Antipodean films reflect Australian/NZ strengths

Separation CityAccording to Separation City director, Paul Middleditch, projects like his unofficial co-production show the synergy between the Australian and New Zealand film industries.

“Although it is very much a New Zealand story, with a multinational feel to it, it was always viewed as a trans-Tasman piece and we wanted to reflect aspects of both AUS/NZ industries,” Middeditch told Encore.

“I am an antipodean director, and it is great being able to draw on a pool of New Zealand, Australian and international crew and actors,” he added.

Wellington-born Middleditch has lived in Australia for almost two decades, working on both countries on TVCs and film.

Middleditch was recommended for the job by the New Zealand Film Commission, because the producers were looking for someone with experience in both drama and comedy. Separation City is his third feature, produced by Australian Mark Overett (Unfinished Sky), Angela Littlejohn and Tom Scott, who also wrote the script.

Separation City tells the story of a man going through a mid-life crisis, who risks his marriage when he surrenders to his attraction for a member of his social circle of married couples, a musician who has recently separated from her unfaithful husband. Middleditch describes the film as amusing, but also confronting when dealing with the sexual politics in long-term relationships.

The film was financed by the New Zealand Film Commission, German sales agent K5, the Dutch company New Holland Pictures, Hoyts and private investment from Australia.

The German component meant that the European location in the third act of the story changed from the Netherlands to Berlin and the incorporation of a German star to the cast, Thomas Kretschmann (The Pianist, King Kong).

The lead character Simon went to an Australian, Joel Edgerton, with Les Hill in another one of the major roles. They are joined by English actress Rhona Mitra and Alan Lovell as Simon’s boss Archie Boyle, the New Zealand Minister for the Environment. Behind the scenes, the cinematographer is also Australian: Steve Arnold.

“One of the real master strokes was that Mark (Overett) put together a pretty extraordinary co-production deal and managed to keep all the elements together, those that were relevant to both Australian and NZ audiences.

“It has been adopted in that way in NZ, where there is a real interest in antipodean filmmaking.”

Middleditch believes that there are two elements in which the New Zealand is stronger than its Australian counterpart: the people’s pride in the success of director Peter Jackson and the industry he has created in Wellington, and the appreciation of local films by local audiences.

In terms of work, says Middleditch, the TVC industry – “the backbone that keeps directors and crews working” – presents a “huge crossover” between Australia and New Zealand, a balance in that benefits practitioners from both countries. The film industry, however, is a different story.

“I do think there is more Australian involvement in the NZ industry than vice versa,” he said.

Middleditch believes it is important for Australian and New Zealand screen practitioners to work together, to generate a successful result.

“If you look back at Jane Campion, she worked in both NZ and Australia, and brought a European-funded film with a lot of Australia/NZ crew (The Piano), which was truly a joint production, not dissimilar to Separation City,” he said.

The director told Encore that Joel Edgerton has been working on a comedy for some time, and the two have discussed a possible collaboration on that project.

“I’d love to work with him as an actor/writer.

“I also know [Edgerton’s brother] Nash very well; he’s acted in a lot of commercials that I’ve directed. I love his film The Square, and I think they have their own genre of films that they love to make,” said Middleditch.

Separation City is distributed by Hoyts Distribution and is on limited release from March 4.


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