Venice prizes for two Oz films

Two Australian-produced films with very different takes on romance have won prizes at the Venice Film Festival and the parallel Venice Days.

Tanna, Bentley Dean and Martin Butler’s saga of forbidden love, was voted best film in the Critics Week section, where it also took the award for Dean’s cinematography.

Michael Rowe’s relationships drama Early Winter won the Venice Days Award, the top prize in Venice’s independently run section, given by a jury of 28 young European buffs, presided by French director Laurent Cantet.

The €20,000 ($A32,000) Venice Days award is shared by Rowe and the international distributor, Eric Lagesse’s Pyramide, who is selling the film at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Early Winter producer Trish Lake tells IF, “Eric is confident about some good sales to come on the strength of interest so far, heightened by the Venice Days win.  It is a much needed prize for anyone in the film industry as making small independent films is so financially challenging.”

The Montreal-set film stars Canadian Paul Doucet and Suzanne Clément in the tale of a family man who suspects his wife is having an affair; Rialto will release in Australia.

The Venice Days jury praised the lead performances, the “accomplished execution (and) the originality of the depiction of the ordinary life and a very confident mise-en-scène.”

Rowe is heading back to his home in Mexico where his film has been selected by the Morelia Film Festival and then to Montreal's Festival du Nouveau Cinema where it is in competition.

Lake hope to continue their collaboration on an Australian film. “It would be wonderful now he has completed his trilogy of Leap Year, The Well and Early Winter, to make a wholly Australian film with him at some time,” she said.

Tanna is set in the Vanuatu archipelago in the South Pacific, scripted by Dean, Butler and John Collee in collaboration with the people of Yakel.

The plot follows a young girl, Wawa, who falls in love with her chief’s grandson, Dain. When an inter-tribal war escalates, Wawa is unknowingly betrothed as part of a peace deal. The young lovers run away and are forced to choose between their hearts and the future of the tribe while the villagers wrestle with preserving their traditional culture.

The jury said, "The eye behind  Tanna captures the subtleties and complexities of a culture under threat and provides the audience with a clear vision of that world."

Variety critic Richard Kuipers observed, “Based on dramatic events that took place on the volcanic island of Tanna in 1987, the pic weaves fascinating details of tribal life into a universally accessible and emotionally affecting romantic drama. Very well performed by non-professionals drawn from communities whose history is represented on screen, Tanna marks a notable narrative debut for the experienced Aussie documaking duo of Bentley Dean and Martin Butler. Pic looks set for a lengthy fest run following its Venice world premiere, and has a shot at niche theatrical play in selected markets.”

The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney said, “This unique narrative debut from Australian documentary team Bentley Dean and Martin Butler is a soulful folktale encompassing both tragedy and hope. Told with captivating simplicity and yet richly cinematic, it combines ethnographic and spiritual elements in a haunting love story with classic undertones, affording a glimpse into a little-known culture.”

Visit Films is selling internationally. In Australia Contact Films is handling theatrical distribution in association with Bonsai Films and Umbrella Entertainment will release on DVD and VOD.