In the annals of Aussie feel-good indies, few have captivated their home audience like “The Sapphires.” Inspired by the true story of an Aboriginal girl group that performed for Vietnam War troops, the ebullient period pic stands as Oz’s highest grossing domestic film of 2012.
“The quality of films from indigenous filmmakers is second to none, but this film has such a commercial accessibility,” says Wayne Blair, whose feature debut was nabbed by the Weinstein Co. on the eve of its Cannes premiere and bows Stateside in spring. “It’s definitely one that will open up the American market for other indigenous filmmakers and Australian films.”
This particular story has a personal resonance for the actor-turned-director, a star of the original Sydney stage production who was handpicked to helm the bigscreen adaptation by playwright Tony Briggs, son of one of the real-life Sapphires. “My old man was the first Aboriginal sergeant major in Australia,” Blair says. “Everywhere you looked, there were people in our lives that had a close association with that time period and what was taking place. It was sort of meant to be.”
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The stars may have aligned, but Blair was ready for the opportunity. Juggling stage-acting gigs, he found time to take special classes, one at NYU and the other designed for emerging indigenous filmmakers at Sydney’s Metro Screen. He put that training to the test directing shorts and television.
“What’s put me in good stead is just having that close proximity with actors — an understanding of what they’re after,” he says. “I’m interested in directing a good story that has heart and pathos and gives the world a little bit of love, whether that’s in the U.S., the U.K. or Australia. I love to sit in the cinema with a smile on my face and a little tear in my eye. Then you can walk out and feel a bit more human again.”
Inspired by: Spike Lee and Steven Spielberg. For “The Sapphires,” he studied “Ray,” “The Color Purple” and “Angela Bassett as Tina Turner.”
Reps: Agents: Andrew Cannava, Bec Smith, David Flynn (UTA), Duncan Heath, Roxana Adle (Independent Talent Group), Jean Mostyn (The Yellow Agency)