Oz producer Buckley sees ‘Drylands’ as tribute

Astley adaptation to be helmed by Beresford

SYDNEY — When producer Tony Buckley optioned Thea Astley’s novel “Drylands” in June, he was motivated to make a pic based on what he regards as the best book he’s read for the way it portrays Aussie women — in this case, set in a dying Outback town.

Now he has an extra incentive: to ensure the film stands as a fitting tribute to the memory of the author, who died Aug. 17, age 78, after a heart attack.

Buckley has tapped helmer Bruce Beresford and scripter Peter Yeldham, who is due to finish the first draft at the end of September.

This is the first simultaneous teaming of these three film industry vets; Buckley and Yeldham first collaborated on director Michael Powell’s 1969 pic “Age of Consent” (which Buckley edited) and again recently on the minis “Jessica,” “The Heroes” and “Heroes II — The Return.”

“We are more determined than ever to make this film,” says Buckley, who last spoke to the author six weeks ago. To his amusement, she asked him, “Why do you want do this? I wrote it during my feminist phase.”

Astley’s last tome, “Drylands” won Australia’s premier literary prize, the Miles Franklin Award, in 2000. It’s a contempo drama set in a North Queensland town being crippled by drought: a microcosm of dozens if not hundreds of such places in Oz.

Aiming for a 2005 shoot, Buckley intends to shop the project to Hollywood when he visits next month after attending the Toronto Film Fest, where his pic “The Oyster Farmer” is screening in the Discovery section.

He chose Beresford after admiring the helmer’s femme-themed “Crimes of the Heart,” and “The Fringe Dwellers,” which centered on Australian Aborigines.

Buckley will co-produce with Jonathan Shteinman, with whom he worked on “Oyster Farmer,” a modern, romantic comedy-drama, set in an eccentric community of oyster farmers. It’s helmed by Anna Reeves and stars Kerry Armstrong, Jack Thompson and tyro Alex O’Lachlan.

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