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IF Magazine

  • Zacharia Machiek and Janet Dyne in 'Hope Road'.Œ

    When Tom Zubrycki set out five years ago to make a feature documentary on a South Sudan refugee in Sydney who returns to his village to build a school, he had no idea how the story would unfold.

    Almost nothing went to plan on Zacharia Machiek’s emotion-filled mission, as chronicled in director/writer/producer Zubrickyi’s Hope Road. Funded by Screen NSW and Screen Australia’s now defunct Signature Fund, the film will have its world premiere at the Sydney Film Festival.

    “From the very start I knew that things wouldn’t all go smoothly — the funds were low, the committee was inexperienced — and building a school in an African village ‘by remote’ was going to be a big task,” he told IF. Œ

    “As it was I was proved correct and the many twists and turns far exceeded my earlier expectations. ŒWhat started as a story about building a school in Africa became a profound and emotional narrative about a man holding his family together when his partner suddenly leaves him.”

    In 2012 the filmmaker was tipped off about the fundraising project by a friend who knew Machiek when they both worked at a family counselling centre. Zubrycki met him and Janet Dyne, a TAFE teacher who was a member of the committee.

    He got $8,000 from Screen NSW which was enough to pay for Zubrycki and Machiek to fly to the latter’s village in South Sudan, which he had left in 1985, and to make a show reel to secure Screen Australia funding.

    During their three week stay in the village the bricks for the entire school were made — but not without drama. The workers protested about being paid in food bags not wages, the women argued for their right to work, and the village wells proved unreliable. Œ

    Subsequently Machiek and Dyne embarked on a 40 day fundraising walk from Tweed Heads to Sydney, filmed by Zubrycki. The suspense builds over whether this initiative will raise the funds they need and as Machiek endures the shock of a broken relationship.

    Zubrycki shot the film almost entirely by himself and recorded most of it as well, which he had done for his past four films, starting with 2003’s Molly & Mobarak. That filmŒfollowed a 22 year old Hazara asylum seeker, Mobarak Tahiri, as he falls in love with 25-year-old Molly Rule and faces possible deportation as his temporary visa nears expiration.

    Editor Ray Thomas, who has worked on all his films since 1989, again served as the key creative collaborator. They worked in blocks mapping the narrative as it gradually evolved in real time. All up it took 26 weeks spread over three years to cut Hope Road.

    Zubrycki hopes the festival exposure will encourage an Australian theatrical distributor to release the film and to secure an Australian broadcaster.

    To drum up interest in international sales he is contacting distributors he knows in Europe, reasoning, “The film should appeal to them because it’s not just a simple refugee story, it’s much more than that and it has elements that are truly universal.

    “When I first started in the early 80s, a distributor like Jane Balfour took all my films without question. That was the old days of film. ŒNow there is a glut of product, hundreds, thousands of documentaries looking for a home. Distributors can afford to be extremely picky.”

    If he doesn’t land a viable distribution deal in the short term he plans to roll out the film at festivals, aiming for Toronto and the IDFA (International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam).

    The filmmaker laments the demise of the Signature Fund, which was merged into the Producer Fund, observing, “It was meant to support projects of intrinsic cultural value, even though they had no distributor involvement at the time when they were pitched. ŒSure, often these projects were a bit of gamble by the agency, but it made Hope Road possible. ŒNow such a project would be much harder to fund through similar channels given the funding landscape has changed so much.”

    Nonetheless he believes this is a great time to be making feature documentaries. “The future of documentary is assured,” he said. “There are more documentaries being made than ever before here and around the world. This year there were more than 100 single entries to the Sydney Film Festival Documentary Competition.Œ

    “Key funding programs at Screen Australia like the Producer Equity Program or the Offset Program, which can fund a percentage of the total budget, have enabled a lot of documentaries to be finished and seen which would otherwise be abandoned.

    “But to sustain an industry where long-form doc continues to be made in a world where public funding is shrinking and delivery platforms are changing, it’s essential to explore and discover new ways of funding.”

    'Hope Road' will screen at Sydney Film Festival June 14 and 15. Tickets available here:Œhttp://tix.sff.org.au/html/s_H opeRoad.htm

  • Damian Callinan.Œ

    With production funding from Screen Australia and Create NSW, comedian Damian Callinan will adapt his live act into a feature, The Merger.

    The film reunites writer and actor Callinan with the team behind 2014 comedy Backyard Ashes, producer Anne Robinson and director Mark Grentell.

    The Merger will follow a country football coach who has a plan to rebuild the local football team by recruiting recently settled asylum seekers. It's an adaptation of Callinan’s 2009 live show, which toured nationally for six years and earned him nominations for the Barry Award at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and the West Australian Editors’ Choice Award at Perth Fringe.

    “The live version ofŒThe Merger,Œwhich has toured every nook of the nation, used empathy to simplify the confusion over the refugee issue and was well received by audiences of all ilks,” said CallinanŒand Grentell in a joint statement. “We are excited to be able to take the story to a wider audience."

    From Crow Crow Productions, Dream Genie Pictures and Definition Films,ŒThe MergerŒhas also secured funding from the Create NSW Regional Film Fund and a grant from the City of Wagga Wagga, who will host production later in the year.

    “Backyard AshesŒis a low-budget gem that showcases the charms of regional Australia to great effect,” saidŒScreen Australia head of production Sally Caplan.

    “The MergerŒgoes one step further and weaves important social issues through the story. We are delighted to be supporting what represents an excellent career opportunity for Mark, Anne and Damian to tell this witty, topical and engaging story that we expect will resonate with city and country folk alike.”

    Umbrella Entertainment will handle local distribution, with the film expected for theatrical release next year. 108 Media will rep international sales.

  • Partho Sen-Gupta.Œ

    Screen Australia, Screenwest and France’s CNC Cinémas du Monde have all backed Slam, the latest film from writer-director Partho Sen-Gupta (Sunrise, Let The Wind Blow).Œ

    To be shot in Western Sydney later this year, Slam follows the disappearance of a young Muslim woman in a climate of mistrust and xenophobia.

    Cast will include Adam Bakri (Omar), Rachael Blake (Sleeping Beauty, Lantana) and Abbey Aziz (Let it Be Love). Post-production will be completed in Western Australia and France.

    "I wrote Slam with urgency and anger in reaction to the world around me nose-diving into hatred and fratricide,” said Sen-Gupta.Œ

    “But I am very pleased that what has resulted is a poetic appeal to reason, a socially motivated thriller that transcends language and nationality. I am very excited to work with such a talented international cast and crew who were touched by the human story and will collaborate with me to bring my vision to the screen.”

    Australia and France have had a co-production agreement in place since 1986, resulting in 32 productions to date.Œ

    However, this is the first Australian production to be to be funded under CNC’s Cinémas du Monde scheme, a selective fund dedicated to high quality international co-productions. Other films that have been supported by the fund in the past include Mustang, Hikari and A Gentle Creature.

    CNC president Frédérique Bredin said the organisation was delighted to have granted the Aide aux Cinémas du Monde to an Australian-French co-production for the very first time.Œ

    “It is encouraging to see this collaboration between France and Australia and we hope it will lead to more co-productions in the future.”

    Slam will be produced by Michael Wrenn (Three Summers, The Rocket) for Invisible Republic with Tenille Kennedy (Bad Girl) for George Nille & Co and Marc Irmer (Sunrise) for Dolce Vita Films, France.

    “Partho Sen-Gupta has the ability to take a dark subject matter and make an incredibly beautiful film as we saw with his acclaimed feature Sunrise,” said Screen Australia head of production Sally Caplan.

    “Slam is a timely, suspenseful thriller that will resonate with audiences both in Australia and internationally.”

    Bonsai Films will handle distribution in Australia, while Doc & Film International will take care of international sales.Œ

    Slam participated in both Cinemart and the Berlinale co-production markets in 2016.

  • Cate Shortland on the set of 'Berlin Syndrome'.Œ

    Australian filmmaker Cate Shortland has only made three features: 2004’s Somersault, 2012’s Lore and now Berlin Syndrome, with the last two both set in Germany.

    “Like a lot of people I’m just drawn to the vibrancy of the culture,” says the filmmaker, “and I love living in Berlin.”

    Shortland’s partner is Australian filmmaker Tony Krawitz (Dead Europe), whose family is German Jew.

    “His grandmother is still alive, she’s 102, and she’s from Berlin,” Shortland tells IF. “We’ve lived in Berlin on and off for the last six years, our kids went to school there for a while. My German’s still really atrocious but I love living there.”

    Now the director has shot a feature in the city — adapted by Snowtown’s Shaun Grant from a novel by Melanie Joosten.

    Aquarius Films producer Polly Staniford was responsible for optioning the book and bringing both Grant and Shortland on board.

    Shortland was attracted to the relationship between the two lead characters, played in the film by Australian actress Teresa Palmer (Hacksaw Ridge) and German Max Riemelt (Sense8) — “how the space defined them and how it kind of mirrors a totalitarian state in a way.”

    “I just loved the complexities of the material and how you couldn’t really pin it down,” Shortland says. “I was interested in the sexual side and all the power stuff.”

    Developing the script took around four years, with the director particularly interested in developing the male character of Andy.

    “He became a much bigger character,” says Shortland. “We ended up fleshing out his life and his relationship with his father, and his life outside of the apartment at the school.”

    International sales agent Memento Films International, with whom Shortland had worked on Lore, came on board early, with eOne ANZ taking domestic rights.

    When it came time for casting, Memento suggested German star Riemelt, and Shortland was fascinated by the young actor.

    “He’s just such an interesting person because he looks so innocent but he’s had a really big life; he’s travelled a lot, he had children really young, his mother is from the GDR so he really understood the complexities of all the politics. And he’s a Berliner, so he has a Berlin accent, and German people can hear that accent.”

    For the female lead, Shortland auditioned half a dozen actresses, with Palmer snagging the role due to her “amazing mix of being both girl and woman.”

    “She’s got this innocence to her but she’s also a kind of warrior as well. And she wanted to do something really raw and not just based around how she looks. She’s ready to do more character-based stuff.”

    Shortland shot the film in the affluent Berlin suburb of Prenzlauer Berg, where the director lived for the duration of the shoot, in an apartment opposite the one in which she was shooting.

    “I’d walk about ten metres every day to work, which was pretty awesome. The German crew was brilliant, and there’s a story in every building [and] you can just really feel it on screen.”

    Interiors were shot in Melbourne, with production designer Melinda Doring recreating the Berlin apartment at Docklands.

    Shortland credits DP Germain McMicking with “creating stories within the frame when there’s no dialogue.”

    “His documentary background just gives him so much freedom when he’s on set, because he’s really fluid and reactive instead of set in his ways, so he’s a really exciting collaborator.”

    Berlin Syndrome premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, with Netflix scooping international rights prior to the premiere, which will go down in Sundance infamy.

    “First of all a man announced during a very early sex scene that if we were in car park D we had to move our car,” recalls Shortland.

    “And [then] all the sound left the auditorium, and then the film just stopped about 15 minutes before the end and we just sat there waiting for them to get it working again. But they couldn’t, and so Teresa, Max and I just said, let’s go straight down and start the Q&A now.”

    “Max and Teresa kind of acted out the ending in a really funny way. And you know what, in terms of stuff happening, because it was Trump’s inauguration day, it just seemed like a tiny blip. What had happened in the morning was so much more horrendous.”

  • Geoffrey Rush and Jai Courtney.Œ

    Geoffrey Rush and Jai Courtney will star in Shawn Seet’s Storm BoyŒremake, with the film gearing up to shoot in South Australia in July. Œ

    Rush will star as Mike 'Storm Boy' Kingley, while Courtney will play 'Hideaway Tom'.Œ

    Billed as a “contemporary retelling” of the 1976 film, Storm Boy's script has been written by Justin Monjo (The Secret Daughter, Spear).Œ

    Executive producer Robert Slaviero told IF last yearŒthat Monjo’s screenplay was "just spectacular."

    "One of the better scripts I’ve read in a long time, whether Australian or otherwise. Absolute cracker," he said, while also noting director Seet (The Code, Deep Water) had a great vision for the film. Œ

    Storm Boy will be produced by Ambience Entertainment’s Michael Boughen (Tomorrow, When the War Began, The Loved Ones) and Matthew Street (Tomorrow, When the War Began, The Bank Job).

    Finance has come from Screen Australia, the South Australian Film Corporation, Piccadilly Pictures and Aurora Global Media Capital, and Salt Media and Entertainment. The shoot will take place in SA's Coorong region and Adelaide Studios.Œ

    Storm Boy is set for 2018 release in Australia and New Zealand via StudioCanal, while Kathy Morgan from KMI is repping international sales.Œ