Digital deal for independent Australian and New Zealand cinemas

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Australian and New Zealand independent cinemas are about to go digital. The Independent Cinema Association of Australia has agreed to a deal to bring full digital systems to its 700 member cinemas. Omnilab Media Cinema Services will provide ICAA members with a digital-cinema system at a reduced cost, provide the digital platform, and manage and administer the Virtual Print Fees. This will allow the independent cinemas to compete with large commercial chains on a more even footing. At present, the ICAA members have around 120 digital screens. ICAA president Mark Safarty says, "This is the most important change in cinema exhibition in 100 years."

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The majority of Australian films are made on much lower budgets than Hollywood productions. Usually, the first goal of these films is to get a local distributor, and then to look for international festivals to gain a profile. Occasional films will hire an overseas star to help gain a wide international appeal, but few Australian movies without overseas distribution in place actively position themselves for U.S. and international release.

An exception is the new Australian film Tomorrow, When the World Began. This picture has been tested internationally to ensure that it stands up as equal to major film releases and appeals to its intended audience. After four weeks of local release, it is already the most successful Australian film of the year, taking in more than A$10 million and more than NZ$1 million in New Zealand.

The film is based on a series of books by John Marsden which were first published in the 1990s and have sold over 2.5 million copies. A group of teenagers go on holiday. When they return home, they discover that their parents have been taken and they are in the midst of a war. The eight teens combine to take on the enemy.

The movie has a budget of around A$25 million. The plan is for two sequels and a TV series to follow, but that will depend a great deal on how it performs outside Australasia. Screenwriter Stuart Beattie (Collateral, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl), making his directorial debut, says that the story is very universal. "It's about a bunch of teenagers who want to get away from their parents. I mean, who doesn't want that?" The film is seeking U.S. and international distribution.

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Village Roadshow is selling part of its Gold Class USA cinemas to IPic Gold Class Entertainment. Village Roadshow will maintain a 30% investment in the cinemas through a separate subsidiary. The cinemas have 45 screens across six sites. IPic plans to add more seats and reduce the prices at the cinemas.

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Following the success that Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert has had in its move from film to stage musical in Australia, London and Canada, news has just broken that Baz Luhrmann will write the book and select the music for a stage production of his first hit film, Strictly Ballroom. He has a new film to direct first, with the stage show to follow in 2012 or 2013.

E-mail your Australia/New Zealand news items to David Pearce at insidemovies@hotmail.com.