A grey-haired Jewish widow, Ullah (Julia Blake), buys her bread in one of Melbourne’s Kosher delis. Suddenly there are sirens ringing out and the shops are quickly emptied. Ullah hurries home, only to be accosted on her doorstep by a fleeing man, a Palestinian radical, Mohammed (Firass Dirani), who takes her hostage in her own home as he hides out from the police after the bombing of a nearby synagogue. So begins a tense hostage drama where politics is personal. Looking each other directly in the eye, the elderly holocaust survivor and the young dispossessed Palestinian begin to see their own struggles and sorrows reflected.
Directed by David Pulbrook, who co-wrote the script with Terence Hammond, Last Dance is an elegant piece of filmmaking. Nicely shot within its confined spaces, tightly scripted and beautifully acted by its two leads, who appear in almost every scene, it’s a classic example of how to make a low-budget set-up of ‘two people in a room’ work as a visually interesting and dramatically exciting film. Last Dance is premiering at the 2012 Melbourne International Film Festival to fast-selling screenings, and a cinema release is scheduled for late September.
Some may find it surprising to see Antony I. Ginnane’s name in the credits as producer of Last Dance. Thanks perhaps to Mark Hartley’s documentary Not Quite Hollywood, Ginnane is better known for his work in the ‘Ozploitation’ genre – films like Patrick (1977), Turkey Shoot (1982) Arctic Blast (2010) and a host of telemovies. But a look through Ginnane’s packed CV also reveals titles like Gillian Armstrong’s High Tide (1987), The Lighthorsemen (1987 ) and Grievous Bodily Harm (1988).
A controversial and colourful industry veteran, Ginnane is hard to categorise. He has produced more than 60 feature films, ‘movies of the week’ and miniseries over his 40-year career, and distributed numerous others through his distribution company, IFM World Releasing. Having spent many years living and working in the U.S., many of Ginnane’s projects sport a decidedly international B-movie flavour. As President of SPAA (the Screen Producers Association of Australia) from 2008 to 2011, Ginnane was well known for his outspoken views on Australian films and the need for more hits at the box office. At the same time, he championed funding mechanisms for low-budget filmmakers and talked about the the need for Screen Australia to fund films justifiable purely on their cultural merit.
Antony I. Ginnane is now an Honorary Councillor in the producers chapter of the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA). Here he answers our questions about Last Dance, revealing why such a stylish and humanistic thriller actually fits perfectly within his body of work. Ginane also gives advice for new producers, as well as talking about his hopes for the new Australian Academy. And in a special treat for horror fans, he gives us the latest on the much-anticipated horror remake of Patrick.
AFI | AACTA: When did you become involved as producer of Last Dance, and what attracted you to it as a project?
Antony I. Ginnane: David Pulbrook, whom I have known for many years, showed me the script about two and a half years ago. I met with co-writer Terence Hammond. I was instantly attracted to the script and its potential.
AFI | AACTA: Is this film significantly different or unique to any of the other projects you’ve been involved with in your 40 years in the industry?
Antony Ginnane: Many of the films I have produced over the years have been thrillers and I very much enjoy the genre. The director and screenwriter are first timers and I have worked with many [first timers] over the years, including Simon Wincer, Rod Hardy, Bill Condon, Andrew Prowse and Colin Eggleston. It was a low budget project in Australian commercial film industry terms [less than $2 million] – but I have worked in low budget many times, so probably no, [not significantly different] – other than [the fact] that every film is a unique and special experience.
AFI | AACTA: As a producer, were you involved in the creative aspects of the film like script and casting, or primarily in the financing?
Antony I. Ginnane: On Last Dance I was very involved in the casting and creative aspects in pre and post production but I had a huge level of confidence in David and his preparation and a belief (well founded, as it turned out) that things would go smoothly on the set, and so I was not on set all that much, although David and I talked of course about the dailies.
AFI | AACTA: Can you talk about putting together the financing of the film – the involvement of the MIFF Premiere Fund, Screen Australia, Film Victoria? Was it a challenge to raise this?
Antony I. Ginnane: I only get involved with films where I can see how they can be potentially financed from the outset. Not that they will be financed necessarily, because luck and serendipity always play a role. On Last Dance it was clear that with a commitment from Screen Australia, Film Victoria, MIFF Premiere Fund, the Australian distributors (Becker Film Group) and the international distributors (Highpoint Media Group), plus some private investment and the offset, we could make the finance happen.
Nothing is ever easy – but this one was comparatively easy to close – although we had a hair-raising week when the MEAA [Media Entertainment Arts Alliance] refused to approve an original casting choice and we had to recast. At that point the continued support of the agencies and our investors was key. [High profile American actress Gena Rowlands was originally cast to play the role eventually filled by the respected and AFI Award-winning Australian film and theatre actress Julia Blake. You can read more about the MEAA dispute here at Screenhub.]
AFI | AACTA: Last Dance could be seen as a fine example of the classic ‘two people in a room’ low budget drama – with the capacity to entertain and thrill but with little need for expensive production elements. What are the risks and challenges of this kind of filmmaking?
Antony I. Ginnane: It’s well known I’m a huge fan of Hitchcock. So the ‘two in a room’ reminded me of Lifeboat and Rope and the technical challenges that Hitchcock worked through. David Pulbrook’s career as an editor made me confident he could handle that challenge and he did. His camera work reminds me of Preminger or Eastwood and brings a real sense of tension to every moment. That combined with Michael Allen’s score and the cutting style keep you riveted.
AFI | AACTA: What are you plans for releasing the film here in Australia and also abroad? Do you have cinemas and dates to announce yet? Are there any particular strategies in place for promoting awareness of the film?
Antony I. Ginnane: Becker Film Group will release the film in late September just after the Jewish holidays on a platform release initially in Melbourne and Sydney. Internationally, Highpoint are targeting other film festivals (to follow MIFF) and are waiting till the Australian reviews and box office are in to push further into foreign [markets]. It’s set in Melbourne – but the themes are universal.
AFI | AACTA: As an Honorary Councillor in the producers chapter of AACTA, what are your hopes for the new Australian Academy?
Antony I. Ginnane: I hope the new Academy forms part of a necessary refocus and rejuvenation of Australian feature filmmaker’s engagement with the audience and vice versa so that our share of the theatrical Australian box office can get closer to 10 per cent, as it should be. Upcoming titles like The Sapphires, Bait, Mental and The Great Gatsby give some level of optimism.
AFI | AACTA: As a producer who has been nominated for AFI Awards, and been involved with many wins, what is the key significance and benefit of the Awards process – and indeed of winning an AFI or AACTA Award?
Antony I. Ginnane: Some films are helped by awards critical recognition more than others. Smaller titles going out through Palace, Nova, Dendy etc. benefit particularly if there is a relevant time connection between the theatrical or DVD release date. In addition the Awards validate and focus attention on the filmmakers and their work and that is important.
AFI | AACTA: If you had to give one piece of advice to a young up-and-coming Australian producer, what would it be?
Antony I. Ginnane: You need to be able to handle rejection; believe in yourself and yet be realistic about financing and market realities.
AFI | AACTA: If you had to sum up one aspect of your career that you’re most proud of, what would it be?
Antony I. Ginnane: There is no one moment. Forty years and 62 films have meant every single day I have been engaged with an art form and business that gives me emotional and intellectual stimulation, satisfaction and joy.
AFI | AACTA: Finally, can you tell us how things are progressing with the Patrick remake? There is certainly a lot of interest in this project from the horror fans!
Antony I. Ginnane: Patrick starts shooting in Melbourne on November 12, 2012, with Rachel Griffiths, Sharni Vinson and Charles Dance starring and Mark Hartley directing from a screenplay by Justin King. It world premieres at MIFF 2013 and opens in Australia October 20, 2013 – just in time for Halloween.
AFI | AACTA: Thanks for your time and best wishes with the release of Last Dance.
Tickets to sessions of Last Dance at the Melboourne International Film Festival can be booked here.
Last Dance – Fast Facts
Director: David Pulbrook
Writers: Terence Hammond and David Pulbrook
Producer: Antony I. Ginnane
Executive Producers: William Fayman, Ann Lyons, Peter deRauch
Associate Producer: Margot McDonald
Australian Distributor: Becker Film Group Pty. Ltd.
Key Cast: Julia Blake, Firass Dirani, Alan Hopgood
Director of Photography: Lee Pulbrook
Composer: Michael Allen
Editor: Phil Reid
Production Design: Les Binns
Costume Design: Louise McCarthy
Budget: Less than AU$2 million