Aussies attending this year’s American Film Market are oozing with optimism, as international interest in Australian films peaks.

But ironically, the main players – Beyond Films, Southern Star Sales and Total Film & Television – have only one new offering each. They are concentrating on consolidating sales for product already launched at other markets such as Mifed, and engaging in prelim promotion of projects in post-production.

Total is hoping to screen its new fantasy pic “Talk” and has five other movies on its slate for sales in various territories, according to Sarah Gerlach.

Beyond is screening three pix, according to marketing manager John Thornhill. This includes the Patsy Kensit suspense thriller “Tunnel Vision”; “Hotel Sorrento,” starring Joan Plowright; and “That Eye, the Sky,” the 1994 Cannes special jury prize winner.

Beyond also will be pushing its slate of movies presently in post-production, including “Back of Beyond,” starring “Strictly Ballroom”-idol Paul Mercurio, and “Billy’s Holiday.”

Southern Star is screening four features including the black comedy “Mushrooms,” and is selling off the last territories for romantic comedy “The Sum of Us.” They will be, however, showing a promotional reel for romantic drama “Angel Baby.”

Phillip Emanuel Prods, will be firming up deals for “Countdown,” “Girl” and its thriller offering “Offspring,” and will be attempting to arrange further financing of “Hell.”

Not screening

The New Zealand Film Commission is not screening anything this year but will be selling the last remaining territories for this year’s hit movies “Once Were Warriors” and “Heavenly Creatures.”

It also will be looking for financing for projects in preproduction, such as the comedy thriller “Chicken,” and will be showing promotional reels for “Jack Brown,” “War Stories” and “Bonjour Timothy,” all of which are in post-production.

The consensus is that recent successes “Strictly Ballroom,” “Muriel’s Wedding” and “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” have put the spotlight on Australian product.

“There is quite a bit of interest in Australian film as people realize Aussie productions get a lot of value out of their production dollar,” Thornhill says.

“The English language also helps; we have a reputation for producing original movies like ‘Muriel’s Wedding,’ ‘Priscilla,’ and ‘Strictly Ballroom’ with a commercial value that makes up for the lack of stars.

“Australian films are quality arthouse and original, vibrant films that catch the attention of global distributors because they are not trying to be watered-down American films,” he says. “There now is a history of these quirky movies making the commercial grade.”

He believes the most popular Australian movies with the best track records at markets are “quirky comedies” and “arthouse thrillers.”

“In principle, Australian films are harder to sell, but in recent times small-budget films with no casting have done well around the world, so people are ready to consider Australian films in case there is another ‘Ballroom’ lurking,” adds Southern Star sales chief executive Robyn Watts.

Dendy Films co-managing director Lyn McCarthy agrees that Australian films are viewed as arthouse on the international circuit.

“‘Muriel’ was big here but it was arthouse-overseas sales – you are talking U.S. And, if you don’t have stars, then you are arthouse as far as Hollywood is concerned,” McCarthy says.

And what does your typical arthouse buyer look for?

“We just buy the films we like – well-made, challenging, not formula – and hope people share our taste. So far, we’ve been lucky.”