Although he began producing features only three years ago, Kent Smith can bring more to a co-production deal than most Australian producers. He and his colleagues own the Adelaide-based Kojo Group, which includes post-production and other film services as well as a theatrical distribution division. Smith signed on as a producer on Murali K Thalluri's 2:37 after seeing potential in the early rushes. His instincts were right: it premiered in Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2006.
He also co-produced James Bogle's Closed For Winter, with producer Ben Grant of Goalpost Pictures Australia, which has just premiered at the Adelaide Film Festival (AFF). Another planned venture with Goalpost is director Jim Lounsbury's Draftin', about two young men trying to dodge the Vietnam war draft.
'We have a love of film, it's what we all wanted to do, and we have a lot to offer,' says Smith of the 20-year-old company's move into feature production and distribution. He says it was doing post and visual effects for Scott Hicks (Shine, No Reservations) that inspired him to spearhead Kojo's expansion.
The company's third film to date, Dean O'Flaherty's Beautiful, also premiered at the AFF prior to its March 5 release in Australia. The suburban drama was Smith's first as sole producer but he says working alone is unlikely to become the norm.
'The secret for us is forming alliances with other producers and teams. It is the only way we will cope with working on so many films,' he says.
Kojo Pictures has bought local rights to 30 films, mostly for television and DVD. The first of four released theatrically was 2007 Palme d'Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days. '[Acquiring] the film immediately gave us runs on the board as a serious distributor,' says Smith. 'You can be brushed off as a small distributor unless you can throw big money at films.'
But the arthouse market has contracted and the intention is to be more selective in future, he says. Cast-driven films, such as recent pick-up Savage Grace with Julianne Moore, will continue to appeal. 'We will also concentrate more on the distribution of films that we've been involved with (in production),' says Smith. But he is open on the issue of whether Kojo takes local rights on joint ventures - and on whether its facilities are used.
Kojo is involved in a variety of ways on writer-director Belinda Chayko's Lou, about a man's descent into dementia, starring John Hurt, which has had finance from Screen Australia; writer-director Craig Lahiff's drama Swerve, being produced by Helen Leake; and A Tree, Falling, an adaptation of a stage play to be directed by Dave Letch.
Smith is keen to work with international producers and is confident the 40% tax rebate for official Australian co-productions and 15% rebate for filming and post-production on big-budget international films make Kojo an attractive partner. He has also signed a three-picture deal for thriller/horror films to be directed by US-based Australian production designer John Mott and produced with US-based Robert Engleman.