‘High Ground.’

For Madman Entertainment 2019 was the distributor’s most consistent year ever, with 14 films each grossing more than $500,000 at Australian cinemas – and the 2020 slate looks even stronger.

Stephen Johnson’s High Ground, Ben Lawrence’s Hearts and Bones, Christopher Nelius’ feature doc The Sideshow, Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 and the third edition of the 1990s Bill & Ted comedy franchise are among the stand-out titles.

“While it is fair to say that holistically, the independent or mid-range theatrical space is facing unique challenges our job is to seek out remarkable films which will start conversations, cut through the pack and connect with audiences to a level that seemingly defies these trends,” Madman MD Paul Wiegard tells IF.

“When evaluating content for theatrical release, we are looking for titles that are specifically relevant for a theatrical audience. It needs to be content which demands a big screen experience, content not only that we love and believe in, but that our exhibition partners will see as something that has a clear path to audience.

“We need to be confident of where the film might fit in our slate, both from a resource and dating perspective, and we need to have a clear understanding of how we might be able to build an impactful and unique marketing campaign to form a connection with audiences.”

Last year the distributor released 29 films on 10 or more screens, with another 15 on exclusive or very narrow release, plus several which were festivals only.

The top six were Parasite with $2.6 million (currently at $2.85 million in week 33 and sure to get a boost from the Oscars as it expands to 90 screens), Dragon Ball Super: Broly ($2 million), Free Solo ($1.67 million), 2040 ($1.52 million), Weathering with You ($1.26 million), Apollo 11 ($1.26 million) and Mystify: Michael Hutchence ($1.1 million).

This year the mix will be roughly the same, albeit with more emphasis on the larger international titles and slightly fewer limited releases.

Madman will launch High Ground, the 1930s-set drama starring Simon Baker, Jacob Junior Nayinggul, Jack Thompson, Callan Mulvey, Aaron Pedersen, Caren Pistorius and Ryan Corr, after the world premiere in the Berlinale Special screenings section of the Berlin International Film Festival.

“We think the film has all the necessary ingredients to connect with a substantial local audience as a thrilling drama that captures country never seen on screen before, which also tells parts of our history Australians have never experienced on screen,” Wiegard says.

“Ultimately it is both powerful and entertaining and is held high by an incredible ensemble cast. There is plenty here to draw crowds at both independent and multiplex sites.”

‘Hearts and Bones.’

Scripted by Lawrence and Beatrix Christian and produced by Matt Reeder, Hearts and Bones opens on April 30 after playing at the Sydney and Toronto International Film Festivals.

The drama follows a war photographer (Hugo Weaving) and a refugee (newcomer Andrew Luri) who discover a photograph that threatens to destroy them both.

“With a knockout performance from Hugo Weaving at its centre, we anticipate strong support from independent cinemas and the discerning audiences that frequent them, but also some multiplex sites that cater to broader audiences looking for a powerful drama with a trusted name, that also aligns with their values,” Wiegard says.

Co-funded by Screen Australia and produced by Michaela Perske, The Sideshow is set in the 1980s when the world of professional surfing was a blaze of fluoro colours, peroxide hair and radical male egos.

Meanwhile women surfers were paid a tenth of the prize money and relegated to holding contests during the men’s lunch breaks. The doc shows how women broke loose to turn women’s surfing into a multi-billion dollar industry.

Sorkin’s second feature as a director, The Trial of the Chicago 7 follows the trials of seven people who were arrested after the uprising at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, starring Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Michael Keaton, Mark Rylance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Frank Langela and Jeremy Strong.

‘Bill & Ted Face the Music.’

Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter are back as the title characters in Dean Parisot’s Bill & Ted Face the Music after a time-hopping visitor from the future warns them that one of their songs is the only key to saving humanity. Aussie Samara Weaving co-stars.

Also on the slate:

Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip to Greece, again starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon.

Sally Aitken’s Valerie, a feature doc profiling pioneering shark diver Valerie Taylor, produced by WildBear Entertainment’s Bettina Dalton.

John Patrick Shanley’s Wild Mountain Thyme, a romantic drama set in rural Ireland, where everyone is half mad with loneliness or love and the weather is terrible, featuring Emily Blunt, Jamie Dornan, Jon Hamm and Christopher Walken.

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