January 16, 2008 / 7:24 AM / 10 years ago

Oz film industry abuzz about "Australia" epic

<p>Australian director Baz Luhrmann arrives as a guest for the Los Angeles premiere of the film "Thank You for Smoking" in Los Angeles, California March 16, 2006. If there's one film that will define the Australian industry in 2008, it could very well be Luhrmann's film "Australia."REUTERS/Fred Prouser</p>

SYDNEY (Hollywood Reporter) - If there’s one film that will define the Australian industry in 2008, it could very well be, well, “Australia.”

Director Baz Luhrmann’s AU$130 million ($114 million) romantic epic represents so many facets of the local industry, which is riding a new wave of prosperity after several sluggish years. With principal photography completed last month and a release slated for late 2008, expectations here are high already for the film’s success.

Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman lead a cast that showcases major Australian acting talent, such as Bryan Brown, David Gulpilil, Jack Thompson and David Wenham.

As its name suggests, the 20th Century Fox film is set against the vast sweep of the Australian outback, which -- along with the country’s coastlines and cities -- has been the focus for selling Australian locations to foreign filmmakers for the better part of a decade.

The marketing possibilities for the film have not been lost on iconic Australian companies like national carrier Qantas and phone company Telstra, as well as statutory authority Tourism Australia, which is holding discussions with Luhrmann on the tourism opportunities stemming from the film.

All things considered, “Australia” is as big a film as ever emerged from Down Under, and Luhrmann has said that its timing is fortuitous.

“We are seizing the day and saying it’s possible that a large-scale picture could be made here,” Luhrmann told The Australian newspaper last month, adding that no other market at the moment could assemble a local story, director, crew, stars and budgets on the scale of Australia -- apart from the U.S.

<p>Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman in a promotional image for the film "Australia". As its name suggests, the 20th Century Fox film is set against the vast sweep of the Australian outback, which -- along with the country's coastlines and cities -- has been the focus for selling Australian locations to foreign filmmakers for the better part of a decade. REUTERS/20th Century Fox/Handout</p>

Its ultimate success aside, Luhrmann’s audacity in putting together an Australian-made film with an Australian story, using its landscape and stars alongside rising local and foreign production levels and enhanced tax rebates introduced last year by the federal government, has imbued the industry with a new sense of confidence.

Overall production activity in Australia for 2006-07 rose 68% to AU$625 million from the year-ago period, according to the Australian Film Commission. The value of foreign feature production quadrupled over the same period to AU$111 million.

The latest data precede the introduction of a host of new subsidies, including a 40% tax rebate to producers making qualifying Australian films.

<p>Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman in a promotional image for the film "Australia". As its name suggests, the 20th Century Fox film is set against the vast sweep of the Australian outback, which -- along with the country's coastlines and cities -- has been the focus for selling Australian locations to foreign filmmakers for the better part of a decade. REUTERS/20th Century Fox/Handout</p>

Greg Smith, communications and public affairs director at post-production effects house Animal Logic -- which made 2006’s “Happy Feet” with Australian director George Miller -- contends that 2008 will herald a new maturity in the Australian industry.

“What the new incentives for production will do is achieve their objective,” he says. “They will help take filmmaking from the kitchen table and usher it into a new era of enterprise.”

Top-tier Australian creatives are returning home to work, according to Tania Chambers, CEO of the New South Wales Film and Television Office, which promotes production in the country’s most populous state.

New films set to go into production include Jane Campion’s “Bright Star,” Scott Hicks’ big-budget “The Boys Are Back in Town,” Bruce Beresford’s “Mao’s Last Dancer” and Phillip Noyce’s “Dirt Music,” the feature film adaptation of Tim Winton’s novel set in Western Australia.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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