Distributors in the US, UK and Germany have bought Drown, an Australian drama which its director Dean Francis describes as confronting and controversial.

Adapted from Stephen Davis’ play which prompted walk outs when it was staged by the Queensland Theatre Company, the film centres on three surf lifesavers whose big night out is marred by jealousy, homophobic fears, unrequited lust and violence.

The night culminates in a tragic, booze-fuelled episode of bullying. There is a graphic gay sex scene, says Francis, who does not want to speculate on the likely film classification.

The international sales agent, London-based High Point Films & TV, showed a work-in-progress to potential buyers at the Cannes Film Market.

German distributor Salzgeber quickly signed a deal and is planning a national cinema release. Subsequently Strand Releasing bought the rights for the US, where it will have a niche theatrical release, and Peccadillo Pictures, which specialises in art house, gay and lesbian and world cinema titles, took the UK rights.

Francis is understandably chuffed about these deals and says offers are on the table for France, Japan, Scandinavia and the Benelux.

“It’s a hard film to sell in a commercial sense because it is so full on," he tells IF. “But there is a real appetite around the world for the films of Gaspar Noé (Irreversible, Enter the Void) and Gregg Araki (Mysterious Skin, Kaboom).

”Drown looks at the intersection between sex and violence and the links between male aggression and male sexuality.”

Matt Levett, Jack Matthews and Harry Crook play the leads, supported by Sam Anderson, Heather Mitchell, Anthony Phelan and Maya Stange. Matthews’ character is a gay lifesaver who is perceived as a threat to Levett’s top dog.

Francis aims to launch the film at one of the major US or European festivals as a springboard for the release in each territory.

While he is still figuring out the distribution strategy in Australia, he says, “It needs a new, hands-on approach, which does not fit the conventional model of release."

He’s a fan of the idea of hosting Q&A event screenings, perhaps tied into the 2015 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade, before an expedited release to DVD and VOD.

Francis, who made his feature debut with 2010’s Road Train, next plans to direct Mayday Hill, a horror/thriller to be shot at the former Beechworth Lunatic Asylum in Victoria, which for decades was the site of deaths, abuse and gruesome medical treatment.

The screenplay by Matthew Barker centres on a man (Daniel Feuerriegel of Spartacus: Blood and Sand) and his girlfriend (yet to be cast) who visit the institution and are confronted by the horrors of the past.

The producers are Janice Eymann (executive producer of Jon Amiel’s Creation), who brought the project to Francis, and Faith Martin.

View the trailer here

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