Aussies Go Wild At Film Convention

agwafWhile the night is all about congratulating distributors on their success, the convention is perhaps more about distributors thanking exhibitors for helping them attain that success and encouraging the partnership to continue. There are always a lot of good-humored digs at colleagues and competitors alike. Said UIP Australian managing director Mike Selwyn during his presentation to exhibitors: “UIP is committed to the whole exhibition industry, even those we think should be committed.” Said BVI managing director Alan Finney–and current MPDAA chair–during his: “No, Monsters Inc. is not a documentary about the MPDAA companies.” Or take this expression of thanks to the awards sponsor and the company Australian managing director of Columbia TriStar Films, Stephen Basil-Jones, regularly has to negotiate terms with: “It is important that you kiss the feet that are attached to the legs that are attached to the arse that you have to kiss next week. So thanks to Hoyts.”

This year, the convention attracted over 700 people to the Royal Pines Resort on Queensland’s Gold Coast between August 14 and 18. Each of the major distributors spent several hours presenting trailers, talking about upcoming product, and then screening a feature. Those shown were UIP’s Rat Race, BVI’s The Others, 20th Century Fox’s Legally Blonde (the debut feature from Australian-born Robert Luketic, who was in attendance), Columbia TriStar’s America’s Sweethearts and the independent feature Peter And Vandy.

While there was much excitement about getting a 26-minute sneak preview of The Fellowship of the Rings, there was amusement about the security check and grumbling that everyone had to first sit through the Rush Hour 2 evening screening. The emerging U.S. results had already indicated that the Jackie Chan film will make a lot of money, but that didn’t mean that exhibitors admired what they saw. While cinema is unashamedly a business in these circles, many commented that the film would not be winning any awards for the quality of the filmmaking, the cleverness of the comedy or the values underlying the story. The relationship between box-office returns and the nature of a film is a fascinating thing. One afternoon is reserved for the non-MPDAA distributors to show up to three trailers each and present awards to exhibitors. Best independent country cinema was Mt. Vic Flicks; best independent urban cinema was Dendy Opera Quays and Nova Carlton; best major was Hoyts Fox; and best local cinema campaign went to Gala Twin, Warrawong, for Mullet. Dendy’s Amelie and Footprint Film’s local film The Bank were then screened simultaneously in adjoining cinemas.

For people who think about these things, it is impossible not to come away from the Australian Movie Convention without pondering the effect of mainstream movies on audiences. There were probably 75 trailers shown at this year’s event. Seen en masse, these selling tools pack in a lot of violence and perfectly formed (by Hollywood definitions) longhaired women serving little purpose other than to be ogled. By the fourth day, the experience can somewhat mess with one’s perception of the real world. Once outside the cinema, it would not seem entirely unexpected to see a dozen big-breasted young women in colored lingerie cause a dramatic car accident from which a gang of uninjured men emerge with machine guns.

A Australian films and Australian-born directors had a high profile at this year’s convention, with local films Moulin Rouge and The Dish applauded for earning over A$10 million. At the “Australia On Show” opening night, Eric Bana (Chopper) won Australian star of the year–he said thank you from the set of The Nugget via video–and Phillip Noyce was honored for filmmaking excellence. The Reading Cinema in the Perth suburb of Belmont won the Kodak Marketing Award for Australian films, for its campaign for Moulin Rouge. The night also saw exhibitors Jim Sourris, from AMC Cinemas, and Ken Kirkley receive life membership in the Motion Picture Exhibitors Association of Queensland, which stages the annual event. Noyce spoke extensively about Rabbit-Proof Fence, the first film he has made on Australian soil for over a decade. It is based on the true story of three part-Aboriginal girls, aged eight to 14 years, who were forcibly removed from their families in the 1930s to be trained as domestic servants, then pursued 2,000 kilometers after their escape. These women are part of the so-called “stolen generation,” one of many facets of the black/white relations issues that will not go away in Australia. There is a perception that films with indigenous themes don’t work for audiences and Noyce cleverly invited exhibitors to help him prove otherwise. REP and Ocean Pictures jointly release the film in February 2002.

On the final night, Geoffrey Rush was crowned this year’s international star of the year and Bryan Brown was presented with a lifetime achievement award, giving him a chance to heavily promote Dirty Deeds, which he is currently producing and starring in. Producer Ben Gannon spoke to delegates about a third unfinished Australian film, The Man Who Sued God, during BVI’s presentation. The comedy stars Judy Davis and Billy Connolly, who plays a character immensely frustrated when his insurance company refuses to replace his boat after a bolt of lightning hits it. The title says the rest. Producer David Hannay also said a few words about the children’s film Hildegarde.

Arts Minister Peter McGauran drew applause at the convention for what he called a “clear and unequivocal” confirmation that Australia would not be lifting the parallel importation restrictions on films, as it has over the last three years on books, CDs, business software and computer games. This means it will remain illegal to import videos and DVDs before a film has screened theatrically. These laws were not retained in New Zealand (see “Around the Globe” in this issue), to the detriment of the industry. Shadow Arts Minister Bob McMullan, speaking during the same seminar, said that while he did not doubt McGauran’s sincerity, the issue was at “serious risk” of being revisited because the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) was “obsessed” about it. Indeed, Commissioner Ross Jones told delegates 24 hours earlier that the ACCC wanted restrictions lifted.

Seminars were also held on digital cinema, classification guidelines for films and the current review of the voluntary code of conduct, which is now three years old and has 220 signatories.

I con Distribution held an official launch of its arrival in Australia. Local chief executive Mark Gooder treated about 50 exhibitors and media members to 10 minutes of footage from the first four weeks of the shoot of the Icon/Wheelhouse production We Were Soldiers. A video message was sent from its star, Icon co-owner Mel Gibson, while his business partner Bruce Davey was there in person. Gooder emphasized that Icon would be delivering quality over quantity, from blockbusters to a few specialized releases, and no more than 15 films per year. “As exhibitors, I expect you are asking yourself, ‘Will Icon make any money for me?'” he said. “I bloody hope so.” Acquired to date for Australia are Company Man and The Assumption. The other distribution newcomer is Hoyts, which recently confirmed it will be re-entering the business next year with both international and local film product. The head of the new division is Robert Slaviero, previously of 20th Century Fox Film Distributors. What part Hoyts would play in th e release of the film product of the Nine Network has been much discussed since Australia’s highest-rating broadcaster announced it was moving into film production last November. The companies have ownership links. Hoyts handled several huge hits during the 1980s, including the first two “Crocodile” Dundee films, Dances With Wolves and The Man From Snowy River, but has not been involved in this side of the business for some time. Hoyts Cinemas has 352 Australian screens at 43 sites and is headed by Paul Johnson. It has extensive cinema interests in North and South America.

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