Australian producer John Maynard of Arenafilm has long distributed his own films, first in New Zealand and then in Australia. Now, Maynard and business partner Robert Connolly are expanding their distribution outfit Footprint Films to acquire and release third-party titles.

“It moves us up the food chain and gets us away from being bottom feeders,” says Maynard of distributing his own films (his credits with Connolly include The Boys, The Bank and Romulus, My Father). “Distribution is the reason we make films and the foundation of our survival. It lets us participate directly in the cashflow.”

In August, Sydney-based Maynard and Melbourne-based Connolly release Balibo, directed by Connolly and starring Anthony LaPaglia as a journalist reporting on the bloody 1975 invasion of East Timor by Indonesia.

As is the usual pattern, Balibo was developed by Footprint Films and produced by Arenafilm. It is one of just four movies - all local - on the 2009 release schedule and the only one made by Arenafilm (another is Sarah Watt’s drama My Year Without Sex, which is produced by Bridget Ikin, Maynard’s partner).

“I sought two additional films because I wanted to do a year of distribution,” Maynard explains. “I had nothing in production (Balibo shot in 2008) and wanted to explore what it was like to distribute four films, to ramp it up a bit.”

The acquisitions were Warwick Thornton’s coming-of-age drama Samson & Delilah and Kriv Stenders’ period film Lucky Country.

All four films will receive platform releases, initially going out on 10-40 screens (Australia has 2,000 in total) with the hope audience response drives up the screen average and exhibitor interest. Platform releases are common for local films and Maynard and Connolly are renowned for the care they take with word-of-mouth screenings, marketing materials, publicity campaigns and online strategies.

“(The bigger distributors) depend on volume and hope to get three out of 10 to work,” says Maynard. “We depend on getting everything out of every film.”

The challenge was deciding which films to attach themselves to (“When in doubt, back talent”), not meeting the release costs. “We are paying for it with our own cashflow, loans, and through our deals,” says Maynard. “We have all rights but our partners share theatrical expenses because they know they will share the benefits.”

The physical distribution of Footprint’s titles is handled by Andrew Mackie and Richard Payton of Transmission Films, which is backed by Paramount Pictures Australia.

“It’s like getting the band back together,” says Maynard. He has worked with Mackie and Payton when they were previously at Globe, then Dendy and now Transmission. “Having Paramount on board is like having a great new drummer in the room.”

An increasing number of Australian producers are launching their own distribution outfits. Rosemary Blight has formed a joint venture with the UK’s Goalpost Film, Vincent Sheehan and Liz Watts have launched Jetty Films, while Heather Ogilvie, Miriam Stein and Anthony Anderson are behind the Galvanized Film Group.

“It is interesting to see more boutique-sized distributors taking our hand-crafted approach,” says Connolly. “I feel strongly it is healthy for film-makers to be involved.”