Bonanza of $54m boosts Australian movies

THE COURIER MAIL – by Sandy George

TONI Collette and model-turned-actor Gemma Ward are to star in a new Australian film, one of five that have secured funding this week.

The fifth film is the thriller Acolytes…

Others include Australia’s first co-production with China and a big-budget vampire movie.

Collette will play the heavily pregnant mother of two boys, one of whom is autistic, in coming-of-age film The Black Balloon.

It is the first time Ward has been cast in an Australian feature film: she plays the gawky schoolgirl fancied by the younger brother.

The story draws on the family of debut director Elissa Down, who is working with producer Tristram Miall, of Strictly Ballroom fame.

All five films, together worth $54 million, received the thumbs-up this week from Film Finance Corporation Australia.

The Black Balloon is being co-financed Mel Gibson’s film company, Icon. It understood to be the biggest financial commitment Icon has made to an Australian movie.

Roger Spottiswoode, who made the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, is directing the Australia-China-Germany co-production The Children of Huang Shi.

The film is about a British journalist and an Australian nurse who save a group of orphans during Japan’s 1937 invasion of China.

Filming begins in November. It will be shot in China and Melbourne. Post-production will take place in Australia and Germany.

Producer Jonathan Shteinman believes the film will open the door to other film collaborations with China.

Daybreakers, the second film from Brisbane twins Michael and Peter Spierig, has also received backing.

Several years ago, the brothers sold their car and, while living with their parents, concentrated all their money and effort on the horror film Undead.

It won acclaim and sold to the US film company Lions Gate, which is providing substantial finance for their new film.

September, to be directed by Peter Carstairs, is the first feature financed under an initiative developed by the Sydney-based short-film juggernaut Tropfest. Tropfest founder John Polson is one of the producers.

It is about the friendship between two 15-year-olds – one white and one black – in Australia’s wheatbelt in the late 1960s.

The fifth film is the thriller Acolytes, directed by Jon Hewitt.