Palace Cinemas national programming director Kim Petalas will step down from his role in late December after some 30 years with the company.
However, while he is leaving to spend more time with his family, he will continue to advise the exhibitor in his semi-retirement.
Of his decision, the industry veteran – also the director of the British Film Festival – tells IF: “I felt that it was time, after such a long innings, to allow somebody else to come in with some fresh ideas, and for me to assist and help out wherever I can.
“It’s hard to leave an industry and in particular, an organisation, that I just love so much. I’ll do anything in the background to assist Palace moving forward.”
Petalas has always had an “incredible passion” for film, and started at Palace developing the group booking business, before stepping into the programming director role some 28 years ago.
He regards his career as a case of being in the right company at the right time. He is incredibly proud of the sophisticated circuit that Palace has developed, how it has championed independent and arthouse cinema, and its growth.
“There’s been enormous change over the journey.
“We championed a new sophistication in the cinemagoing experience… Palace was the first to build real bars in foyers, and our audiences really embraced that change.”
After a difficult few years for exhibitors, Petalas remains convinced of the experience of seeing films on the big screen. He is excited for the line-up in the months ahead, including No Time To Die, Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci, Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story and French film Delicious, from director Éric Besnard.
Petalas is also enthused for this year’s British Film Festival opener, Roger Michell’s The Duke. It kicks off the event tonight in Adelaide, Brisbane, Byron Bay, Canberra and Sydney, and on Melbourne on Friday.
Set in 1961, the film follows 60-year-old taxi driver Kempton Bunton (Jim Broadbent), who steals Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in London. He sends ransom notes saying that he will return it if the government invests more in care for the elderly. His wife is played by Helen Mirren, and Aimee Kelly and Matthew Goode also star.
“It’s a feel good film that we all need after what we’ve been through over the last couple of years,” Petalas says.
Conceived nine years ago, the British Film Festival is Petalas’ brainchild. It has gone on to surpass his expectations, and is now one of Palace’s most popular festivals.
“Australians have got a great affinity to Britain. We’ve got a very similar culture. We have the same sensibility. We enjoy a very similar humour. I’ve seen over my career that when there’s good British films playing across our cinemas, they do incredibly well, from The Marigold Hotel films to The Queen. I knew there was a real appetite for those films to be portrayed in a festival environment,” he says.
“Our film distribution partners, they place their films in the festival and they get a very good idea of the potential a film may have. It gives them an opportunity to gain a really valuable word-of-mouth. Sometimes there are gems that are discovered in the festival and that audiences embrace above expectation. Suddenly the distributors change their forecast on the potential that the film has at the box office.”
Petalas’ other festival highlights for 2021 include Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast, Gillies MacKinnon’s The Last Bus, starring festival favourite Timothy Spall, and the ‘7 from the ’70s’ retrospective, which includes a 4K restoration of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.
He also singles out Eva Husson’s Mothering Sunday, for the “incredible performance” of Aussie actor Odessa Young alongside Josh O’Connor, Olivia Colman and Colin Firth.
“It’s going to really catapult her career.”
His other key recommendation is Australian-UK co-production Falling for Figaro, directed by Ben Lewin and starring Joanna Lumley and Danielle Macdonald.
Macdonald is Millie, a young fund manager who decides to leave her unfulfilling job and long-term boyfriend to chase her lifelong dream of becoming an opera singer in the Scottish Highlands. She begins intense vocal training lessons with renowned singing teacher and former opera diva Meghan Geoffrey-Bishop (Lumley).
“It’s a film that’s easy to watch and thoroughly entertaining,” he says.
On Australian cinema, Petalas reflects his early days at Palace included the breakout success of Strictly Ballroom, which started on limited screens before broadening out, followed by the back-to-back success of Muriel’s Wedding and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
“When there’s a really good Australian film, our audiences embrace that film. You can see that happened last year when we came out of the lockdown… with the results that were achieved nationally for both The Dry and Penguin Bloom.
“Australians have got a real appetite to see quality Australian cinema, but they want to see films that depict real situations and also fun situations. When Australian films get it right, they really perform well at the box office.”
The British Film Festival runs across Palace Cinemas until December 1.