‘The Convert’, ‘The Royal Hotel’, The New Boy’ selected for TIFF

Guy Pearce in 'The Convert' (Image courtesy of TIFF)

A trio of Australian films are bound for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF): NZ co-production The Convert, directed by Lee Tamahori, Kitty Green’s The Royal Hotel and Warwick Thornton’s The New Boy.

While the two set of strikes in the US hang over TIFF, it announced its first wave of titles today, including 60 films from 70 countries around the world.

The Convert, produced by Brouhaha Entertainment and Jump Film & Television, will make its world premiere in the festival’s special presentations strand.

The historical epic stars Guy Pearce as Thomas Munro, a newly arrived preacher in a colonial town in early 19th-century New Zealand who finds himself at the centre of a long-standing battle between two Māori tribes. The cast also includes Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne, Antonio te Maioha and Te Kohe Tuhaka.

The script was written by Shane Danielsen and Tamahori, after originating from a screen story by Michael Bennet. Producers include Robin Scholes and Te Kohe Tuhaka for Jump and Andrew Mason and Troy Lum for Brouhaha.

Both The Royal Hotel and The New Boy will screen as gala presentations.

‘The Royal Hotel’.

Julia Garner, Jessica Henwick, Hugo Weaving and Toby Wallace star in Green’s Kitty Green thriller, which sees Garner and Henwick play two best friends backpacking through the Australian outback.

After they run out of money, Liv (Henwick), looking for an adventure, convinces Hanna (Garner) to take a temporary live-in job behind the bar of a pub called ‘‘The Royal Hotel’ in a remote Outback mining town. Bar Owner Billy (Weaving) and a host of locals give the girls a riotous introduction to Down Under drinking culture but things turn nasty when their jokes and behaviour cross the line. Wallace plays a charming local who befriends Hanna and Liv.

The Royal Hotel is inspired by 2017 observational documentary Hotel Coolgardie from filmmaker Pete Gleeson, which followed two Finnish backpackers who worked behind the bar in the remote West Australian mining town of Coolgardie.

A See-Saw Films production, the film is produced by Emile Sherman, Iain Canning and Liz Watts with Scarlett Pictures’ Kath Shelper. Green co-wrote the script with Oscar Redding.

TIFF notes Green’s The Royal Hotel will mark the film’s Canadian premiere. This leads one to guess that its world premiere may be on the Lido, with Venice announcing its line-up this evening, Australian time, and that it may also screen in Telluride.

Thornton’s The New Boy, currently in cinemas in Australia, heads to Toronto after a Cannes Un Certain Regard berth in May.

Set in the 1940s, the film is led by newcomer Aswan Reid as a nine-year-old Aboriginal orphan boy who arrives in the dead of night at a remote monastery, run by a renegade nun, played by Cate Blanchett.

Deborah Mailman and Wayne Blair also star, alongside a host of other new faces in Shane Brady, Tyrique Brady, Laiken Woolmington, Kailem Miller, Kyle Miller, Tyzailin Roderick and Tyler Spencer.

Producers include Dirty Films’ Blanchett, Andrew Upton, and co-producer Georgie Pym, Shelper for Scarlett Pictures and Lorenzo De Maio of De Maio Entertainment. Coco Francini is the executive producer for Dirty Films alongside Packer of Longbridge Nominees.

Also selected for TIFF this year is Australian director Craig Gillespie’s US film Dumb Money, which hich stars Paul Dano, Pete Davidson, Shailene Woodley and Seth Rogen. It is based on the true story of the GameStop short squeeze.

Brouhaha’s Lum and Mason are also among the producers of Ellen Kuras’ Kate Winslet-starrer Lee, while John Collee is one of the writers along with Lem Dobbs and Liz Hannah.

Under the strike rules, members of SAG-AFTRA are barred from promoting struck projects by attending premieres or film festivals, conducting interviews, or via social media.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey said that name talent aligned with upcoming studio and streamer titles to screen will not attend, but added there was an argument to be made for SAG-AFTRA to offer waivers to talent looking to promote unaligned US indie titles in Toronto. He said for the latter it would likely be a “film-by-film, actor-by-actor decision”.

TIFF runs September 7–17.