Oz pix make comeback

'Kokoda,' 'Canoes,' 'Jindabyne' hitting high numbers

SYDNEY — The Australian film industry is back in form — with at least three pics pulling respectable auds and a dozen more releasing in the next three months to be in contention for the Australian Film Institute Awards in November.

“Kokoda,” “Ten Canoes” and “Jindabyne” all grossed over A$2 million ($1.5 million), satisfying the expectations of distributors and audiences, though possibly not yet investors.

Even the titles that didn’t strike it rich earned solid notices, among them are the Heath Ledger and Abbie Cornish junkie drama “Candy”; micro-budget coming-of-age drama “The Caterpillar Wish” which grossed half of its original budget; and “Footy Legends,” debut comedy from Khoa Do.

“Jindabyne,” an ensemble drama, is steaming toward $3 million after three weeks. Peter Cody, programmer at plex loop Greater Union says, “It’s a good result because of the number of screens they go out on, not a lot of films that go out on 60-80 screens make $3 million.”

Until the foreign sales begin adding up, however, investors in helmer Ray Lawrence’s $11 million follow-up to “Lantana” might be less enthusiastic. Investment bank Babcock and Brown entered the film biz with enthusiasm two years ago but “Jindabyne” is the first and last project it has announced.

“Kokoda” was made cheaply but released wide for an Oz pic. With 100 screens, it’s recouped $3.2 million to date but foreign sales will be difficult given the story of Australian civilian soldiers in New Guinea.

“Ten Canoes” was the season’s sleeper hit. Platformed in Un Certain Regard at Cannes and at the Sydney Film Fest opening night, the aboriginal comedy dazzled crix, notched good foreign sales, grossed $1.7 million and is still going strong on 54 screens after six weeks.

But the returns witnessed in 2006 are far removed from a time not so long ago when films like “The Man Who Sued God” and “Looking for Alibrandi” seemed to achieve Aussie blockbuster status effortlessly.

Dendy Films co-topper Andrew Mackie says, “the mistake is to think that box office results like that should be achieved consistently by Aussie films. The indies acquire from all around the world and even with a global slate those kind of numbers are rare to achieve — Australian film or otherwise.”

Palace released “Kokoda,” “Ten Canoes” and will unspool three more Aussie films in the next few weeks. Topper Ben Zeccola is confident both pics will flourish in ancillary — he says returns from airlines have been particularly strong for Palace titles following the proliferation of individual entertainment systems that pay out on a per-view basis.

A record 21 Aussie films will be showcased at the Australian Film Commission’s Australia on Show event at the Australian Movie Convention on Queensland’s Gold Coast Aug. 14. Two of the nine films selected for screening by distribs are local — Roadshow will unveil “BoyTown” from comic Mick Molloy and Palace will preview the Susan Sarandon/Sam Neill vehicle “Irresistible.”

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