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‘Lantana’ helmer back for ghost pic

Carver adaptation will star Byrne, Linney

SYDNEY — After directing “Bliss” in 1984, Ray Lawrence waited 17 years before tackling his second pic, “Lantana.”

He starts shooting his third film, “Jindabyne,” on March 7, a mere four years after “Lantana.”

Set in the wilderness near the New South Wales country town of Jindabyne, pic stars Gabriel Byrne and Laura Linney alongside Oz thesps Deborra-Lee Furness, John Howard, Leah Purcell, Max Cullen, Chris Haywood and Bud Tingwell.

It’s based on a short story by Raymond Carver, which the director read before it was turned into one of the segs of Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts.”

Lawrence describes it as an “adult ghost story” but is keeping the plot under wraps, reasoning, “Most films are hyped to the point where they can’t live up to it.”

He hoped to shoot last year, but a deal with an Asian-based film fund fell apart. Subsequently the project was rescued by April Films’ Garry Charny and Philippa Bateman, who put it through their new joint venture with investment bank Babcock & Brown.

They raised about $10 million from Oz investors, who will get a 100% tax writeoff and a guaranteed return of 42%, payable in five years, from the Film Finance Corp. Australia.

Roadshow won a heated contest for Australia/New Zealand rights. “We really did want it and believe in it,” said Roadshow managing director Joel Pearlman, who, overall, is taking a very cautious attitude toward Oz films after several lean years for the country’s cinema.

April, which has been developing projects for 4½ years, and Babcock & Brown intend to raise the coin for two pics a year over five years. Next pics likely to go through the co-venture are road movie “Bikini Racer” and French Riviera-set comedy “Ego Trip.”

Lawrence, who has carved out a lucrative career directing commercials, says he’s keen to work with April again. As for his rare, Terrence Malick-like ventures into features, he says, “There have been things I wanted to do but I wasn’t able to raise the money. The (mature, thinking) audience I aim at has not been recognized until recently.”

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