Wallis Cinemas launches initiative to help Aussie films

Sasha Close.

South Australian-based Wallis Cinemas is launching a program called Discover, primarily to support Australian films.

The initiative kicks off on August 23 with the openings of Jason Raftopoulos’ drama West of Sunshine and Lowest to Highest, a half-hour documentary about five friends with disabilities who undertake a human-powered 2,150km ride from Lake Eyre to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko, paired with another doc, Doing it Scared, which features one of the five.

The exhibitor is introducing the concept at its Mitcham cinema initially with a view to rolling it out across the circuit. The idea came from Wallis Cinemas programming manager Sasha Close after conversations she had with UK cinema operators and others at the CineEurope movie convention.

“Based on observations of the programming of cinema chains from my secondment overseas, undertaken with assistance of the Natalie Miller Fellowship, I saw an opportunity to develop a programming banner that supported the variety and diversity of Australian content at Wallis Cinemas,” she tells IF.

“Discover will schedule predominantly Australian content communicating a clear brand to audiences for discovering content and watching it in cinemas. This brand will allow filmmakers and distributors of Australian content the opportunity to secure a cinema release and audiences the opportunity to experience and view content.”

The sessions will vary for each film, with the first titles screening daily for two weeks. Close is on the look-out for more films, declaring: “I hope it will be an on-going program that supports Australian content and offers audience a choice to view films in a cinema setting.”

Damian Hill and his stepson Tyler Perham star in West of Sunshine, which premiered at the Melbourne International Film Festival. Hill plays a working-class Melbourne man who is forced to care for his son (Perham) while he has less than a day to repay a $15,000 debt to a vicious loan shark. The cast includes Kat Stewart, Tony Nikolakopoulos and Arthur Angel.

Produced by Catherine Pettman and directed by Matthew Newton, Lowest to Highest follows the arduous journey undertaken by the group including Walter Van Praag, who has 35 per cent lung function due to cystic fibrosis; Daniel Kojta, who is paraplegic and uses a hand-cycle; and Conrad Wansbrough, who has a debilitating spine injury.

Paul Pritchard, who has half a working body due to hemiplegia, got to the summit riding a custom-built tandem-recumbent-trike with Duncan Meerding, who has 5 per cent vision, although that didn’t stop him from pushing the trike along some of the steepest and roughest parts of the road.

The same team made Doing it Scared, which followed Pritchard as he climbed the Totem Pole in Tasmania – the very spot where a rock hit him on the head, leaving him with a severe head injury, 18 years earlier.

Paul Pritchard in ‘Doing it Scared.’

That 12-minute film has played at festivals and other events in 42 countries including China, where Banff China Co. Ltd licensed the theatrical and terrestrial rights, Pettman tells IF. She and Newton used crowd-funding to finance both projects. The two films premiered together a few months ago at the State Theatre in Hobart.

Pettman met Close at the Natalie Miller Fellowship conference and is thrilled her two films are launching the Discover program.