Australian multi-episode movie ‘The Turning’ brings back the roadshow


I remember the days of roadshow presentations, when a film would run at a major cinema Down Under for months at a time or even more than a year. You had to go to that cinema to see it, because it could be 12 or 14 months before it reached the suburbs. There was always an interval and sometimes a lavish program to buy.

Those days have returned with the debut of the new Australian film The Turning, based on a book by Tim Winton. This 180-minute picture is being released with an intermission and a free 40-page limited-edition program. It is only playing at a limited number of cinemas, with only two sessions per day, and at higher-than-normal prices. Seventeen directors, including actors Mia Wasikowska and David Wenham, a choreographer and a number of experienced directors, each filmed a ten-minute segment of the feature. Early box-office results are very good: The film had the highest per-screen average during the last week of September outside of an exclusive IMAX release.

It may seem strange, but Australia has had a number of films submitted for the Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar. These have included films in an Aboriginal language and in Cantonese. This year, Australia has submitted The Rocket. The story centers on a ten-year-old boy considered cursed by the rest of his remote Laotian village. He wants to be accepted, so he attempts to build a rocket for the prestigious Rocket Festival. The film, made by Australian Kim Mordaunt in Laos, has received strong reviews at a number of film festivals as well as audience awards for best feature at both the Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals. It opened recently to strong numbers in limited release and has been playing steadily for five weeks with only minimal drop-off.
From the early years of film distribution, Australia and New Zealand were considered the end of the line for prints. Although major cinemas Down Under received new prints for roadshow presentations, many prints arriving here had been shown in a number of cinemas in the U.S. and Canada before being shipped out. Because distributors did not want to pay the freight to send many of these well-used prints back to the U.S., they stayed Down Under. Most were being destroyed or dumped, but quite a number ended up in the hands of collectors, projectionists and, eventually, film archives. An Australian film collector recently found in his collection the one missing Three Stooges short, “Hello Pop.” This film has been restored by the Vitaphone Project and was shown in New York last month. Likewise, a U.S. archivist discovered some nitrate prints of a number of shorts and features in the New Zealand Film Archives, including the 1927 John Ford film Upstream. This collection (“Lost and Found: American Treasures from the New Zealand Film Archive”) has just been released on DVD after being restored by the U.S. National Film Preservation Foundation.
The October Australian International Movie Convention is showing a good number of films to local exhibitors and distributors. The titles include Captain Phillips, plus Dallas Buyers Club and Last Vegas, both of which open on Nov. 1 in the U.S. Also, Philomena starring Judi Dench, Bad Grandpa, and the comedy Delivery Man. One of the highlights is a screening of Tracks, starring Mia Wasikowska as Robyn Davidson, an adventurer who set out alone with four camels to cross the 2,700 km Australian outback and desert in 1977. The film will not be released until next year. The Weinstein Co. purchased rights including North America at the Venice Film Festival.
Last year, Australia was complaining that there were very few films being shot here and New Zealand was very busy with the Hobbit trilogy and more. What a difference a year makes! It is October 2013 and both Angelina Jolie and Russell Crowe are directing features in Australia. The latest Mad Max film has returned from Namibia and is doing a final few weeks of interiors. Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is expected soon, as are a number of other films. Meanwhile, it is New Zealand which is looking around for the next feature to be filmed there.

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