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Forging A Significant Alliance With Canada

Bruce Beresford’s $14 million feature “Black Robe” is the first official Canadian-Australian co-production, but won’t be the last.

“This is way past a one shot deal,” per Alliance Communications topper Robert Lantos, Canadian producer of “Black Robe.” “There is going to be significant activity (between the two countries) in the future,” Lantos said. “We’re getting offers from virtually every production company in Australia.” Some are already bearing fruit.

“On My Own” began a 16-week shoot in Toronto on Feb. 16: it’s a $C4 million three-way co-prod between Italy, Canada and Australia (Ellepi Film, Artopelli Motion Pictures and Alliance) with Antonio Tibaldi at the helm.

Lantos said at least four more productions (all in the $C3-4 million range) are “in development.” “We just signed with Beyond International (a Sydney-based production/distribution company), for four low-budget films: with two Canadian directors and two Australian directors.” Each is destined for a theatrical release.

Lantos said numerous other projects are being discussed and the reason is simple. Australia and Canada are “both creatively and financially compatible,” he said, adding that most projects will fall in the $C2-4 million range because that’s a “realistic picture” for the two countries.

The $C14 million “Black Robe” budget is the exception. It was also the “catalyst” for the official Australia/Canada co-prod treaty, inked last spring. Government officials had been discussing the treaty for 10 years, but “Black Robe” (co-produced by Australia’s Samson Productions) got it signed, mainly because there were so many heavy-weights attached to the project.

Beresford read Brian Moore’s novel, Black Robe, in 1985 and wanted to direct it, according to a news release. However, when he phoned Moore, “He told me the film rights had already been sold in Canada so I backed away from it.” By the time Lantos approached Beresford in 1988, he was committed to directing “Driving Miss Daisy.” Enter Jake Eberts, a native Montrealer and CEO of British-based Allied Filmmakers, who was involved in “Driving Miss Daisy.”

“The prospect of working on another project with Bruce and shooting a film near the place where I had spent my childhood was an irresistible combination,” per Eberts, exec producer of “Black Robe.” He got his wish. The film was shot in Quebec last summer.

Set in 1634, “Black Robe” promises to be a cross between “The Mission” and “Dances With Wolves.” Black Robe is the Indian name given to a Jesuit priest (played by “Jesus Of Montreal” thesp Lothaire Bluteau) when he arrives in New France with the intention of converting “savages” into Christians. Much like Dances With Wolves, Black Robe learns more from the natives (Algonquin Indians in this case) than they learn from him.

The film, currently editing down under, will preem at a festival in either Venice, Montreal or Toronto, per one source. Meanwhile, other Australia/Canada co-prods are quietly cooking: “Now that the treaty is signed, you can expect to see a lot of collaboration,” Lantos concluded.

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