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Film Finance greenlights hefty Oz slate

Aussie coin org says yes to pics

SYDNEY — The Oz government’s coin agency, Film Finance Corp. Australia, has launched the new financial year (which began July 1) by greenlighting a hefty slate of projects.

Among them are Gillian Armstrong’s first Aussie feature since 1997’s “Oscar and Lucinda”; the second pic from Mick Molloy, whose lawn bowling comedy “Crackerjack” was the highest-grossing Oz pic of 2002; and thesp Richard Roxburgh’s film directing debut.

FFC will spend at least A$70 million ($53 million) this financial year. This slate of four movies, two telepics, two TV minis, three kid series and eight docs will account for 25%-30% of that.

Armstrong boarded producer Chris Curling’s “Death Defying Acts” last year. Based on Harry Houdini’s 1926 tour of Britain, pic follows the escape artist’s love affair with a woman he meets in Scotland.

Guy Pearce has signed to star as Houdini opposite Rachel Weisz as the magician’s mistress in the $18 million U.K./Oz co-production penned by Tony Grisoni (“Tideland”) and Brian Ward (“The Interpreter”).

Pic, originally developed by exec producers Dan Lupovitz and Marcia Nasatir, will shoot early next year for eight weeks in Edinburgh and two weeks in Sydney or Melbourne, with post production set for Sydney.

Oz producer Marian Macgowan said, “It might have been cheaper to shoot in Australia but more expensive to match. We’ve struck a good balance.”

FFC co-funded with Germany’s Cinemakers Finance, Britain’s Scion Films and Myriad Pictures.

Veteran comic Molloy will reunite with his collaborator brothers, Richard and John, for “Boytown,” helmed by Kevin Carlin (“The Extra”). Co-producer John Molloy told Variety that where “Crackerjack” was a gentle comedy about geriatric bowling-club politics, “Boytown” is about a faded pop band intent on re-experiencing the excitement of performing together.

Mick Molloy, who penned the script with Richard Molloy, will topline as one of the five musicians determined to rediscover their mojos despite now wearing larger trousers and living comfortably in the suburbs.

Despite their success with “Crackerjack” the filmmakers resisted the temptation to pursue a higher budget and will make pic for under $3.8 million.

Roadshow has acquired rights to Australia and Element Films is repping for foreign.

The FFC last year announced its intention to break from tradition and fund some feature documentaries.

The first two are $1 million “Hunt Angels,” from producer Sue Maslin (“Japanese Story”), and “Rampage,” directed by veteran battle photographer George Gittoes (“Soundtrack to War”).

Helmer Alec Morgan has been developing “Hunt Angels” for six years. Maslin describes pic as stylistically similar to “The Kid Stays in the Picture.”

Ben Mendelsohn (“Mullet”) has inked to star opposite an as-yet-uncast female as moviemaking outlaws Rupert Kathner and Alma Brooks; they were determined to make Australian movies in the 1930s and 1940s, when local cinema was Hollywood-dominated.

FFC also signed off on scribe Nick Drake’s adaptation of Raimond Gaita’s “Romulus, My Father” and “The Square.”

“Romulus” will mark thesp Roxburgh’s debut as a film director after numerous stints as a theater director, most recently of “Ray’s Tempest” for Company B. Eric Bana has inked to topline the father-son drama.

“The Square” will mark stuntman Nash Edgerton’s helming debut, with brother Joel Edgerton, who penned the script, intended to topline.

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