Imogen Thomas’ ‘Emu Runner’ and Benjamin Gilmour’s ‘Jirga’ to premiere in Toronto

Cast and crew of ‘Emu Runner.’

Writer-director Imogen Thomas’ debut feature Emu Runner and Benjamin Gilmour’s Afghanistan-shot drama Jirga will have their world and international premieres respectively at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Both will screen in the Discovery section dedicated to showcasing first or second features, adding to Australia’s sizable presence in Toronto with the world premieres of the Roache-Turner brothers’ sci-fi action-comedy Nekrotronic and Anthony Maras’ Hotel Mumbai and two shorts, Shelly Lauman’s Birdie and Charles Williams’ All These Creatures.

“Having your premiere at TIFF is not only a tremendous honour but speaks to the feeling in the industry about a film’s creative integrity and the viability of it finding an international audience,” said Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason. “What stands out in this year’s selections is the incredible diversity of Australian creators that are represented.”

Co-written with Aboriginal Ngemba woman Frayne Barker and filmed in Brewarrina, Emu Runner tells the story of nine-year-old Indigenous girl, Gem Daniels (newcomer Rhae-Kye Waites), who lives in a remote Australian town. As she copes with her mother’s unexpected death, Gem finds solace in the company of a wild emu, unwittingly connecting her with her mother’s traditional totem animal.

The cast includes Wayne Blair, Maurial Spearim, Georgia Blizzard, Rob Carton and newcomers Mary Waites, Letisha Boney, Lindsay Waites, Rodney McHughes and Stella Carter.

Thomas, who holds a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in drama from Flinders University and did the Tisch School of Arts Graduate Film Program at New York University, told the ABC she shot the film on a “zero budget” as cast and crew worked on a goodwill arrangement.

She raised a bit more than $40,000 via crowdfunding platform Pozible and obtained post-production investment from Fink Film and completion funding from Screen Australia. Further post-production money came from individual donations and grants from the Aboriginal Benefits Foundation.

“Many hands and a lot of hard work have been involved in the creation of Emu Runner,” she said today. “The process of making the film has been equally important as the end result. That the film has captured the imagination of the TIFF programmers is an achievement that everyone that has collaborated on the film can be very proud about. We are delighted to have this opportunity to share this story with the world.”

The film originated from Thomas’ close relationships with members of the Brewarrina community. In 2013 she cut a teaser and early last year Mary Waites, who is Rhae-Kye’s grandmother, urged her to make the film following the death of Rhae-Kye’s mother.

An actor friend suggested she contact Blair in the hope he would play Gem’s father. She emailed Blair, not expecting he would be available, but he responded straight away so she sent him the script and the teaser, and he agreed.

Blair said: “My experience working on Emu Runner was exceptional. There was a real sense of family as we forged together to create this story. It was my first time in Brewarrina and the community support was wonderful as was director Imogen Thomas.”

The film will have its Australian premiere at the Adelaide Film Festival on October 14. Thomas and the producers including Antonia Barnard are talking to potential distributors in Australia and to sales agents.


Produced by John Maynard, Jirga premiered in competition at the Sydney Film Festival after sold-out screenings at MIFF. Sam Smith plays a former Australian soldier who returns to Afghanistan to find the family of a civilian he accidentally killed during the war. Seeking forgiveness, he puts his life in the hands of the village justice system – the Jirga.

Gilmour, who made his feature debut with Son of a Lion, said: “We’re so thrilled to have Jirga at Toronto, such an important festival. I think audiences are really craving films like this, stories of reconciliation and peace.”

Following TIFF, Footprint Films will stage Q&A screenings in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Perth in the run-up to the September 27 release, with other states to follow.

A Felix Media production with principal production investment from Screen Australia in association with Definition Films, Jirga screens this week in competition at CinefestOZ.

Among the 46 titles screening in Discovery are Bai Xue’s The Crossing, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Farming, Carmel Winters’ Float Like A Butterfly, Adina Pintilie’s Berlin Golden Bear winner Touch Me Not and Benedikt Erlingsson’s Woman at War.

The Toronto International Film Festival runs September 6-16.

Hotel Mumbai Double Guess Productions Pty Ltd
Producers: Basil Iwanyk, Gary Hamilton, Mike Gabrawy, Julie Ryan, Andrew Ogilvie, Jomon Thomas
Director: Anthony Maras
Writers: John Collee & Anthony Maras
Australian Distributor: Icon
International Sales: Arclight Films International
Synopsis: 26 November 2008. A wave of devastating terror attacks throughout Mumbai catapult the bustling Indian metropolis into chaos. In the heart of the city’s tourist district, Jihadist terrorists lay siege to the iconic Taj Palace Hotel, whose guests and staff became trapped in a heroic, days long fight for survival.
Production Credit: Hotel Mumbai is presented by Screen Australia and Xeitgeist Entertainment, in association with the South Australian Film Corporation and Arclight Films, and Adelaide Film Festival, Double Guess and Screenwest.
TIFF: World Premiere, Special Presentations
Australian Premiere: Adelaide Film Festival, October 2018

Nekromancer Holdings Pty Ltd
Producers: Tristan Roache-Turner, Andrew Mason, Troy Lum
Director: Kiah Roache-Turner
Writers: Kiah Roache-Turner and Tristan Roache-Turner
Australian Distributor: Entertainment One Films Australia
International Sales: Sierra/Affinity
Synopsis: Nekrotronic is a mind-bending, genre-mashing, sci-fi-horror film – funny, scary, thrilling and action-packed, this is a cinematic roller-coaster which traverses the full spectrum of human (and inhuman) emotion.
Production Credit: Nektrotronic is a Nekromancer Holdings production. Principal production investment from Entertainment One and Screen Australia. Financed with support from Create NSW.
TIFF: World Premiere, Midnight Madness

Felix Media
Executive Producers: Bridget Ikin, David Gross
Producer: John Maynard
Director / Writer: Benjamin Gilmour
Australian Distributor: Footprint Films
International Sales: Felix Media
Synopsis: A moral tale about Mike, a former Australian soldier, who returns to Afghanistan hoping to find the family of a man he killed during the war.
Production Credit: Jirga is a Felix Media production. Principal production investment from Screen Australia, in association with Definition Films.
TIFF: International Premiere, Discovery

Imogen Thomas trading as Imogen Thomas Films
Producers: Imogen Thomas, Victor Evatt, Antonia Barnard, John Fink, Gabriel Barber Shipton
Director: Imogen Thomas
Writer: Imogen Thomas
Synopsis: Emu Runner is about the impact a mother’s death has on an Indigenous family living in an isolated community. The story is seen through the eyes of Gem, a spirited nine-year-old girl, who deals with grief by forging a bond with a wild emu, a mythical bird of her ancestors. It is a bond she will do anything to keep but one that puts her at odds with a young and inexperienced social worker.
Production Credit: Emu Runner is an Imogen Thomas Films production. Production financed primarily by crowdfunding. Post-production investment from Fink Films, and completion funding from Screen Australia. Further post-production finance from individual donations and grants from the Aboriginal Benefits Foundation.
TIFF: World Premiere, Discovery

Simpatico Films
Producer: Elise Trenorden, Charles Williams
Director / Writer: Charles Williams
Distributor: Wouter Jansen, Some Shorts
International Sales: Jean-Charles Mille, Premium Films
Synopsis: An adolescent boy attempts to untangle his memories of a mysterious infestation, the unravelling of his father, and the little creatures inside us all.
Production Credit: All These Creatures is a Simpatico Films production.
TIFF: North American Premiere, Short Cuts

Producer: Lizzie Cater
Director: Shelly Lauman
Writer: Shelly Lauman
Synopsis: On a bright, ordinary day a woman walks alone to the train station. As she descends the stairs to the underground platform she smiles at a young man. He smiles back. With the smallest of gestures, the woman is caught in a subtle and sinister game.
Production credit: Birdie is a short film directed by Shelly Lauman and produced by Lizzie Cater, with major production investment from the inaugural ADG/Metro Screen Production Fellowship
TIFF: International Premiere, Short Cuts