international bums on seats then I'm dumbfounded.

Btw: my Sydney Film Festival review of Disgrace

Tom Clift said...

Mary & Max and Samson & Delilah are easily two of the best films of the year, Australian or otherwise

Andrew David said...

How is it possible that an acclaimed big Cannes winner struggles to find distribution? Loved Samson & Delilah and really liked Disgrace and Beautiful Kate. Going to see Balibo this tuesday. It really has been a great year for film in Australia. Every year has its gems (The Black Balloon is one of my all-time favourite films) but hopefully the broad quality of this year keeps going through the next few.

Arkaan said...

1. I don't think it's just because of the language barrier. If anything, I'd assume the language makes it easier to get distribution.

2. Now you mock French/S. Korean films, but I'd argue that part of the reason they are successful is simple: there's more of them. Audiences in those nations go to their own films and their governments support them. Now, I don't know the extent Australia supports it's own industry (AUSTRALIA! notwithstanding) but both those countries you mention do an upstanding job of building and promoting their industry, and the consequence is that it thrives. Is this year a fluke or a trend? If it's the latter, then you're gonna see those words "renaissance" and "wave" thrown about.

3. Distributors suck in general. Lets be clear. We're living in a time when most major distributors have minimized or shut down their specialty boutiques. When any specialty distributor is facing monstrous financial difficulties - the interesting ones closed and we've got fewer left, with more films. We've got a film culture that celebrates the basest of qualities. It's not just Australian films that are hurting in American market. It's all films that can support an eight-figure marketing campaign.

NicksFlickPicks said...

I wonder if coverage over here would be different if so much of the film-distribution and film-media mechanisms hadn't lost their money and their guts. Compared to ten or fifteen years ago, when you could read about the Iranian New Wave in any film mag you wanted (and still lots of the key titles failed to get distributed), the coverage and the articles in taste-making American venues like Film Comment seem to get shorter, safer, and more superficial all the time. And with so few non-Hollywood distributors failing to survive the market (when New Yorker Films goes under, you know it's a huge problem), it's really killing the coverage possibilities for films that may never find a shepherd into the U.S. market. And definitely, with festivals like Cannes growing so notoriously conservative about filling their main competition slots with known auteurs (while the Moolaadés and the Police, Adjectives and the Samson & Delilahs relegated to buzz kings that no one without a press pass and a hotel room on the Croisette has much of a prayer of seeing...), it's getting harder to promote any non-American movie by a filmmaker we haven't already heard of, much less an entire film culture that America has no track record of really respecting.

None of that is particularly helpful in advancing this discussion, but I loved and appreciated this piece, and I will absolutely look for all of these titles if one of the curatorial rep houses in Chicago actually brings a few of them. (And with venues like the Chicago International Film Festival and the Gene Siskel Film Center around, it's always possible....)

NicksFlickPicks said...

But lo! The New York Times reports (c/o of a great writer who has also been a boon in recent years to Film Comment, despite what I said above), that Disgrace will begin a Stateside release on Sept 18. That probably only means big metro areas, but it's an important start.

See it for Glenn, people! :)

CrazyCris said...

I totally get it, in Spain we can get pretty frustrated when the only Spanish movies people abroad pay attentio to are by a certain Don Pedro... there's a lot more that that in the Peninsula people!!!
And Penelope Cruz is far from being our best actress!

adam k. said...

Random, but I just watched Adam & Steve on netflix, and I have to say, your giving it a "B" (back in the day) was quite generous indeed, and makes me think your gayness and personal connection with the director/star got the better of you.

Not "total crap", as you correctly described many gay indies, but just not a good film either. Pretty paint-by-numbers (or at least attempted to be), no budget to speak of (you could tell), mediocre acting, embarrassing score. There were a lot of awkward/funny moments, so I can't say I didn't enjoy it to an extent, but it would be more of a guilty pleasure than anything.

Parker Posey, though, was hilarious. The film's one true saving grace. My BF and I found ourselves fast-forwarding to all her scenes, since they were by far the best. I'd never really seen her in anything, but this made me an instant fan. Like Joan Cusack, she seems the type who, by virtue of a unique talent and charisma, can spin just about anything into comic gold. Love her.

The movie, though? Meh. I was embarrassed for them. A "C" I think would be fair (while also very kind).

mcnellie said...

What a surprise to see this guy interrupt a separate conversation on this site so that he can talk down to Nat about an opinion he doesn't agree with. About a movie he fast forwarded through parts of. Off-topic + bad manners = quite a combo you've got going there, adam k. Maybe you could just e-mail off-board or search back for a related post? And try not to sound so condescending for once?

But anyway, about those foreign films...

NicksFlickPicks said...

Yeee. Awkward silence.

I'm not saying I disagree with McNellie's sentiments, but let's not lose such an interesting thread. I personally would love to hear more about these Australian movies, or about other film cultures that people feel are disproportionately touted on the U.S. and global markets, or embodied too exclusively by one or two auteurs when a broader sampling would be illuminating for everyone. I've been fascinated to see what rhymes and what doesn't in films like The Counterfeiters and Revanche with the idea I'd built up about "Austrian cinema" based on the slim foundation of Michael Haneke, who doesn't always even identify his films as Austrian. I'd love to know what Japanese filmgoers think about Departures being the film that finally scoops a post-Kurosawa Foreign Film Oscar for their homeland, and what they lament that we aren't seeing on U.S. screens. Speaking just for myself, I was looking forward to a long stream of comments on this post, especially since one of my favorite things about Nathaniel's site is that it solicits readers and comments from so many countries. Let's keep it going!

(...or is everyone just off enjoying their weekend?)

Catherine said...

I wish I had more to contribute on this topic re: the Irish film industry, but there's not a whole lot to say. The IFTAs are a complete joke and even our most independent and arthouse cinemas are more interested in scheduling foreign and indie films from other European or Asia countries rather than programming anything homegrown. And who can blame them, when the few Irish films that people do see generally fall into three depressing categories? We have shoddily made, dull dramas about the Troubles, saacharine kiddie stuff or grim, blokey 'comedies' starring bit-part actors from Father Ted. Sin é. Every so often a Once [a film I don't like, incidentally] will come along and charm Irish and overseas audiences alike, but overall it's pretty dire. Regarding the film industry, I think the Irish do better individually rather than as a whole; think of how many Irish people, both actors and directors, have found success in Hollywood. I just don't think we can handle a whole production.

I will say, though, that a few years ago, Bord Scannán na hEireann [the Irish Film Board] simultaneously released in selected cinemas, and put out a dvd of, Irish language short films for use in secondary school Irish classes. We were brought to see them by our teacher when I was about 15, and I've seen a few of them crop up on television and in front of main features now and again, and they're really, really good. Witty, bizarre, unnerving, sometimes downright nasty, and extremely inventive.

Catherine said...

Love this article by the way, Glenn, and hate to be such a Debbie Downer on my own country's behalf.

Iggy said...

I'm afraid I'll repeat nationality as I'm from the same place as Crazycris :). I agree with her statement on how frustrating it can be to have all the attention focused on Almodóvar, but it's just that he's one of a kind. He overshadows anyone else. As Buñuel did in his own time.

Anyway, as far as I know, this hasn't been a great year for Spanish movies. The economic crisis seems to be seriously affecting the usual production. This causes that more often than not, when you see a remarkable first movie from an unknown director and you're interested in his/her new projects, you find there's nothing. Only sure bets are greenlit. Shit, even promotion for Amenábar's Agora is almost non-existent.

The most succesful Spanish movies this year have been 3 (?, they all looked the same) teenage comedies, completely forgettable (and regrettable if you ask me). Not even Almodóvar has been as succesful as with previous movies.

Right now, it seems Celda 211 directed by Daniel Monzón, is getting good reviews at Venice. According to the plot available on IMDB is a genre film, so I wouldn't expect it to cross national borders, unless it becomes something similar to the REC phenomenon. I've seen a couple of movies from this director, and though you wouldn't say he's the second coming, he makes solid, entertaining genre movies. So I'll probably be watching this one, when it opens.

REC leads me directly to the issue of international distribution... if even a movie as succesful as REC couldn't get a theatrical release in America, what can you expect? I don't really want to go deeper into the distribution issue, because it's just too irritating. I'll just mention that Frozen River (remember?) has opened here this, yes, this weekend. The way I see it, major distributors block, or let's say neglect foreign movies distribution, not only in America. Within Europe, any European movie will suffer the same distribution problems you describe, unless it's something huge or wins the Foreign Language Film Academy Award. Or to make it short, it's much easier to see any Jennifer Aniston movie than one from Italy. At the same time, their position in the market allows them to impose whatever titles they want in the international market. So, no matter how many efforts countries make individually, the situation is unlikely to change. I think (and all this is just my opinion, of course) that regarding Europe, or European governments as a whole (European Union, right?) do something to protect cinema, as the French do, or we'll be facing the same situation or a worse one if we add piracy to the equation.

Finally, if I had to recommend a Spanish director who doesn't get enough international attention (for me) that'd be Alex de La Iglesia. I find it a bit shocking that he doesn't have more international projects coming, after The Oxford Murders with Elijah Wood, John Hurt and Leonor Watling. If I had to recommend one of his movies, that'd be La Comunidad, a great (I love it) black comedy with a great Carmen Maura. So, if you can "netflix" it, it's worthy.

There's also Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (28 Weeks Later), but I think he's already working internationally. And of course, Isabel Coixet, but she's almost granted international (even if scarce) distribution because she shoots in English with known casts most of the times. Her movies aren't exactly my cup of tea, but it's another voice.

My god, sorry for the length. :)


I've read a lot of articles about all the problems of the film world in terms of distribution will end up in a correcting (?) balance. there are too many movies for the audiences. It's totally true. Even the audiences who only like fast food (i.e. american blockbusters) have films they have to skip and there simply aren't enough people who like edgier challenging or complex work to support it.

and the audience member who likes a wider range of films, still has too many choices. I obviously spend a lot of time tracking what's out there and what's buzzed and what's coming and so on and I tell you that I still EASILY lose track of movies because by the time they become available to me (usually between 12-24 months later) I have forgotten they exist because there's a\100s of movies since then that people have talked about.

the solution seems like it would have to be a multiple pronged one.

1. Reducing the number of movies produced.
2. Growing Audiences for movies that don't cost $100 million to make. How?
3. Speeding up distribution of riskier, subtitled, and all niche titles so that people don't forget about them after reading about them once 16 months before they open in one small theater that might be an hour's drive away (if you're lucky)

as far as the problem of American cinema dominating... I respect France and the other countries who understand that art needs to be encouraged and protected rather than left solely to survive on its profit margins (i.e. the way American movies function) and i'm glad Arkaan pointed that out. I once read an amazing article in Cahiers (a friend translated for me) which was all about international film and which countries have strong support systems (including sometimes legislation to keep percentage of domestic vs. foreign product balance in play) and which don't.

fascinating stuff and I wish i could find it now.

Occasionally I've wondered myself about who else in Spain is amazing but I love Almodovar so much (my favorite working filmmaker bar none) that I am just grateful there are still a few auteurs like him that can get distribution regularly.

Benjamin T said...

I still don't know how "The Hurt Locker" got so screwed over by Summit (or whoever). It's one of the best action movies I have seen in a long, long time. Everyone who has seen it seems to think that it is amazingly tense and entertaining. Why did it get pegged as an "art" movie? This totally could have been sold as a summer blockbuster. Yet, since it had plot and semi-complex characters it becomes an "indie"?
Maybe you're only allowed to be mainstream and cynical if you are a franchise movie (cough-Dark Knight-cough)?
It's a shame that it's direct to DVD in Australia. It deserves to be seen on a big screen.

Unknown said...

To add a few points in no particular order:

1. I was recently told that French cinema reinvests a certain percentage of total box office revenue (be it from Hollywood blockbuster or local fare) into the industry. I think that's a genius idea! Imagine something good actually coming from the ridiculous takings of a film like Transformers 2! With that and the quotas for local cinema/music etc, I think those Frenchies are really on to something.

2. Re: Spanish cinema. This year I worked with the Spanish Film Festival here in Australia and had a brilliant time learning about the new crop of films. Check out the website for some titles to keep on your radar:

But 3. apropos Nathaniel's point, yes it's hard to keep track of films when the local buzz is long gone by the time they make it on to international screens. I think festivals and certainly the internets! do much to keep awareness alive - but how that translates to distributors actually catering for audiences' delicate palates (to butcher the fast food metaphor)...alas I don't know.

NicksFlickPicks said...

I wish someone who really knows would take a stab at this, but I wonder if it comes down to prints? If Summit was paying the distribution and marketing costs, they may not have had money to produce the number of prints required for a big mass-market opening. Numbers of prints have been a big concern for distributors lately, and The Hurt Locker maxed out at around 500 U.S. screens, whereas United 93, a comparably "serious" kinetic picture with an equally hard-to-market premise, bowed on almost 1,800 screens, care of Universal. I am guessing that it "looks" better to saturate the arthouse market and do reasonably well by that standard—though Hurt Locker did play a fair number of multiplexes, too—than to attempt a mainstream opening that you can't afford to market or support with mall-ready numbers of prints, and then be perceived by the culture as a mainstream "flop" instead of an arthouse "prestige success." Even by the standards of awards, which Summit obviously hopes The Hurt Locker will reap, the former would probably be a big hurdle, and the latter is something they can still (sort of) work with.

But a lot of this falls with the audiences, too, who just didn't show up where The Hurt Locker was available and drawing raves.... and that speaks right to the international exhibition question, since my "casual moviegoer" friends whose tastes skew a little higher than Transformers are much quicker to "wait for the DVD" than the blockbuster enthusiasts are. People are really buying into the convenience of watching at home and waiting for Netflix to tell them what to see. Eventually, prestige, independent, and "foreign" distribution will probably have to skip theatrical distribution almost altogether, if people can't be bothered to buy an in-cinema ticket for that kind of fare. And once one title "does well" on any home- or digital-format without screening theatrically, you know tons of others will follow that way...

adelutza said...

I think that we have to change our prejudice regarding the "good" films being released theatrically and the "bad ones" on DVD or On Demand. Times are a changing and we have to accept that.I personally would love a film to be released on Internet if that means I get to see it the same day it's released in its country of origin. We stick to rules that were made so many years ago and bitch about it. What would you prefer, what a year to see o film on the big screen or see it On Demand or streaming on Internet the day it's released?

adelutza said...

OK, was in a hurry to post so I made typos...I meant, what would you prefer, wait a year to see a film on the big screen or see it on Internet the day it was released?

Benjamin T said...

I'm not clued into the story of how the "Hurt Locker" got sold and why Summit chose to release it as a prestige picture in June. If they were seriously thinking about it as an awards picture, wouldn't they have released it late last year or waited until October?

Andrew David said...

I think Arkaan brings up a very good point that support has to start within the film's country of origin. Ask your average Australian teenaged boy (the primary movie-goer) about Australian films and you'll probably be met with a sneer of disinterest at how "cheap" and "crappy" they are.

I also think our government funding programs have their downside. This emphasis on "Australian stories" and homogenic script appraisal and funding processes are really at fault for the sameness of the films. I might also suggest that there is something lacking with the script appraisal, considering that the main critical flaw with your average Australian film is that the script is sub-par or at least underdeveloped.

I certainly get frustrated keeping myself updated with ScreenWest. To me personally it seems like all that gets made are children's cartoons and documentaries about your heritage, while occasionally giving a little bit of money to films primarily financed by other states but shot in WA. After the quality and acclaim of Last Train to Freo I was really hoping for a bit more risk in terms of financing features and drama series. I know ScreenWest helped to fund Bran Nue Dae so when that becomes the success it should be hopefully West Australia will open up to a little more dramatic output.

NicksFlickPicks said...

@Adelutza: I hear you about the advantages of simultaneous and international internet distribution over never seeing these movies, especially presuming that they're still getting theatrical distribution somewhere. Given the choice, there are many situations when I would opt for this, but I think it's a bigger question than how "good" individual films are. Nostalgic though it may be, the relegation of film out of public theaters and further and further into people's private rooms and portable screens seems like a real shame to me. I'm also just not looking forward to the (inevitable) moment when the dissipation of theatrical screenings, even in "home" countries, means that certain gradients of color, texture, light, sound, immersive environment, fantasy, relinquishment of viewer control over the spectacle (stopping, starting, pausing...) cease being used as elements of the art. Definitely, these trends are already palpable in a lot of the big-ticket films in every national cinema, especially the U.S.'s. But the very films we're all talking about—artistically ambitious, and therefore tougher to distribute widely and inculcate a global audience for—often thrive on these aspects of the medium. So I hate to see these films become the likely frontline of the digitization and all-download-all-the-time platform that I suspect cinema will increasingly become. If that sounds reactionary, I'll take it.

@Benjamin: Like I said, I'd love to hear from someone who really knows. But the fact that the in-theater Hurt Locker posters are marked with decal's for its year-old Venice Film Festival prizes and tons of wordy blurbs suggests to me, alongside the arthouse release, that they're gunning for Best lists and awards. I was actually hopeful that the unusual, simultaneous exhibition in multiplexes and "arthouses" in many of the big cities might augur for a kind of film that both audiences could get jointly excited about, but instead they punked it, and neither one really rallied behind it.

Unknown said...

@Drew and Arkaan - you're spot on that Australia doesn't support its own industry. Granted there is the militant arthouse set, but I doubt Australian films even register with the general movie going public.

Garry Maddox's recent SMH article spells it out pretty clearly:

The box office takings and the number of screens were eyeopening for me. I can't believe My Life in Ruins opened on over 150 screens, but Balibo only opened on 23 (though I hear it's expanding Sept 10).

Perhaps it's a case of taking the plank out of our own eye...

Unknown said...

BTW just heard Charlie & Boots raked in almost $800K opening weekend. So perhaps Glenn is right about Aussie audiences wanting Crocodile Dundee + Kenny because that's precisely what Charlie & Boots is!

Andrew David said...

Definitely an illuminating article, but his message to me seemed to say that Australia should make "broader", brainless films. I don't think the problem with 2009 is that the filmmakers should have been stopped and told to give their films happy endings, I think the problem is that the support of the government agencies doesn't extend to advertising and help with distribution. Maybe, as Philip Noyce suggests, it's up to the filmmaker to save some money to use for marketing, but to me it seems like a fundamental flaw that the screen agencies fund these films and then essentially cut them adrift to lose money.

Unknown said...

Yes for me Phil Noyce's point was the most salient, though I don't necessarily equate 'broad appeal' with 'brainless' and do agree that Aussie cinema could do with a few more home grown heroes.
But yes, evidently Noyce has been making this point for years - it's just no-one is yet to do anything about it!

Glenn said...

Drew, it isn't my message that we should be making broader, sillier movies. I do think we should make them in tandem with the more serious fare. Take Charlie & Boots for example, which debuted with $800,000. Not exactly an amazing total, but it beat the current holder of "largest debut weekend", Rachel Ward's directorial debut Beautiful Kate, by over $500,000.

It's a shame that something like Lake Mungo, which could have been a real hit - it's legitimately scary and legitimately well made, SHOCKING - but it ended up being independently released and promptly vanished. It really should have done better.

And while it's true Australian cinemagoers had turned BIG TIME on Aussie fare - 2008 was, excluding Australia, the worst year ever I believe in terms of box office - 2009 has shown signs of improvement. Samson & Delilah has surprised everyone and their pet parakeet to become the highest grossing Aussie film of the year, meanwhile titles like Mary & Max ($1.5m), Beautiful Kate ($1.3m and counting), Disgrace ($1.15m) and My Year Without Sex ($1.1m) have all cracked the magic million, something that only two movies did last year (again, barring, Australia) and they was The Black Balloon and The Children of Huang Shi. Balibo and Charlie & Booys are getting there and titles like Mao's Last Dancer, Bright Star and Bran Nue Dae (if it doesn't get moved to 2010, which is likely) are all surefire hits.

The theory seems to be that if we make good movies then it acts as a snowball effect. But the moment a dud comes along then audiences will immediately lose their faith again. We're fickle and overflow with cultural cringe.

But back to Drew's reply, no the message was that I find it so bizarre that we are producing these great movies that are actually quite accessible and yet nobody seems to be noticing.

I'm glad that Disgrace has acquired a US release, but I question how many people even know it is coming out in two weeks. This should be a slam dunk for Malkovich at the Oscars, but I can't say I hold out much hope in that arena. Especially since it's from an upstart distributor. It's based on a famous book and after District 9, people are aware of apartheid again so the timing seems right. Alas...

The failure of Samson & Delilah to get an international release is completely and utterly disgraceful. There's no other word for it. Hopefully after Toronto, however.

Anonymous said...

I saw Balibo this weekend, and it was TERRIBLE. I can't believe they used that poor east timor woman to tell the story of a fat white guy. UGH.
Best Aussie films to date - The Proposition, Priscilla, The Castle

Glenn Dunks said...

Somebody over at my blog informed me that the Samson & Delilah official website states they have sold the rights to UK and various other countries, which is a good sign. Hopefully it can sell to America in Toronto or Telluride.

John Brawley said...

Interesting discussion.

Even with a Paramount remake of LAKE MUNGO in the offing and all-round positive reviews, we were unable to attract enough interest from distributors with a *realistic* set of terms for the release of LAKE MUNGO in Australia.

We made the perhaps foolhardy decision to self distribute the film In Australia. It was either that or straight to DVD.

It is virtually impossible to secure a screen in Australia simply for the reason that they are mostly *owned* by the majors or so far in their pockets that they may as well be.

I saw THREE BLIND MICE by Matthew Newton at SFF have to admit it was actually really good, with a large number of recognisable Australian cast. It's perhaps even more commercial from a marketing point of view than LAKE MUNGO. They actually CAN'T get the film onto a screen in Sydney........Anywhere....!

We were lucky enough to get a couple of sessions a day at perhaps the last truly independent cinema in Sydney, the Cremorne Orhpium.

At one of our venues, the cinema owner (essentially a franchisee of one of the majors) was called by another major and told to pull our film or else, not to screen it on their largest screen which should have had THEIR film screening and that under no circumstances was our trailer to be played in front of any of their content. If he did, they they would withhold future content so he would be delayed receiving XXXXX US blockbuster other words they threatened to withhold content from him.

Even though we were the 2nd top selling film in his cinema that week, we were down to a single 10 AM session the next week.

I think this anti-competitive environment means that it's vitally impossible for a small film to get any screens. It used to be a big film would play in all the cities first and then move to the regional areas. Now they want it to roll out on as many screens a possible at the same time. It's almost impossible to compete with the marketing spend of these films, and it's impossible to even get a screen.

So called independent cinemas in Australia in reality are far from it AND they all distribute their own content. And that's what I think should change.

In what other form of media distribution do the distributors OWN the retailing ? Book distributors and publishers don't own bookshops.

We have cinema exhibition OWNED in Australia by and large by Distributors. So of COURSE they don't want you competing with THEIR product in exhibition.

This vertical integration, makes independently distributing a film in Australian downright suicide.

The only person to succeed has been John Maynard, a producer who had to start his own distribution company ( TRANSMISSION - SAMSON, MY YEAR WITHOUT SEX, BALIBO, LUCKY COUNTRY )

I'd like to see what would happen in Australian if distributors did not own cinemas.

We are actually getting a larger theatric release in the US than in Australia. LAKE MUNGO will be screening in late January as part of the Afterdark Fest.

John Brawley
Associate Producer & DOP LAKE MUNGO

Louis said...

you have nice writing skills. Trevor Morgan stars as a young man who dreams of becoming a painter, so he asks a famously reclusive artist to help him reach his goal. LOCAL COLOR features a strong cast, including Samantha Mathis, Ray Liotta, Ron Perlman, and Charles Durning

Nissantroppissima Belladonsa said...

Talking about Australians... I hope 'Rabbit Hole' becomes the 'Million Dollar Baby' of 2009 and gets released next december instead next year.

Nicole = Oscar Worthy.

Arkaan said...

John Brawley, that's fascinating (and depressing). I don't know the legal ins and outs of the Australian economic system, but that sounds startlingly similar to the studio system in Hollywood 60 years ago and eventually, courts ruled that it was illegal for studios to own the theatres (The Hollywood Antitrust Case of 1948). I don't know how the situation in Australia compares, but I'd hope something like that is illegal.

Here's what I'd like to see happen in all "dominated" cinemas (aka, film industries that are dwarfed by the Hollywood behemoth).

1. Have legislation set aside a certain amount screens to show homegrown product.

Canadian Literature has something like this. Bookstores need to stock a certain percentage of Canadian authors (new bookstores - used bookstores do not, but tend to anyway as a result of the market). So the result is we get more Canadian authors out on the market, they get more of a shot at having recognition etc. As a result, Canadian literature has been thriving this decade, and we have a thriving book culture that's quite different from the USA's literary scene (or Britain's, which were sorta ape).

I don't see why this can't happen in films. Obviously, nations like China and North Korea have pretty much total bans on Hollywood product. But I'd like to see countries boosting their own product.

2. Copy France. Basically, re-invest a certain amount of money from films (maybe set aside a separate tax on movie tickets or something) into one's own film industry.


As Nick mentioned, a huge hurdle has been the shift in viewing habits. Because of the way DVDs cornered the market so quickly and because the international market became increasingly important, you're finding more and more investment being put into that area. Why bother putting a film in theatres if it's gonna gross 154,000 dollars (see 2008's Camera D'Or winner, Hunger). It's unlikely to get an oscar nomination without a concerted campaign (which IFC doesn't do). Meanwhile, their On-Demand seems to be paying dividends (Summer Hours has grossed 1.6 million thus far, making it Assayas' most successful film stateside). Now, I don't know the logic in the grosses - I don't know if the money made from on-demand gets added (I doubt it) or if they can be a bit more aggressive in their theatrical distribution thanks to another stream of revenue. But the rewriting of film distribution is taking place.


That article Alice linked to is depressing and sort of wrongheaded. Pandering to the audience is not something I want to see, given that the audience is comprised of children.

NicksFlickPicks said...

Ditto on the Antitrust legacy from early Hollywood, which Arkaan just mentioned. Hopefully, some coterie of brilliant legal minds in Australia will figure out a way to use that precedent toward establishing something similar in Oz. And then they'll make an Australian movie about it, secure lots of in-country theatrical bookings, and all the lawyers will be played by actors who are slightly better-looking than themselves.

Unknown said...

I'm seeing (at least) Bran Nue Dae at Toronto in a week or so...hopefully also Samson & Delilah and Balibo as well.

Now that they are in big "market" fests, I can expect you'll see several Australian films get picked up.

Glenn said...

I hope you like them, Brian. Bran Nue Dae is entertaining and Geoffrey Rush/Ernie Dingo steal the show.

John Brawley, I think I might know the cinema you're talking about since I had intended to see Lake Mungo and then all of a sudden it was at one screening during the day, which made it impossible. Shocking stuff, really.

Andrew David said...

@Glenn... sorry, I wasn't criticising this post in away way, I was referring to the article posted by Alice. In the article, it seemed to me that the writer first panned Transformers 2 as being "brainless" and then suggesting in a roundabout way that Australia should be 'thinking' more like the producers of that esteemed film and its kind.

Unknown said...

Open question:
Australian-produced television shows have become increasingly popular in recent times, so why hasn't this desire for australian content translated at the Australian Box Office??
Also, it would be interesting to investigate moviegoers seeing Australian films and the proportion of viewers under 30??
The three times i have seen an australian film in the theatre this year, i was the youngest by about 25 years.

Glenn Dunks said...

Michael, I think it just stems to audiences thinking Aussie films are all depressing and grungy (which, in 2009, is true of titles like Ana Kokkinos' Blessed and Glendyn Ivin's Last Right especially) and even when one isn't audience react skeptically towards it.

Plus, TV is free and easily digestible. But, then again, why can't there a movie that's as energetic and exciting as Rush or as endearing as Packed to the Rafters apparently is. I don't have answers to those questions, I'm afraid. It's something only those at the funding bodies and development boards can answer.

Kat said...

This has been a really fascinating read. Thank you for starting it Glenn. I just read an article in today's The Age which discusses the same Australian distribution problems that John Brawley wrote about. Apparently an upcoming documentary called Into the Shadows will be covering this topic, but I suspect we may have difficulty finding many cinemas that screen it.

Screening At Selected Cinemas

Seeing_I said...

Is that a guy or a girl on the left of the "Samson & Delilah" poster? Hot, either way, but I do prefer guys. :)

Seeing_I said...

Never mind, it's a girl for sure. Here's the trailer. Looks good!

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

Well, I, for one, have been living in this fair land for something like 12 years now - I've well and truly assimilated and my passport says 'Australian'. But patriotism won't cloud my judgment, because, well, I feel none of it for this or any other country. From my perspective (which by no means represents the Australian or international majority opinion):
- to say John Malkovich's solid performance in Disgrace (a thoroughly mediocre adaptation of a great novel) is his his best ever means that surely, you haven't seen Dangerous Liaisons or Being John Malkovich or at least 12 other films;
- to call the initially absorbing, lyrical, piercing-then-increasingly artificial Samson and Delilah the greatest of anything in any time period means you've also not seen many better films;
- the AFI struggles to come up with four Picture nominees every year because there is barely a single great Aussie film released in any year, much less four;
- to wonder why French exports are more regularly embraced than Australian ones seems like a colossal waste of time (conversely: Because they are better, more distinctive and there are about 6 times as many films made in France as in Australia, a significant portion of them by people who are not aping middlebrow American fare).

In the past five years, there is a grand total of 1 Aussie feature that I have enjoyed without reservations: "Forbidden Lies", which ironically was far more consistently ignored on home soil than it was upon its American release, when it got something like 84% on Metacritic.

(That said, a couple weeks back, a friend invited me to see Lake Mungo and when we arraived there, we found out the film finished the week before. I'm hoping to catch it on DVD in a few months and based on the script and clips I've seen, it could technically become the second Aussie film I've enjoyed without reservation in the past five years.)

In the meantime, with comparatively few exceptions, we've been making the same polite middlebrow arthouse film for nearly a decade, which was as tedious the first time around as it was the 110th. In fact, I believe Slant Magazine's review for Look Both Ways was a copy-and-paste job for Somersault and Candy and Little Fish and Black Balloon - this despite the fact that Slant has some of the strongest film writers around. So where it comes to Aussie fare, I don't think international cinema nuts have been all that deprived in recent years. In fact, I myself will trade you a ticket to an Aussie film for one to a French or a South Korean one any day of the week.

But again, let me emphasise, I am in no way trying to speak for the majority here. When The Proposition and Ten Canoes opened to universal acclaim state-side, I was flabbergasted (and mildly noxious).

Arkaan said...

Y Kant, you're nothing if not distinctive.

That stated, my understanding of Samson and Delilah is that people are calling it one of the best Australian films ever. Which, according to you, falls in the category of damning with faint praise.

More generally, I truly wonder if quality really is a deterrent to getting these films seen internationally.