US deal and rave reviews in Berlin for Stephen Johnson’s ‘High Ground’

Jacob Junior Nayinggul and Simon Baker at the Berlin premiere.

The Samuel Goldwyn Co. has nabbed US rights to Stephen Johnson’s Western High Ground which received rave reviews after the world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival.

The deal continues Goldwyn’s relationship with Bunya Productions’ David Jowsey and Greer Simpkin after the distributor released Warwick Thornton’s Sweet Country in 2018.

Last year Goldwyn acquired Wayne Blair’s Top End Wedding, which premiered on VOD on February 21, Mirrah Foulkes’ Judy and Punch, which will get a limited theatrical release on April 24, and Koko: A Red Dog Story, the third edition of the franchise written and directed by Aaron McCann and Dominic Pearce,

Bunya produced High Ground with Maggie Miles, Johnson and Yothu Yindi co-founder Witiyana Marika, scripted by Chris Anastassiades.

The US deal was brokered by Samuel Goldwyn’s CEO Peter Goldwyn and Nicolas Brigaud-Robert, CEO of the international sales agent Playtime.

Among the first reviews, the Hollywood Reporter’s Stephen Dalton hailed a “gripping, visually spectacular revenge thriller that makes superb use of stunning landscapes while also addressing the lingering scars of colonial-era racism.”

Dalton said Johnson’s second feature following Yolngu Boy is a “visually ravishing and commendably nuanced frontier saga with a timely anti-racist message”, with a high technical polish and potentially broad audience appeal.

Variety’s Guy Lodge lauded a “sinewy, sun-baked face-off between Indigenous and invading armies in the Arnhem Land wilderness” and predicted it will play universally.

Simon Baker stars as Travis, a policeman and former WW1 soldier who loses control of an operation, resulting in the massacre of an Indigenous tribe.

While his superiors decide to bury the truth, Travis quits in disgust, only to be forced back 12 years later as a bounty hunter to hunt down Baywara, an Aboriginal warrior whose attacks on new settlers are causing havoc.

Travis recruits as his tracker the young mission-raised Gutjuk (Jacob Junior Nayinggul), the only known survivor of the carnage.

Jack Thompson is Moran, the head of the police outpost, with Callan Mulvey as Ambrose, a police officer who fought with Travis in WW1, and Aaron Pedersen as a lethal black tracker from Queensland.

The cast also includes Caren Pistorious as Claire, the mission manager and teacher, Ryan Corr as Braddock, a priest who is Claire’s brother, John Brumpton, David Field and Andy McPhee.

Madman Entertainment will distribute the film co-funded by Screen Australia, Maxo Studios, Screen Territory, Film Victoria, Bunya Productions and Savage Films.