Many of Australia's most promising directors do not get enough opportunity to practise their craft on the big screen unless they head for Hollywood, as Andrew Dominik (Chopper, The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford) and Rowan Woods (The Boys, Little Fish, Winged Creatures) have both recently done. There is high demand for the limited money available for feature production and Australia has had a tendency to worship the latest bright young thing.
But this might be about to change as 2009 will see the first of a new wave of work from highly trained debut directors, including Richard Frankland with the road movie To Hell And Back and Warwick Thornton with his teenage love story Samson & Delilah.
There has been an extraordinary amount of time and effort put into giving a voice to indigenous Australian film-makers. One of the driving forces has been Rachel Perkins, whose credits include Radiance and One Night The Moon. An indigenous Australian herself, Perkins is now shooting the Aboriginal musical Bran Nue Dae in Broome, on the north-west edge of the continent.
This new generation of film-making talent is acutely aware of the need to be bold within severe budget restrictions, and of the intensely competitive environment they are working in. They are finding stories that are more high-concept and rise above the everyday, recognising audience attention as a key measure of success. As director Sean Byrne says: "You don't see Australian film trailers on the television every 10 minutes."
Katrina Sedgwick, director of the Adelaide Film Festival points out: "Broad audiences come down to the calibre of the idea and the people executing it. That can be done on big budgets or on the smell of an oily rag."
Sedgwick is programming around five world premieres of Australian films at the festival in February thanks to a small but effective film fund. The Melbourne Film Festival has also launched a similar fund to back local production.
Maeve Dermody appeared in her mother Susan Dermody's film Breathing Under Water aged five, although her interest in acting was sparked properly while acting in school plays. She now has a few roles under her belt. "She definitely has that X factor, that unknown quality that stars need," says Andrew Traucki, who directed her last year in the crocodile chiller Black Water. "If you tell her what you want and give her the time and space she will give you something new, original and effective." She will next be seen on the big screen in Rachel Ward's Beautiful Kate.
Contact: Shanahan Management, (61) 2 8202 1800
There is a buzz around Firass Dirani, an Australian of Lebanese descent. David Field, the renowned actor and acting coach whose credits include Chopper, is impressed with him and cast him in a lead role in his directorial debut The Combination, now in post-production. Dirani has worked on a lot of television - including the lead in US series Power Rangers: Mystic Force - and at least one casting consultant believes "2009 will be his year".
Contact: Marque Management, (61) 2 9368 7477
Sebastian Gregory has significant roles in three new features: Jon Hewitt's edgy thriller Acolytes, Dean O'Flaherty's sexy suburban drama Beautiful and Andrew Lancaster's Accidents Happen. "He is like a lot of actors out of Melbourne, he's a real Tobey Maguire, whereas from Sydney they're all like Josh Harnett," is how one casting director puts it. Gregory's agent, John Powell, says: "No! He's a young Michael Hutchence. He's a rock 'n' roller. Go on YouTube and see him in his band Menace. He's the drummer and he's belting those skins."
Contact: Active Casting, (61) 3 9521 2662
When Rachel Ward was looking for a child-woman for the title role of her feature directorial debut, Beautiful Kate, the moment she auditioned Sophie Lowe, she knew she had found her. "Sophie had a charm and was very engaging and her delivery was very instinctively natural," says Ward. "She was also magical looking, very ethereal. And had not been trained, which I like." In fact, Lowe was still at school. Since Beautiful Kate, Ana Kokkinos has cast her in her latest feature Blessed, a multi-narrative drama now in production in Melbourne.
Contact: Matrics Management, (61) 404 294 633
SEAN BYRNE, writer-director
"My mantra is if you don't care, you don't scare," says Sean Byrne, who started filming his horror debut, The Loved Ones, this month for Arclight. He describes it as a drama in a horrific situation, not horror. The story, about what happens when a girl doesn't get what she wants, won the What If' script award for best unproduced screenplay. Byrne describes himself as a daydreamer with a vivid imagination; others say they have never seen such detailed preparation. Byrne is a graduate of the Australian Film, Television and Radio School's directing course and the Melbourne International Film Festival's accelerator programme. His short, Advantage, played at Sundance this year.
Contact: The Cameron Creswell Agency, (61) 2 9319 7199
CLAIRE MCCARTHY, writer-director
Claire McCarthy is in Calcutta, preparing to shoot The Waiting City, about a middle-class couple travelling to India to adopt a child. The cast is headed by Radha Mitchell, Joel Edgerton, and newcomer Isabel Lucas. The film is in the same "semi-verite" style as her feature Cross Life, which was made on a shoestring budget with unemployed young people in Sydney's red-light district. "I'm attracted to complex, poetic, psychological drama with universal, humanist themes," says McCarthy, who has been making shorts and documentaries for over a decade. "She's the real deal," says Troy Lum from distributor Hopscotch, which has pre-bought The Waiting City. Contact: Chris Chamberlain, PR, (61) 404 075 749
LEON FORD, writer-director
Actor-turned-director Leon Ford describes his film-making style as "a bit off-centre". His planned low-budget feature directorial debut is called Griff The Invisible. It has been described as Spider-Man meets Lars And The Real Girl but Ford says it is more Batman meets Malcolm. Either way, it stars a superhero and is comic. Ford is now trying to raise the financing through Everyday Pictures, the company he set up with Nicole O'Donohue. Ford is working on three film scripts and a "boy lit" novel titled What Doesn't Kill You. His short, The Mechanicals, played at Venice in 2005 and the half-hour Katoomba screened at this year's Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival.
Contact: Shanahan Management, (61) 2 8202 1800
PETER TEMPLEMAN, writer-director
Perth-based Peter Templeman loves "painful humour" and aspires to the career of Charlie Kaufman. He directs television drama and has won awards for shorts including the Oscar-nominated The Saviour. His feature projects include Karma, about how everyday mishaps turn out to be the work of an underground revenge management company; and The 20-Something Survival Guide, a comedy drama about a man with testicular cancer who sets out to find someone to procreate with. A physiotherapy and directing graduate and one-time musician and actor, Templeman has already signed to RGM Associates.
Contact: RGM Associates, (61) 2 9281 3911.