Upbeat Mood And Quirky Fare In Land Of Oz, Kiwis

Quirky’s the word for much of Down Under’s ’95 lineup, following a pivotal year that saw Australia’s offbeat “Muriel’s Wedding” and “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” and New Zealand’s “Once Were Warriors” and “Heavenly Creatures” keeping the antipodes’ profile high and international buyers happy.

Though Down Under is repped at Berlinale solely by Panorama entry “Country Life,” most industryites here are in an upbeat mood. The big question is whether 1995 can equal or surpass the ’94 vintage, which also saw well-traveled titles “Sirens,” “Bad Boy Bubby,” “The Sum of Us” and “Spider and Rose.”

The latest Kennedy-Miller production, “Babe the Gallant Sheep Pig,” looks like the quirkiest of the new directors’ offerings for ’95. Feature debutant Chris Noonan has been making the pic in great secrecy for producer George Miller. Insiders indicate it’s about a pig that thinks it’s a dog, and speaks via computer wizardry. Pic bows in Sept.

Gerard Lee, who co-scripted Jane Campion’s “Sweetie,” bows as director with “All Men Are Liars,” about a country boy who cross-dresses and joins an all-girl band. Also music-themed is “Billy’s Holiday,” starring vet Max Cullen as a trombonist who discovers he can sing just like his idol, Billie Holiday. Stage director Richard Wherrett directs, with Tristam Miall producing.

“Angel Baby,” first feature from writer Michael Rymer, is a love story about a couple of schizophrenics. And newcomer Margot Nash bows with “Vacant Possession,” about a woman who returns to her childhood home after many years.

Among known names, “Bad Boy Bubby” helmer Rolf De Heer’s new movie, “Epsilon,” has sci-fi overtones, but the details of this technically complex and long-in-the-works pic have been kept under wraps. Richard Franklin (“Psycho II”) directs his first film in Oz in 17 years with “Hotel Sorrento,” based on a successful stage play by Hannie Rayson and toplining Joan Plowright in the story of a family reunion.

Director Mark Joffe (“Spotswood”) pitches in with his third feature, Miramax pickup “Cosi,” based on a Louis Nowra play about inhabitants of a mental institution who stage an amateur-night version of Mozart’s “Cosi Fan Tutti.”

New Zealand’s ’95 lineup also looks potentially strong. “Heavenly Creatures” helmer Peter Jackson exec produces “Jack Brown Genius,” an f/x pic from first-timer Tony Hiles about a man who learns to fly when a 1,000-year-old monk takes up residence in his head. Pic is a Senator Film (Berlin) and N.Z. Film Corp. co-production. Jackson himself is in pre-production on “The Frighteners,” produced by Robert Zemeckis for Universal release. The Michael J. Fox starrer has a May start.

Also planned are “You’re My Venus” from director Stewart Main (“Desperate Remedies”), about a transvestite who becomes a transsexual to help her career and love life, and “The Last Beat of My Heart,” from Garth Maxwell (“Jack Be Nimble”). Latter is set in Auckland in the ’90s and Madrid in the ’60s.