Collaborations are driving growth for Robert Connolly’s Arenamedia

Robert Connolly.

In the 25 years since he graduated from the Australian Film Television and Radio School Robert Connolly has never been more excited about the future of the film industry.

Reflecting his boundless optimism, his company Arenamedia’s production and development slate is the biggest and most ambitious in its 15-year history.

“The future path for us is having many and varied collaborations and partnerships and not trying to be proprietorial,” Connolly tells IF.

“Our creative team are backing our love and passion for cinema, without disparaging in any way this amazing era we’re in with television.

“We’re excited by the future of cinema. We think there will be innovation and new ways of watching cinema.”

The company is collaborating with an unprecedented number of established and emerging writers and directors. The latter cohort includes the Strange Colours creative team of Alena Lodkina and Kate Laurie, Zambian-Australian writer/director Santilla Chingaipe and producer Chloé Brugalé, and filmmakers Sari Braithwaite and Bonnie Moir.

He hopes to start shooting three projects whose preparations were delayed when the pandemic struck as soon as it’s safe to do so. Blueback, his family-friendly film based on the Tim Winton novel about a 13-year-old girl who takes on poachers to save her friend, a wild groper, is financed and the casting search begins later this week.

Connolly, who is producing with Arenamedia’s Liz Kearney and James Grandison, is working out how to insure the production in the COVID-19 era. “There are no roadblocks from any of the funding agencies; we’ve had great support from all parties. The solution is government support,” he says.

Magic Beach is a re-imagining of Alison Lester’s illustrated children’s book which will blend live action and animated stories from 10 Australian animators: Susan Danta, Pierce Davison, Jake Duczynski, Emma Kelly, Anthony Lucas, Simon Rippingale, Marieka Walsh, Eddie White, Lee Whitmore and Kathy Sarpi.

Jub Clerc will make her feature directing debut on Sweet As, a coming-of-age road movie seen through the eyes of Murra, a 15-year-old Indigenous girl from Port Hedland in Western Australia. Clerc and Steve Rodgers wrote the screenplay and Kearney will produce.

Meanwhile, Roadshow Films plans to release Connolly’s The Dry, a crime thriller adapted from the Jane Harper novel, produced by Made Up Stories’ Bruna Papandrea, Jodi Matterson and Steve Hutensky, on August 27.

Reuniting with the director 12 years after they collaborated on Romulus, My Father, Eric Bana stars as Aaron Falk, a federal cop who returns to his drought-ravaged hometown after an absence of 20 years to attend the funeral of his childhood friend Luke, whom the local police believe killed his wife and child before taking his own life.

Irish-born Genevieve O’Reilly plays Falk’s childhood friend Gretchen, with Keir O’Donnell as the local detective and John Polson as the headmaster.

Connolly and Arenamedia colleague Robert Patterson will team up with UK producers David Barron, Piers Tempest and Jo Bamford’s Tempo Productions to produce Emily, Frances O’Connor’s feature directing debut.

Emma Mackey (Sex Education) will star in the biopic about Wuthering Heights author Emily Brontë, who died aged 30, with Joe Alwyn as Brontë’s conflicted lover, Fionn Whitehead as her inspiring but self-destructive brother, and Emily Beecham as sibling writer Charlotte Brontë.

Mike Hailwood.

O’Connor, who starred in Connolly’s 2005 drama Three Dollars, sent him the script a couple of years, he loved her fresh take on the story and they began developing it. Subsequently the UK producers and Embankment Films came on board, and the latter will pitch the project at the Cannes Virtual Market later this month. The aim is to shoot in Yorkshire in the first quarter of 2021.

Bana is scripting a feature about English Grand Prix motor racing champion Mike “The Bike” Hailwood, who died, aged 40, along with his nine-year-old daughter when a truck crashed into their car in 1981.

A co-production between Arenamedia and Bana’s Pick Up Truck Pictures, it will star Bana as Hailwood and he will co-direct with Connolly, aiming to shoot on the Isle of Man next year.

In the process of being financed is Memoir of a Snail, writer-director Adam Elliot’s animated bittersweet memoir of a melancholic woman named Grace Puddle, a hoarder of snails, romance novels, and guinea-pigs.

Lodkina and Laurie are developing Petrol, a contemporary film about the friendship between two women set in Melbourne’s artistic circles.

Chingaipe will make her feature debut on Moon Girl (working title), produced by Chloé Brugalé.

‘Such Great Heights.’

Beck Cole is attached to direct Ruby Moonlight, a drama based on the book by Ali Cobby Eckerman, which follows Ruby, the survivor of a massacre in mid-north South Australia in the 1880s who shelters in the woods where she befriends an Irish trapper. Mitchell Stanley and Toni Stowers will produce with Arenamedia.

The development slate overseen by Louise Gough includes three feature docs. Braithwaite and Brugalé are working on Logan, which observes the miniscule details and monumental events of a family yearning for new freedoms.

Pain & Prejudice will explore historical and cultural attitudes towards female pain and how they have influenced the perception of female power. Leah Filley is writing the script based on Gabrielle Jackson’s book Pain and Prejudice for director Bonnie Moir, to be produced by Filley and Kate Laurie.

Writer-director Brendan Fletcher’s Such Great Heights will chart the journey of the South Sudanese ‘Lost Boys,’ who arrive in Australia as refugees from war-torn tribal Sudan. Their love of basketball helps them put their shattered lives back together.