Samuel Goldwyn Films maintains the faith in Australian cinema

(L-R) Greer Simpkin, Peter Goldwyn, Warwick Thornton and David Jowsey at the Sundance ‘Sweet Country’ premiere.

No North American distributor has been more aggressive in acquiring Australian films in the past few years than Samuel Goldwyn Films, continuing a relationship with Australian filmmakers that stretches for more than 20 years.

Among its latest acquisitions are Stephen Johnson’s High Ground, Paul Ireland’s Measure for Measure, John Sheedy’s H is for Happiness and Gregor Jordan’s Dirt Music.

President Peter Goldwyn explains the long-term commitment to Australian cinema, the target audiences for upcoming Oz titles and the distributor’s release strategies as most US cinemas are closed.

By my estimate, your company has released more Australian titles in recent years than any other US distributor. What keeps attracting you to Oz films and talent?

Simple answer is the quality of the pictures.

I think Goldwyn’s relationship with Aussie cinema goes back to Bruce Beresford’s Mao’s Last Dancer in 2010, or even earlier?

It is certainly earlier than that. When I started at the company we released Jonathan Teplitzky’s Better Than Sex and at one of my first Cannes we picked up Sue Brooks’ Japanese Story.

Beyond that, Samuel Goldwyn also produced Master and Commander directed by Peter Weir.

Given the disruption caused by the closure of many US cinemas, are you having to bypass theatrical and go straight to digital in many if not most cases?

It’s not a bypass. It’s a reality that the theatres are not open and going straight to digital allows us to connect with more viewers during a time that they need entertainment.

Home entertainment viewing here boomed during the lockdown so are you seeing higher than average VOD buy-rates on some titles?

We certainly are seeing people gravitate towards renting and buying films on VOD.

Among your recent acquisitions are Measure for Measure, which goes out on VOD on September 4, and H is for Happiness (September 18). Who do you see as their target markets?

Measure For Measure’s target audience is male-driven, highlighting the gangster aspect of the film. We will also expand to niche groups due to the Shakespeare connection and the forbidden romance story.

H is for Happiness’ main target is family. The film is enjoyable for all ages and is a great family movie. We will also target book lovers as the film is based on the book My Life as an Alphabet.

You launched Dirt Music on July 17, which I think was a multi-platform release. I know it’s early days but how is it tracking? I assume you saw the film at TIFF – what appealed to you?

I read Dirt Music years ago when Phillip Noyce was attached to direct it. It has always appealed to me as a story. Gregor Jordan has done an amazing job of bringing the story to the screen and the chemistry of Kelly Macdonald and Garrett Hedlund is amazing. We released the film in the US on digital and cable on-demand.

‘High Ground.’

Earlier this year you released Judy & Punch, Top End Wedding and Koko: A Red Dog Story. Happy with the results?

Very happy; however we don’t consider the initial release as the end of the road. We are still working on these pictures and bringing them to more audiences.

The discovery of films by audiences no longer happens in the first stages of release. There are so many ways that audiences are finding films on various platforms. We are making sure these films are front and centre and grabbing attention of audiences for years.

What is the criteria for determining whether a film goes straight to VOD or has a limited theatrical release?

Right now the theatres are closed so we don’t have a choice.

Do you track Australian projects while they are in development or rely on sales agents to pitch you?

We do both; we have relationships with a lot of filmmakers and producers who are constantly telling us what they are working on. We are also pitched by sales agents.

You keep tabs on production houses like Goalpost Pictures and Bunya Productions?

I’m not sure keeping tabs is the right phrase. We are going to be working on High Ground, our second film with David Jowsey and Greer Simpkin at Bunya. We had a really great experience with them on Sweet Country and we are very excited about High Ground, which we will launch in 2021 after the Australian release.

Goalpost has been a gold standard for a long time and we always pay attention to whatever they are working on.

Have you had to be more selective in your acquisitions given the pandemic’s impact on cinemas and global economies?

Our process hasn’t changed due to the pandemic. We continue to select films that we believe in and want to bring to the market.

The outlook for the cinema market in the US remains uncertain but do you expect the business will rebound in 2021?

People will always be watching films, it’s just about how. The most important thing for us is to get these films to audiences however they can best enjoy them.