August 2, 2013
The way Robert Connolly has chosen to distribute the film of Tim Winton’s The Turning is only marginally less off the wall than the way it was made.
As one of the most anticipated local films of the year, it’s no surprise both screenings of Tim Winton’s The Turning at the Melbourne Film Festival are sold out. Less expected is that when the film is released nationally on September 26, tickets may still be hard to come by.
That’s because producer-director Robert Connolly and distributor Madman are taking the unusual approach of releasing the film in select cinemas for just one session a day (plus a few matinees) for a set run of two weeks.
”We want to make this a real event, a great night out,” says Connolly, who promises the three-hour movie will come with an intermission, a 40-page colour printed program and, where possible, live appearances by some of the cast and crew (it will also come with a $25 ticket price).
If the demand is there it may run longer, minus the bells and whistles, but it is, Connolly admits, ”so far out there” as an exhibition plan. Then again, the film itself is far enough out there that it practically demands special treatment.
Based on Tim Winton’s best-selling book of short stories, the movie Connolly and Maggie Miles have produced has 17 directors and an enviable A-list of Australian actors (Rose Byrne, Cate Blanchett, Richard Roxburgh, Miranda Otto and Hugo Weaving among them).
Each director tackles a chapter of Winton’s book, but not all of them retell the story therein, at least not in straight narrative terms. There is an animation in sand; a live-action triptych film by Oscar-nominated animator Anthony Lucas; a piece told entirely through dance; and the directorial debuts of actors David Wenham and Mia Wasikowska, video artist Shaun Gladwell and Bangarra choreographer Stephen Page.
”It’s like wandering into a gallery and seeing different artworks from different artists that you wander amongst, under a curated brief,” says Connolly, who directs one segment himself, with Callan Mulvey – who played Mark Moran in the first series of Underbelly and the US special ops soldier who shot Osama Bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty – in the lead. ”I originally thought we might try to film maybe 10 of the stories but then the ambition just grew and grew. It evolved over time into this epic.”
The directors worked in self-contained ”creative bubbles”, Connolly says, though he did act as a kind of spirit guide to some of the less experienced when needed. ”I was very concerned that I didn’t create a homogenised form. People won’t be coming along to see my version of it; they’ll see 17 different storytellers responding in their own unique way.”
He raised the finance for the film – less than $5 million is all he will reveal on that score – with no cast, only directors, attached. ”That’s incredibly unusual,” he says. ”My pitch was ‘come on this journey with us and see what happens’.”
It can’t have hurt having Wasikowska attached, given the 23-year-old actor is a hot property in Hollywood as well as at home.
”Oh definitely,” he admits. ”But Mia is going to be a real director; she’s got a rigorous intellect and she’s done an extraordinary piece. Let’s say it was a pragmatic choice but it wasn’t a cynical one.”
Whether audiences agree will soon be clear, but Connolly can at least take heart that he has one big tick of approval under his belt already. He showed the film to Winton two weeks ago, and got the big thumbs up.
”You feel an incredible sense of responsibility when you adapt a work,” says Connolly. ”He liberated us from that. He said: ‘Go for it. It’s a bold and crazy idea – let’s see what happens.”’