Local releases blossom in Oz

18 Aussie films hope to bump up poor B.O.

SYDNEY — Aussie films made up just 1.3% of the B.O. in 2004, and while the 2005 figure is likely double that, even 3% is hardly a figure to brag about.

But for 2006, a bumper crop of 18 titles could finally bump up the disappointing performance of local films. Roadshow Distribution has “Jindabyne,” helmer Ray Lawrence’s followup to his hit “Lantana,” a A$14 million ($11 million) drama based on Raymond Carver’s story “So Much Water So Close to Home.”

Roadshow’s other pic, “BoyTown,” from “Crackerjack” creator Mick Molloy, is the sole Aussie comedy due for release this year.

The lack of laffers is a response to the raft of poorly performing comedies released Down Under during the last few years. Producers are keeping their comic scripts in their bottom drawers, and Palace Films, which this year will be the biggest distrib of Oz titles, has historically avoided the genre.

Antonio Zeccola founded Palace almost 30 years ago as a foreign-film label, but in 2006 eight of the shingle’s 10 releases are Australian.

“Ten Canoes,” Rolf de Heer’s aboriginal-language drama set in remote Arnhem Land, and Susan Sarandon thriller “Irresistible” were in the pipeline for some time, while war drama “Kokoda,” from tyro producer Catriona Hughes, was fast-tracked for release on Anzac Day, April 25.

Low-budget “The Caterpillar Wish” is the first pic from the Australian Film Commission’s Indivision financing scheme.

“Macbeth” heralds a homecoming for helmer Geoffrey Wright (“Romper Stomper”) after a foray to Hollywood.

A subject that should have continued relevance is “Hunt Angels,” a dramatized docu about Hollywood’s attempts to snuff out the thriving Aussie film production biz of the 1930s. It’s produced by Sue Maslin, whose “Japanese Story” remains one of Palace’s most profitable films. Another profitable title for Palace was “Head On” by Ana Kokkinos, who returns with “The Book of Revelation.”

Local films have a long battle ahead, though, both with distribs and audiences. Palace general manager Benjamin Zeccola says releasing an Aussie film takes five to 10 times more work than a foreign one and, while the odds of success are on par with foreign acquisitions, profits tend not to reflect the effort required.

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