Oz film to look at racism and asylum seekers

After their successful collaboration on Backyard Ashes, the producers and Umbrella Entertainment are teaming up on another sports-themed comedy with a topical, dramatic twist.

Set in the fictional country town Bodgy Creek, The Merger will follow a struggling AFL club which enlists newly-settled asylum seekers to make up the numbers in a desperate effort to break a 27-game losing streak.

The screenplay by Damian Callinan is adapted from his one-man stage show which toured Australia and was nominated for a Barry award at the Melbourne Comedy Festival in 2010.

Callinan, who will play the team’s captain coach in the film, delighted attendees at last week’s Australian International Movie Convention, with routines from the show.

Mark Grentell will direct and produce with Callinan and Anne Robinson. Grentell tells IF, “It’s a comedy but there are some intense and dramatic scenes dealing with racism, asylum seekers and life in a small town.”

Grentell says there will be a number of juicy roles including the asylum seekers and the club's racist president. He hopes to get several current or former AFL players of multi-cultural backgrounds and a famous ex-cricketer to do cameos.

The budget is $1.5 million and the producers are awaiting a decision on Screen Australia’s investment. The aim is to shoot in and around Wagga Wagga. They intend to donate a portion of the proceeds to a refugees charity.

Callinan played Spock in Grentell's Backyard Ashes, the comedy set in Wagga Wagga about two neighbours who settle their differences with a bizarre game of backyard cricket, featuring Felix Williamson, John Wood, Andrew S. Gilbert and Rebecca Massey.

Umbrella picked up the rights in post-production. It was a surprise success, grossing about $450,000 –$200,000 of that at the Forum 6 Cinemas in Wagga Wagga- and selling more than 22,000 DVDs.

Also on Umbrella’s Australian slate is Jungle, Greg Mclean’s upcoming thriller scripted by Justin Monjo, based on Yossi Ghinsberg’s book chronicling his harrowing real life experience experiences with two fellow backpackers in the Bolivian jungle.

Another acquisition is NOMA: My Perfect Storm, a food documentary which tells the story of Rene Redzepi and his team who have revolutionised the world of gastronomy.

The film won the award for best documentary in the Culinary Zinema section at San Sebastian International Film Festival; Umbrella will release it  in time for the Noma pop-up restaurant which will be located at Sydney’s Barangaroo for 10 weeks from January.

Umbrella will also distribute Hany Abu-Assad’s The Idol, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival to rave reviews. The film explores real life rags-to-riches Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf who became famous after winning Arab Idol.

Also on its slate is Trespass Against Us, a gypsy heist drama set across three generations of the rowdy Cutler family who live as outlaws in some of Britain's richest countryside, starring Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson.

Umbrella MD Jeff Harrison tells IF, “We are looking to distribute 8-10 titles theatrically each year, and we would love to do more Aussie films.”

He foreshadows more news on both fronts after the American Film Market.