Audiences know Eric Bana as a Trojan prince, Mossad agent, time-traveling Chicago librarian, and an simply angered Berkeley scientist. But as his Hollywood profession took off, not often did they get to see the Melbourne native play an Australian.
By and enormous “there are just no Australian parts in any international films,” Bana stated in a video interview from his residence in Melbourne, including, “When you consider the impact that Australian actors have had internationally over the last 30 years, they must be pretty used to hearing our voices — because we’ve done a lot of talk shows.”
Even in Australia, audiences are inclined to flock to the newest imported Hollywood releases over movies made in and about their very own nation. But in February, for reportedly the first time within the nation’s box-office historical past, the highest three movies have been all Australian. Two of these — “The Dry,” starring and produced by Bana, and “High Ground,” with Simon Baker — are receiving American releases this month, whereas the Naomi Watts-led “Penguin Bloom” premiered globally on Netflix in January.
“It does feel significant that the stories are native to Australia and that they have Australian leads and that the characters are Australian,” Bana stated.
It’s been many years since “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” and “Muriel’s Wedding” had an analogous joint home theatrical coup in 1994, and even longer since “Crocodile Dundee” grew to become the nation’s largest business smash, a document it still holds.
“We have the double whammy. We get all the American content, plus we’ve got huge connections to the U.K., so we watch all the British stuff, too,” stated Graeme Mason, chief government of Screen Australia, the federal government company answerable for supporting native movie and tv manufacturing. “It puts a real strain on Australian stuff to cut through in cinemas.”
But then got here the pandemic. As Hollywood studios delayed a lot of their blockbusters, they left room for Australian productions to seize ticket gross sales in a rustic with relatively few coronavirus cases. Still, it wasn’t a given that audiences would present up.
Baker, the actor, who is predicated in New South Wales, believes “Australians have a little bit of a cultural cringe with seeing their own accent on the screen” and “an inferiority complex,” he stated. “People have said to me, ‘Oh, yeah, I saw this movie the other day. You should see it. I am going to warn you, though, it is Australian.’”
Additionally, Australia’s strict Covid-19 containment measures, which have included border closures, rolling lockdowns and widespread contact tracing, meant many residents have been hesitant to return to theaters regardless of the chance of neighborhood transmission being extraordinarily low in most areas. “We did need to remind them that they could go to the cinema and go safely,” Mason stated.
In the weeks main as much as the releases of “The Dry,” “High Ground,” “Penguin Bloom” and the Indigenous dance documentary “Firestarter: The Story of Bangarra,” Screen Australia and native distributors mounted a widespread campaign to encourage audiences to enterprise again to theaters and help Australian movies. Their efforts paid off.
“The Dry,” based mostly on the Australian writer Jane Harper’s best-selling 2017 novel a few Melbourne detective who returns to his small hometown within the aftermath of a grisly crime, has grossed greater than $16 million American on the nation’s field workplace following its January debut. That places it within the prime 15 highest-grossing Australian films of all time domestically.
Filming throughout greater than a dozen small cities within the state of Victoria in 2019, Bana and the director, Robert Connolly, labored intently with native communities to spotlight the realities of life in regional Australia, which was then grappling with a drought and historic bushfires. When the city inns ran out of rooms to accommodate crew members, residents welcomed them into their properties.
“I always felt like the only chance we had of reaching an American audience was by the film being successful in its homeland,” Bana stated. “And for it to work for Australians, it had to just be really true and authentic.”
Bruna Papandrea, whose Made Up Stories banner produced the diversifications of each “The Dry” and “Penguin Bloom,” stated there was no means “The Dry” might have been Americanized in the way in which the Australian writer Liane Moriarty’s “Big Little Lies” and “Nine Perfect Strangers” have been reset as collection, which she additionally produced.
“The landscape was such a massive character in ‘The Dry,’” she stated. “It’s not to say that couldn’t have been California, because I think California climate-wise does mimic Australia in so many ways. But it wasn’t a consideration for me to reset it. I didn’t even raise it.”
She hopes viewers of “The Dry” (in theaters and on demand) get a unique understanding of the nation. “Everyone thinks there are kangaroos running around in the streets here. Which, by the way, sometimes there are,” she stated. “But one of the reasons I really want ‘The Dry’ to work internationally is it breaks down that idea of what people perceive to be an Australian film.”
While the pandemic has seen a rash of abroad initiatives (and celebrities) arrive on Australia’s shores, like Marvel’s “Thor: Love and Thunder” and the forthcoming Julia Roberts-George Clooney rom-com “Ticket to Paradise,” many are set elsewhere and star non-Australians.
Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis Presley biopic, which co-stars Tom Hanks, wrapped manufacturing earlier this 12 months in Queensland. That movie, like previous regionally shot hits “Moulin Rouge,” “The Great Gatsby” and “Babe,” is technically thought of “Australian” as a result of it options Australians in prime inventive roles, Mason stated — regardless that audiences won’t see an apparent connection onscreen. Meanwhile, George Miller’s “Mad Max” prequel, “Furiosa,” will begin production in New South Wales in June. The state premier, Gladys Berejiklian, touted it as “the biggest ever film to be made in Australia” in a tweet, saying it could help greater than 850 native jobs and produce the equal of greater than $272 million U.S. to the economic system.
“I’m not telling a painter what they should paint on the canvas,” Mason stated. “But we would like the majority of the slate to reflect Australians back to themselves and out to the world.”
Both “Furiosa” and the Elvis movie certified for the federal government’s Producer Offset, which offers a 40 p.c tax rebate for movies that meet sure criteria, together with capturing location, filmmaker nationality or subject material. Movies like “The Dry” and “High Ground’‘ were also dependent on that offset, and a motion to reduce the rebate to 30 percent earlier this year was met with swift backlash.
“‘The Dry’ would not have been made without that extra 10 percent,” Papandrea stated. “We put every cent we had into it. There are a lot of forces that have come into play to hopefully make this a monumental moment for Australian cinema and show the importance of maintaining our own stories.”
Baker has additionally been intent on placing the highlight again on these Australian tales. After spending greater than twenty years within the United States, starring in “The Mentalist” on TV and showing in “The Devil Wears Prada” and different movies, he moved again to Australia 5 years in the past. He has largely shifted his focus to native initiatives, together with “High Ground” (accessible on demand).
Filmed within the nation’s Northern Territory in collaboration with First Nations communities, the fictionalized story paints a harrowing image of the real-life massacres of Indigenous folks by white settlers and policemen within the early 1900s. The director Stephen Johnson has said it took greater than 20 years to get “High Ground” made, partially due to its subject material.
Baker stated there’s a hesitancy about seeing Indigenous historical past onscreen that comes from the “shame” white Australians really feel over colonial atrocities. And following the movie’s January theatrical launch domestically, some viewers have been incredulous that the grotesque occasions might be based mostly in actuality, stated Witiyana Marika, a pacesetter of the Rirratjingu individuals who produced and co-stars.
“There was lots of confronting and questioning and saying, ‘Is this true? Is this what happened here in Australia?’” Marika stated. “People thought it didn’t happen in their own backyard.”
That disbelief underscores the significance of placing an array of Australian tales onscreen. Asian-Australian actors, for example, are vastly underrepresented, and performers like Chris Pang (“Crazy Rich Asians”) have been outspoken in regards to the lack of alternatives, which has pushed them to pursue careers abroad as a substitute.
Baker helps the Make It Australian campaign, which is urging the federal government to require streaming companies like Netflix and Amazon Prime to decide to spending no less than 20 p.c of their native income on unique Australian content material.
“We are a storytelling nation,” Baker stated. “That’s in the DNA of this place long before the English landed on the shore. I think we can strike a balance where we can try to stimulate the economy with overseas production coming in, but also protect local content, protect the cultural significance of local stories.”
Still, the character of the Australian movie business is more likely to shift once more post-pandemic. Bana predicted “an exodus” of worldwide expertise again to Los Angeles, whereas Mason acknowledged that it was unlikely that Australian films would usually take over the field workplace.
“I’m not foolish,” Mason stated. “When Marvel and James Bond start coming back, they will still be the big popcorn moments. But I think this is a moment to remind us that we can make great stories that Australians want to see and the world wants to see. We need to make more of those.”