Films from the Land Down Under

By Nickie Wang

There have been debates whether the Australian film industry still needs the control and support of the government or not. The cinema of Australia can thrive without any assistance and the industry can do more in terms of global competitiveness if it is not controlled by the government’s funding body, Screen Australia.

Elisa Down

The Black Balloon director Elissa Down

The films from Down Under have done more in making people around the world become aware of the country, thanks mainly to the success of actors like Nicole Kidman, Mel Gibson, Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, Eric Bana, Geoffrey Rush, Guy Pearce, Naomi Watts and Cate Blanchett who have become synonymous to modern filmmaking.

Australia’s world-class facilities, state-of-the art digital and visual effects production services, acclaimed cast and crew and spectacular locations also make it a sought-after location for foreign films including Superman Returns, Matrix Trilogy, Charlotte’s Web, Ghost Rider and The Ruins. It is, of course, something that our local cinema lacks.

This month, six critically-acclaimed films from Australia are going the rounds of cinemas in Manila and Cebu as the Australian Embassy presents the 7th Australian Film Festival. It runs until Nov. 14, and the last leg is the Ayala Centre Cebu.

“The embassy is pleased to continue its tradition of providing Filipino moviegoers the opportunity to experience Australian film excellence and learn more about Australian popular culture, history and contemporary values,” Australian ambassador to the Philippines Rod Smith said at the opening of the festival.

The festival is opened by visiting Australian director Elissa Down with the premiere of her film The Black Balloon. The Los Angeles-based director arrived in Manila for the screening of the film and to conduct master classes at the University of the Philippines Film Institute and Mowelfund Institute.

“Down’s visit will further strengthen ties between the Australian and Filipino film industries which have developed through the film festival and Cinemanila during the past few years, through workshops for student film producers and directors conducted by visiting Australian actors and directors,” Ambassador Smith said.

gemma ward and rhys wakefield

The Black Balloon, starring Academy Award-nominated and Emmy Award-winning actress Toni Collette (Sixth Sense, About A Boy), follows the story of 15-year-old Thomas (Rhys Wakefield) who tries to fit in his new life as his family moves to a new home while taking care of his autistic older brother Charlie (Luke Ford, The Mummy-Tomb of the Dragon Emperor) and nurturing a budding romance with new girlfriend Jackie (Australian supermodel and actress Gemma Ward). Charlie takes Thomas on an emotional journey in a story that is funny, confronting and ultimately heart-warming.

“This film is about unconditional love. It’s a dramady [drama-comedy] inspired from the story of my own family,” Down told Standard Today. “I’ve got two brothers who have autism so if you could imagine, growing up with them was a little crazy. Making this movie was really a therapy on my part.”

Down, who also co-wrote and co-produced The Black Balloon, said that the film was awarded by the prestigious Berlin International Film Festival Crystal Bear for Best Feature-Length film last year. Back in her hometown, it received the Australian Film Institute awards for Best Direction, Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Film, Best Screenplay, and Best Editing.

“It won numerous awards abroad and it’s inspiring in a way that it motivates me to write stories and make more films that talk about families, real people. The Black Balloon, as I’ve said, talks about love that knows no limit and everyone can relate most especially to the lead character,” the director said.

Also featured in this year’s festival are Unfinished Sky, a romantic drama about the nature of loss and the language of love; The Bank, a political thriller set in the world of high finance; the romantic comedy Danny Deckchair; Garage Days, a story about a teenager’s dream to be a rock star; and The Hard Word starring Guy Pearce (Memento, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, LA Confidential) and Golden Globe winner Rachel Griffiths (Six Feet Under, Brothers and Sisters).

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