Australia: With niche pix weak, tentpoles ready to conquer

Territory Reports

AUSTRALIA DATA
B.O. cume (through September): $466 million
Top title: “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” (Fox, $27 million)

RECENT PICKUPS
“C.R.A.Z.Y.” (Rialto)
“Death Defying Acts” (Dendy)
“December Boys” (Becker)
“Mrs. Henderson Presents” (Hopscotch)
“Wolf Creek” (Roadshow)

AFM TITLES
“Footy Legends”: Helmer Khoa Do made a critically acclaimed debut last year with the micro-budget faux doc “The Finished People”; “Footy Legends” is his first budgeted pic. Set in suburban Sydney, the drama follows a young Vietnamese-Australian obsessed with soccer. Do’s brother, comic Anh Do, will topline. (sales: Fortissimo)
“Opal Dreams”: The U.K.-Oz co-production originally titled “Pobby and Dingan” has been recut and retitled by Focus Films for a U.S. release. New version of the family drama about an 8-year-old girl who loses her imaginary friends will debut at AFM. Helmed by Peter Cattaneo (“The Full Monty”), it stars Jacqueline McKenzie, Vince Colosimo and newcomer Sapphire Boyce. (Sales: Becker Films Intl.)
“Romulus My Father”: Thesp Richard Roxburgh’s film directorial debut and Eric Bana’s first Australian movie since he re-created the character of Bruce Banner in Ang Lee’s “The Hulk.” Based on Raimond Gaita’s memoir, the father-son drama is set in the migrant camps that sprang up in postwar regional Australia. (Sales: Arclight)

SYDNEY — The Aussie box office through September was tracking 7% below 2004, but with “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” “King Kong” and “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” pegged for release before the new year, distribs anticipate 2005 will end with a bang.

Where studio titles have struggled, so have indie pics — though there have been exceptions.

“We are witnessing a decline in audiences for younger, edgier-skewed fare,” says Dendy Films co-topper Andrew Mackie. “On the other hand, anything that appeals to the old, retiree market seems to be working incredibly well.”

For example, Icon Films released “Ladies in Lavender” with modest expectations, but five months later it was still playing on 35 screens and had grossed A$3.5 million ($2.7 million).

Mackie notes the 60-plus audience has timeand money and hasn’t adopted new technologies, such as home theater, as quickly as younger audiences. Recent research by Nielsen EDI also showed this demographic was the least inclined to watch pirated movies, but so far there has been a paucity of releases to satisfy their tastes.

In a change of fortune for Australia’s domestic industry, three local films recently enjoyed critical acclaim and some box office success. They are the first of many titles designed to appeal to this voracious, mature audience.

“It’s been pleasing to note a number of local successes including ‘The Oyster Farmer,’ ‘Look Both Ways’ and ‘Little Fish,'” says Roadshow Films topper Joel Pearlman. “It bodes well for a number of key titles releasing over coming months, including ‘Jindabyne.’ ”

Despite the softening DVD market, indie titles are still selling well. Likewise, the feevee market for indies remains strong, but free-to-air sales have diminished as Australia’s commercial networks continue to program drama series in slots previously dedicated to films.

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