Mao dances its way into the US

Mao's Last DancerThe highest grossing Australian film of 2009, Mao’s Last Dancer, has finally secured a release in the United States, through independent distributor Samuel Goldwyn Films.

“The team in the US wanted to know all about the strategy releasing the film in Australia and how the film attracted both art house and mainstream audiences with an extraordinarily broad age range,” producer Jane Scott told Encore.

The deal follows sales to New Zealand – where it is currently screening, with a NZ$1.15m box office result to date -, Singapore, Canada, Greece, Portugal, Scandinavia, Germany, Japan, Latin America, South Africa, Israel, Middle East, Switzerland, Korea and the former Yugoslavia.

Although Bruce Beresford’s film about the life of Chinese-born, Melbourne-based dancer Li Cunxin is a crowd-pleaser that made $15.4m in Australia – via a Roadshow/Hopscotch partnership – and was runner up for the Audience Award at last year’s Toronto Film Festival (second to the Oscar-nominated Precious), it had not been picked up by an American distributor until yesterday.

Scott says the worldwide economic crisis changed the landscape for international film sales, “particularly those previously impetuous and often injudicious decisions made by distributors buying films in a frenzy” that resulted in expensive mistakes.

“Nowadays there’s much more caution and it’s a good thing.   There’s now more time to work out what sort of relationship a producer can have with the distributor.  And that’s what I’ve been able to do with Mao’s Last Dancer,” said Scott.

It will now be handled by specialist company Samuel Goldwyn Films, which has released critically-acclaimed titles such as The Squid and the Whale, Super Size Me, 2 Days in Paris and Elegy. CEO Sam Goldwyn Jr. said in a press release that Mao’s Last Dancer “is a hauntingly beautiful film with universal appeal” and that he’s been thinking about it nonstop since Toronto.

“There were a number of other US distributors interested and at first it was a difficult choice,” explained Scott. ” I knew it was important to have a distributor who not only loved the film but welcomed a collaborative relationship with the producer.”

This collaborative relationship will continue for the US release strategy for the film, which Scott believes will benefit from the raising popularity of dance on screen.

“The huge resurgence in dance-themed films and television programs can only help raise audience interest and enthusiasm for more and different dance experiences.   The great advantage is that Mao’s Last Dancer is unique in the way dance is integrated into its emotionally charged storyline.  But we will still be incredibly attentive throughout the US campaign as we were in Australia,” she explained.

The film is set largely in the US and features one American star, Kyle MacLachlan (Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet, Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives), which might prove an advantage at the box office. But above any other elements, Scott believes the film’s best asset is its story.

“It resonated strongly with Australian audiences and I hope and trust will do so around the world.

“I believe we have grown up beyond the cringing fear that we can’t make home-grown films for the world unless they have a non-Australian setting.  What we producers have to do is make films that people want to see.   If it is a film with a bigger budget then it has to succeed internationally and that is my responsibility to investors,” Scott said.

Mao’s Last Dancer will be released in Canada in May and in the US on August 6.


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