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Samuel Goldwyn Films Nabs Toronto-Venice Prizewinner ‘Sweet Country’ From Memento (EXCLUSIVE)

Warwick Thornton’s critically lauded “Sweet Country,” a Western set in the Australian Outback, has been acquired by Samuel Goldwyn Films, Variety has learned. The deal is for North American rights.

Sweet Country” won the top prize at Toronto’s Platform, the festival’s only competitive section. At the Venice Film Festival, where it world-premiered, the film won the Special Jury Prize. “Sweet Country” will next compete at the BFI London Film Festival and is generating buzz as a potential Oscar contender.

Memento Films International, which represents “Sweet Country” in international markets, has now sold the film nearly worldwide, including in the U.K. (Thunderbird Releasing), France (The Jokers), Spain (Wanda), Benelux (Cherry Pickers), Italy (102 Distribution), Switzerland (Praesens), Greece (One From The Heart), Turkey (Filmarti), Eastern Europe (HBO), Hungary (ADS Services), Romania (Macondo), former Yugoslavia (Megacom), Bulgaria (Bulgaria Film Vision), China (Lemon Tree) and Middle East (Falcon Films).

Set in Australia’s rugged Northern Territory, “Sweet Country” revolves around the encounter between Sam, a middle-aged Aboriginal man working for a preacher, and Harry, a bitter war veteran. Sam’s relationship with the cruel and ill-tempered Harry quickly deteriorates, culminating in a violent shootout in which Sam kills Harry in self-defense. Wanted by the authorities, Sam is forced to flee with his wife across the Outback, but as the true details of the killing start to surface, the community begins to question whether justice is really being served.

“Warwick’s film is beautiful even when it is brutal. We are very excited to work on a film that showcases this great rising talent,” said Peter Goldwyn, president of Samuel Goldwyn Films, in a statement.

“That landscape around Alice Springs is sacred. The MacDonnell Ranges are always in my mind from growing up there with my family. So, ‘Sweet Country’ is a film about the land and our family and what happened when the missionaries and pastoralists arrived,” said Thornton.

“Sweet Country” stars Sam Neill (“Jurassic Park,” “Peaky Blinders”), Bryan Brown (“F/X”), Hamilton Morris (“Gideon”), Thomas M. Wright (“Everest”), and Ewen Leslie (“The Daughter”). Variety’s review described it as “graceful, soulful, quietly incendiary,” giving viewers “observations on colonialism, cultural erasure and rough justice.”

The film marks director-cinematographer Thornton’s second purely narrative film after “Samson and Delilah,” his debut feature, which won Golden Camera for best first film at the Cannes Film Festival. Between those two films, Thornton directed “The Darkside,” a spiritually themed docudrama hybrid which played at Berlin.

Samuel Goldwyn Films’ list of releases include “The Squid and the Whale” and “Super Size Me.” Its upcoming slate includes the festival hit “God’s Own Country” and “The Sound” with Rose McGowan and Christopher Lloyd.

Producers David Jowsey and Greer Simpkin said they were excited to work with Samuel Goldwyn, adding: “‘Sweet Country’ is a frontier Western with a powerful story about justice and humanity that we believe U.S. audiences will embrace.”

Mainly financed by Screen Australia, “Sweet Country” was produced by Bunya Prods. in association with South Australian Film Corp., Create NSW, Screen Territory and Adelaide Film Festival. The film was written by David Tranter and Steven McGregor.

The U.S. deal was negotiated by Peter Goldwyn of Samuel Goldwyn Films and Emilie Georges of Memento Films International on behalf of the filmmakers.

Transmission Films will release “Sweet Country” in Australia.

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