2013 report card: Another tough year for Aussie films

06 January, 2014 by Don Groves

An analysis of the Australian films released in cinemas in 2013 makes for grim reading, with a handful of critical and/or commercial successes outnumbered by misfires and under-achievers.

On the positive side, the debut films from directors Kim Mordaunt (The Rocket), Catriona McKenzie (Satellite Boy) and Mark Grentell (Backyard Ashes) unearthed talent with plenty of potential.

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The year ended on a strong note with the Boxing Day launch of Jonathan Teplitzy’s The Railway Man, which ranks as the second-highest local grosser behind Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, which amassed $27.4 million to become the fifth-biggest Australian title of all time.

Tellingly, the drama starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman raked in more money in its first week than the lifetime earnings of every other title. According to IF’s estimate, the combined B.O. tally of the 26 local films and documentaries is $38.88 million, well short of 2012’s $47.9 million.

Only four titles earned more than $1 million, and neither Goddess nor Return to Nim’s Island is likely to have covered the distributors’ P&A costs. The most disappointing results, in my view considering the filmmakers’ aspirations to reach a broad audience, were Adoration, Blinder and Save Your Legs!

Patrick and 100 Bloody Acres got good reviews but their fates were probably sealed when the major exhibitors refused to screen them and the releases were limited to a handful of screens.

Final B.O. figures for 2013 won’t be available until later in January but several distributors are estimating the year will finish 2% down on 2012’s $1.125 billion. So assuming the total is around $1.122 billion, Australian films’ market share would be around 3.4%, below 2012’s 4.3% and the 10-year average of 3.8%.

For the record year we have to go back to 2001 when local features led by Moulin Rouge, Lantana, The Man Who Sued God and Crocodile Dundee in LA raked in $63.4 million, a 7.8% share.

There was a more even spread of B.0. performers in 2012 when The Sapphires was No 1 with $14.5 million, followed by Happy Feet Two ($8.2 million out of its lifetime gross of $10.7 million), Kath & Kimderella ($6.1 million), A Few Best Men ($5.3 million) and Mental ($4.1 million).

IF’s chart is current through January 1. As we have has pointed out, Australian grosses should not be seen as the sole barometer of each film's success, given many have multiple viewings on VOD, pay-TV and free-to-air TV. For example, Warwick Thornton’s The Darkside misfired in cinemas but hopefully will find an appreciative audience when it screens this year on the ABC. Festival exposure and critical acclaim are also key indicators.

Producer/distributor Robert Connolly’s initiative of organising event screenings for Tim Winton’s The Turning (co-distributed with Madman) paid off. The strategy encouraged other filmmakers to stage Q&A screenings for Backyard Ashes and Circle of Lies and the docus Uncharted Waters and Lasseter’s Bones.

A comedy about two neighbours who settle their differences with a bizarre game of backyard cricket, Grentell’s Backyard Ashes has achieved impressive figures considering it’s only played in regional towns.

Mordaunt’s The Rocket has done tidy business for a Laos-set drama and the results for feature-length documentaries Red Obsession and In Bob We Trust are meritorious.

Catriona McKenzie’s Satellite Boy and Ivan Sen’s Mystery Road continued the tradition of critically-admired Indigenous films that resonate with a fairly wide audience.

Heather McKenzie decision to self-distribute her documentary Mary Meets Mohammad paid dividends as the film played on 424 commercial screens around Australia plus community screenings and schools. The docu chronicles the unlikely friendship between Hobart pensioner Mary and Mohammad, a young Afghan Hazara man interned in a temporary detention centre for asylum seekers.

In his 2013 review Film Alert blogger Geoff Gardner takes a dim view of the performance of Screen Australia led by CEO Dr Ruth Harley. “When the debacle of Dr Ruth’s tenure and the mostly dismal product of our local industry that it produced over the last five years finally works its way through the system, probably by the end of 2014, there may just be some new hope that we might make more films that bring some lustre to our film production and justify the public money spent,” he says.

I think that’s an unduly harsh assessment and am confident we’ll see a marked upturn in the quality and commercial appeal of the films scheduled for release this year.

Given the writing, directing and on-screen talent involved, I am optimistic about a line-up that includes John Curran’s Tracks, Greg Mclean’s Wolf Creek 2, Matt Saville’s Felony, Julius Avery’s Son of a Gun, David Michôd’s The Rover, Kriv Stenders’ Kill Me Three Times, Rob Connolly’s Paper Planes, Tony Ayres' Cut Snake, Zak Hilditch’s These Final Hours, Stuart Beattie’s I, Frankenstein, Wayne Hope’s Now Add Honey and Peter and Michael Spierig’s Predestination.

In addition, there could be some out-of-the-box successes from among John V. Soto’s The Reckoning, Shane Abbess’ Infini, David Parker’s The Menkoff Method, Matt Zeremes and Guy Edmonds’ Super Awesome!, Josh Lawson’s The Little Death, Stephen Lance's My Mistress, Kasimir Burgess’ Fell, Sarah Spillane’s Around the Block and Craig Monahan’s Healing.

 

AUSTRALIAN FILMS SCORECARD 2013

 

 

 

Title

 

Release Date

 

Total

1

The Great Gatsby

 May 30

$27,383,762

 

2

The Railway Man

December 26

2,052,827

3

Goddess

March 14

1,636,117

4

Tim Winton’s The Turning

September 26

1,245,120

 

5

Return to Nim’s Island

April 4

1,220,248

 

6

Drift

May 2

931,419

 

7

Satellite Boy

June 20

510,034

 

8

 

The Rocket

August  29

477,891

9

Red Obsession

August 15

 

438,914

10

Mystery Road

October 17

 

409,979

11

Save Your Legs!

February 28

385,680

12

Backyard Ashes

November 6

251,920

13

 Adoration

November 21

203,089

 

14

Lygon Street: Si Parla Italiano

November 14

161,456

15

Mary Meets Mohammad*

May 2

150,291

16

In Bob We Trust

October 17

138,223

17

Blinder

March 7

101,027

18

Uncharted  Waters

 

November 15

 89,859

19

Circle of Lies*

August 22

50,000

20

Absolute* Deception

August 29

30,000

21

Lasseter’s Bones

October 31

30,000

22

The 25th Reich*

June 21

28,200

23

100 Bloody Acres

August 1

18,356

24

The Darkside

November 28

18,290

25

Patrick

October 17

14,260

26

Fallout

October 31

14,255

                

              Figures through January 1, 2014

            Source:  Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia

                  *Producer’s figure

 

 

 

 

 

 

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