Down Under on a high

FFC aims to garner local auds, foreign buyers interest with unique pix

SYDNEY — Aussie films are generating heat again, after the strongest showing at Cannes in 13 years and a warm response for Rolf de Heer’s “Ten Canoes.”

That pic, repped by Wild Bunch, notched sales to four territories before the festival and another nine by the end of the fest, including a U.S. acquisition by Palm Pictures.

Producer Sue Murray says the A$2.4 million ($1.8 million) Aboriginal comic drama by the veteran Adelaide-based auteur took foreign auds “to a place they didn’t know.” Funded by four government-backed agencies and scarcely any private coin, “Canoes” exists only because the Aussie industry enjoys state and federal government subsidies, and boasts two public broadcasters.

“A subtitled film in its own territory — who else would pay for a film like this from the get-go?” Murray says.

Brian Rosen, topper of federal coin agency Film Finance Corp. Australia, says the FFC’s deliberate campaign to produce films with unique, rather than broad appeal, was designed to regenerate interest among local auds and foreign buyers. “Are they commercial? Absolutely not, but they’re quality films,” Rosen says.

That quality is beginning to be recognized at home and abroad, and lots of little sales are adding up to considerable success for an industry that produces only about 20 features a year.

Although the U.S. market is nearly impossible to crack for small foreign films, two from English-speaking countries have.

Nick Cave’s tough frontier western “The Proposition” is playing on 78 screens in the U.S. and has grossed a total $3.6 million from Oz, the U.S. and other territories after great critical response in Oz last year.

Femme-helmed Oz pics “Look Both Ways” and “Somersault” also got brief U.S. theatrical runs, but failed to catch on despite excellent reviews. But “Look Both Ways,” which received a showcase screening in Cannes Critics Week, was acquired by Tartan for the U.K. And Fortissimo’s Wouter Barendrecht says he’s about to close deals with Spain and Italy that will “just about fill out the map of that world.”

Despite a dearth of locally based sales orgs, several other pics drew attention at Cannes and nabbed distribution deals for worldwide markets:

  • Battle drama “Kokoda,” the first domestic release of 2006, remains in the top 20 after seven weeks. Made for $3 million, it has recouped $2.2 million and remains on 56 screens.

  • “2:37,” the high school suicide drama debut of 21-year-old Murali K. Thalluri, was acquired by Roadshow for an August release in Oz. It cost just $800,000 and has recouped its budget several times over through sales to 10 territories, including France, where it was bought by M6/SND; Cinequanon in Japan; and TVA in Canada.

  • “Candy,” Neil Armfield’s junkie drama with Geoffrey Rush, Heath Ledger and Abbie Cornish, has sold to most territories, including the recent acquisition by ICA in the U.K. Despite the tough subject matter in Oz, the pic is on 40 screens, has earned $500,000 and dropped just 10% in its second week.

  • Paul Goldman’s “Suburban Mayhem,” featuring a standout perf by Emily Barclay, divided critics who saw it in Un Certain Regard, but nevertheless sold to a dozen territories, including Contender in the U.K.
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