After a record year at the box office, will Australian movies connect with local audiences again? Can the momentum of 2015 continue? After a couple of lean years, 2015 saw record takings for local films of $84 million – this represented a 7.7 per cent share of total box office, the highest since 2001.
Last year, Mad Max: Fury Road led the way. The Water Diviner, Russell Crowe's directorial debut, scored well; family movies Oddball and Paper Planes drew audiences. Damon Gameau's That Sugar Film, an idiosyncratic adventure in advocacy, became the most successful locally produced non-IMAX documentary. And Jocelyn Moorhouse's The Dressmaker, at $18 million and counting, is arguably the biggest success story of them all –and it's still bringing in audiences.
For 2016, the local push begins in earnest on Australia Day, with the release of Sue Brooks' Looking For Grace, and goes all the way to Boxing Day, when Red Dog: True Blue hits the cinemas
In between, there are plenty of contenders, of which the following is a selection. There's not a Mad Max-style blockbuster (unless you count February release Gods of Egypt, directed by Australian filmmaker Alex Proyas, which was shot here and has some Australian cast members). You might be able to make a case for World War II drama Hacksaw Ridge, directed by Mel Gibson, co-written by Andrew Knight (The Water Diviner), which was shot in Australia with some local leads.
LOOKING FOR GRACE January 26
Writer-director Sue Brooks, director of Japanese Story (2003), returns with a movie set both on the road and in the home, an unpredictably told tale with comic elements and bleak implications. Richard Roxburgh and Radha Mitchell are parents who set out in search of their missing teenage daughter (Odessa Young). Her temporary absence is a catalyst for other discoveries, narratives of loss and uncertainty that are at the heart of the film.
THE DAUGHTER March 17
The Daughter film still starring Odessa Young (C), Ewen Leslie (L) and Sam Neill. Photo: Mark Rogers
Theatre director Simon Stone, in his feature debut, returns to a work he had already transformed for the stage: Ibsen's The Wild Duck. This adaptation, set in a contemporary Australian logging town, departs even further from its origins, but remains a tale of family secrets and deep-seated resentments. Ewen Leslie and Paul Schneider star alongside Geoffrey Rush, Miranda Otto, Sam Neill and the up-and-coming Odessa Young from Looking For Grace,
SHERPA March 24
Sherpas training in the film, Sherpa. Photo: Supplied
Experienced Australian documentary filmmaker Jennifer Peedom was set to focus on the role of the Sherpas in the business of mountaineering, most of all a veteran, Phurba Tashi, who was about to make a record 22nd ascent of Everest. Then in mid-production, there was a tragic accident in which 16 Sherpas were killed in an avalanche; Peedom expanded the scope of her work to take the larger issues that emerged. Her searching, in-depth examination of the implications of the disaster is also a visually striking and imaginatively presented piece of filmmaking.
A MONTH OF SUNDAYS
Matthew Saville, Anthony LaPaglia and John Clarke on the Adelaide set of A Month of Sundays. Photo: Karl Quinn
Anthony LaPaglia returns to his home town of Adelaide, 35 years on, to play a real estate agent in the throes of a midlife crisis who receives a telephone call from his late mother. Director Matthew Saville (Felony, Noise) wrote the screenplay for this dark comedy; the cast also includes Justine Clarke, John Clarke and Julia Blake.
There are high expectations for this adaptation of a much-loved Australian book, Craig Silvey's bestselling 2009 novel, in which he explicitly (and successfully) references To Kill A Mockingbird. The central character, Charlie, is played by 13-year-old Levi Miller, who made a strong impression as the young Peter Pan in the otherwise disappointing blockbuster Pan. Toni Collette and Dan Wyllie are Charlie's parents, and the film also features young actress Angourie Rice (who will make her Hollywood debut this year in The Nice Guys). Rachel Perkins (Bran Nue Dae) directs.
Writer-director Ivan Sen (Beneath Clouds) is reunited with actor Aaron Pedersen, with whom he made the atmospheric thriller Mystery Road. Goldstone, set in a remote outback community, revisits this enigmatic narrative terrain, with a cast that also includes David Wenham, Jacki Weaver, Tommy Lewis and martial arts legend Cheng Pei-pei (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon).
Based on a true story, Lion tells the story of a young man (Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire), lost as a child on the streets of Kolkata, who was adopted by an Australian family and grew up in Tasmania, who manages to track down his Indian family with the help of Google Earth. Writer Luke Davies (Candy, Life) adapted Saroo Brierley's memoir, the high-profile cast also includes Nicole Kidman as his adoptive mother and Rooney Mara (Carol) as his girlfriend. Garth Davis (TV's Top Of The Lake) directs.
RED DOG: TRUE BLUE Boxing Day
The filmmakers will be hoping that they can reconnect with the audiences who flocked in 2011 to Red Dog, a good-natured comedy about a kelpie who united a small community in the Pilbara in the 1970s. For this second instalment director Kriv Stenders is again on board, as is writer Daniel Taplitz, who adapted the Louis de Bernieres novel for the first movie. But this is an origins story with a new cast, led by 13-year-old Levi Miller (Pan, Jasper Jones), that also includes Jason Isaacs, Bryan Brown and John Jarratt. The original red dog, Koko, won't be there, sadly; he died of congestive heart failure in 2012.