Sales orgs desert Oz despite srong Cannes

Territory's key companies now all based in London, L.A.

SYDNEY — When Reiko Bradley ankles Becker Films Intl. and returns to the U.S. this month, she will become the latest sales agent to abandon Australia.

The territory’s three key companies — Beyond, Becker and Arclight — will now all be based in London or Los Angeles, spelling tricky times for an industry in flux.

Five Aussie features have been selected for various strands at the Cannes Film Festival, the best result in 13 years. Oz doesn’t have a pic in competition, but with three titles in Un Certain Regard — “2:37,” “Suburban Mayhem” and “Ten Canoes” — it’s quite a step up from recent years.

In previous years, the nation’s hopes for a film revival were pinned on a single selection: “Wolf Creek” (Directors Fortnight, 2005), “Somersault” (Un Certain Regard, 2004) and “Japanese Story” (Directors Fortnight, 2003). Also this year, Ray Lawrence’s “Jindabyne” will screen in Directors Fortnight and “Look Both Ways” screens in Critics Week.

In the 1990s, most Australian films were sold by local sales companies Beyond Films and Southern Star, but Southern Star exited sales six years ago, leaving Beyond as the main player.

Three years ago Hilary Davis established Beyond’s head quarters in London, Isabel Rosenthal operated from Oz but quit two years ago and now the shingle’s slate does not have any Aussie pics or a scout in the territory.

Beyond Intl. topper Mikael Borglund says working on Oz pics is just too tough because “the Film Finance Corp. is the gatekeeper to all films and we don’t necessarily want to deal with that.”

“We invested tens of millions here during the ’90s, but we find a lot of the (FFC’s) terms and conditions too heavy,” Borglund says.

The government’s coin agency co-funds about 90% of Australian films and has relaxed some conditions in recent years, such as agreeing to subordinate its recoupment position to private investors, and funding pics chosen by evaluation consultants rather than by pure market mechanisms.

Former Beyond topper Gary Hamilton founded Arclight in 2002, which now has seven offices including London, Los Angeles and Sydney. Hamilton is L.A.-based but spends considerable time in Australia and his slate includes some of the hottest new Oz pics, including “2:37,” “Kokoda,” “Romulus, My Father” and “Macbeth.”

“We are the only sales company still based in Australia,” Hamilton says. Shingle recently opened a new Melbourne office.

However, Hamilton goes where the money is, and most of the time that’s not Australia.

Last week, Becker Films Intl. announced Iain Canning would control business from London, with Jonathan Page overseeing operational matters from the Sydney office.

Shingle’s only new Aussie pic is “Forbidden Lies.” “Australia is on the wrong side of the clock, you can’t speak to people during business hours,” says Richard Becker.

For Aussie producers that leaves a hole — or does it?

The international sales business is now truly international. Fortissimo, Celluloid Dreams, Fandango, Myriad and a galaxy of others eagerly represent Oz pics and local producers appear happy with the arrangement.

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