Aurora Films’ Ákos Armont and Antony Waddington option Helen Garner novel

Helen Garner.

Aurora Films’ Ákos Armont and Antony Waddington plan to turn Helen Garner’s novel The Spare Room, a drama about a woman who cares for her cancer-stricken friend, into a feature film.

Eamon Flack, the artistic director of Sydney’s Belvoir, will make his screen directing debut on the project.

Published in 2008, the novel follows the relationship between two women, Nicola, who has advanced bowel cancer, and her friend Helen.

When Sydney-based Nicola goes to Melbourne for the treatment she hopes will cure her, Helen becomes her nurse, protector, guardian angel and judge.

Garner’s literary agent sent the tome to Waddington in 2009 when he was raising the finance for Fred Schepisi’s The Eye of the Storm and he has wanted to turn it into a film ever since.

Last year the producers met the author and optioned the screen rights. “We are both enormously encouraged that Helen allowed us to take her work and develop it: a great privilege and responsibility,” Armont tells IF.

“Her willingness to explore taboo subjects with candour and grace, places her as one of our most inspired and original national treasures in literature.”

Waddington said: “The Spare Room is a life-and-death story about friendship, honesty and self-scrutiny. If ever there was an homage to women in our lives, it’s this master work.”

The producers are in discussions with writers and key cast and exploring UK co-production opportunities.

Flack’s productions of The Glass Menagerie and Angels in America won Helpmann Awards for Best Play. His other key directing credits for Belvoir include Counting and Cracking (winner of the Helpmann Award for Best Direction of a Play and nominated for the Sydney Theatre Award Best Direction of the Mainstage Production), his adaptation of Hendrik Ibsen’s Ghosts, The Rover, The Great Fire, The Blind Giant, Mother Courage and Babyteeth.

After producing Brabham,  the Armont-directed feature documentary on Formula One race car champion Jack Brabham (available in Australia via Stan), Waddington and Armont are developing Kurdish refugee journalist Behrouz Boochani’s harrowing memoir of life in detention under Australia’s offshore processing regime.

Aurora Films is co-producing No Friend But The Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison, with Hoodlum Entertainment and Sweetshop & Green, to be directed by Buoyancy’s Rodd Rathjen.

The producers pitched the project at the Toronto International Film Festival’s International Financing Forum and received very positive responses from buyers, sales companies and streamers. Financing is underway.

Armont added: Our capacity to move quickly in acquiring properties that we are passionate about is critical to our success. As a company focused on early development, we generally wear all the risk upfront – a situation made more challenging with the changes to the Producers Offset announced by the Federal Government.

“Nevertheless, our ability to forecast the viability of concepts years down the line and align our projects with the right international partners is a fundamental aspect of our success to date.”