'The Sapphires' is a breakout hit in Australia

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The dominance of Hollywood product at Australasian cinemas is underlined by the success of a new Australian film. It used to be that a US$100 million box office was the goal of Hollywood films in the U.S., but now many aim for a lot more. The same goal in Australia is an A$10 million box-office gross. Only five Australian films have reached that target in the last ten years, while this year alone 20 Hollywood films have reached A$10 million in Aussie cinemas.

This year's first local hit is The Sapphires, which is on its way to an estimated A$15 million-plus box office. The comedy/drama/musical follows a group of Supremes-style indigenous girls entertaining troops during the Vietnam War. It started life as a small-scale stage show in Australia before being developed as a film. The Sapphires has already been released in France, with New Zealand to follow in October. It is getting a release in most worldwide markets, with The Weinstein Co. holding U.S. rights.

The local release is by Hopscotch/eOne, owned by Entertainment One. Hopscotch was founded by Frank Cox and Troy Lum in 2002, and Cox has just decided to step down as president of the local company at a high point with one of its strongest results. He has had many successes since getting into the distribution business with New Vision Films in 1983. Lum remains the managing director of Hopscotch/eOne.

Other local films getting a wide release with hopes of similar success are Bait 3D and Mental. The Australian-Singapore co-production Bait 3D (Anchor Bay in the U.S.) is an action thriller with the most unlikely plot of sharks being on the loose in a supermarket. A tsunami strikes the coast and sends a shark into a flooded underground supermarket containing a group of shoppers, none of who find it easy to escape. Aussie Julian McMahon (“Nip/Tuck”) stars alongside Xavier Samuel (The Twilight Saga: Eclipse), Sharni Vinson and Dan Wylie, along with Singaporean actors Adrian Pang and Qi Yuwu. The movie was shot at Village Roadshow's Gold Coast Studios in 2010.

Kimble Rendall makes his feature debut with Bait 3D after directing second-unit action sequences for a number of films. When he was offered the film, "I said, 'What's the story?' They said sharks in a supermarket and I said, 'OK, you've got me.’”

High hopes are also held for the black comedy Mental, releasing in both Australia and New Zealand in October, which marks the return of director PJ Hogan (My Best Friend’s Wedding, Peter Pan) to local filmmaking. Toni Collette is the rather wild nanny to five girls. The film also stars Liev Schreiber, Anthony LaPaglia, Caroline Goodall and Rebecca Gibney. The cast and crew of Mental were at the local premiere of the film at the Australasian film exhibitors conference on the Gold Coast in August.

In a final historic note, Village Cinemas has just finished converting all 210 of their screens to digital.

Contact David Pearce at insidemovies@hotmail.com.