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Oz fests boost pic interest

Attendance up at Brisbane, Melbourne

SYDNEY — The much-discussed erosion of cinema audiences has not been in evidence Down Under the past few weeks, with Australia’s two leading film festivals, Brisbane and Melbourne, registering increased traffic.

Meanwhile, the well-attended Australian Intl. Movie Convention, Oz’s version of ShoWest, was a hub of optimistic exhibs and distributors eyeballing such pics as “A Good Year” and “BoyTown” plus a sneak midnight screening of “Borat.”

The Melbourne event unspooled 400 films over 19 days before shuttering Aug. 13 with the Oz preem of Paul Goldman’s “Suburban Mayhem.”

Director James Hewison’s sixth and final fest earned A$1.25 million ($1 million), up 5%, after opening July 26 with Murali K. Thalluri’s teen suicide drama “2:37.” Pic has come in for some criticism since the 22-year-old helmer said it was a true story based on a friend, but refused to identify the person. Pic opened through Roadshow to limp B.O. last weekend.

Audience poll voted Jason Reitman’s “Thank You for Smoking” the most popular feature, while Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” took doc kudos.

Despite Melbourne’s highest ticket sales ever, the rising cost of mounting the festival puts it in a tight break-even financial situation and has spurred discussions with the Victoria state government to improve its longer-term financial sustainability. Government funding comprises 6.5% of the fest’s operating budget.

The Brisbane fest, which saw 20% growth in ticket sales, opened Aug. 2 with the Oz preem of Robert Altman’s “A Prairie Home Companion” and shuttered Aug. 13 with Ken Loach’s “The Wind That Shakes the Barley.”

Jack Thompson enjoyed the spotlight after receiving the lifetime achievement Chauvel Award, while the Netpac Award for the promotion of Asian cinema went to Kim Dae-seung’s “Blood Rain.”

Among Oz fests, Brisbane has a rep for presenting the best annual showcase of Asian cinema.

Byambasuren Davaa’s “The Cave of the Yellow Dog” collected Fipresci kudos and was voted second-fave by the audience poll.

Kiwi comedy “No. 2” took top aud kudos and Toni Collette thriller “Like Minds” was third.

William McInnes was voted Australian star of the year by delegates at the Australian Movie Convention’s Australia on Show event Aug. 14, while the Box Office Achievement Award for the highest-grossing film went to “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” with $27 million.

Backpacker thriller “Wolf Creek” was Oz B.O. achiever of the year for Roadshow, which made $4.6 million despite an adults-only rating. Sony’s Hong Kong martial arts film “Kung Fu Hustle” was most successful foreign-language release with earnings of $1 million.

During the event, BVI topper Alan Finney presented popular distrib/exhib Natalie Miller with Lifetime Achievement kudos.