Last Dance – an interview with producer Antony I. Ginnane

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.

Firass Dirani as ‘Mohammed’ in LAST DANCE.

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).

Antony I. Ginnane

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.]

Julia Blake as ‘Ullah’ in LAST DANCE.

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

Australian films at the 2012 Melbourne International Film Festival

The Sapphires

The Melbourne International Film Festival has a long history of supporting Australian film, and in 2012 the festival again screens a wide variety of local fare in its Australian Showcase stream, from internationally-lauded blockbusters to low budget indies.

And in addition to offering local filmmakers a chance to have their film screened to supportive Australian audiences, MIFF supports the Australian film industry further through its MIFF Premiere Fund, which has financed a diverse range of feature films and documentaries since its inception in 2007.

Australian films will both open and close the festival in 2012, with Wayne Blair’s 1960s-era musical drama/comedy The Sapphires adding a touch of glitz, glamour and soul to the opening night gala last week. A joyous crowd-pleaser all but guaranteed success (after being picked up for international distribution by the Weinstein Company at Cannes), The Sapphires celebrates Aboriginal culture, family bonds and the irrepressible power of soul music with a delightfully sassy script and extravagant production and costume design.

There are dozens of Australian feature films playing at MIFF this year, from introspective dramas to psychotic horror-comedies to Bollywood musicals. Some of these titles are sure to appear in upcoming AACTA Awards seasons. Join us as we profile the Australian features on offer to thousands of eager cinephiles during the Melbourne International Film Festival.

The Melbourne International Film Festival runs from August 2 to 17 at various locations throughout the Melbourne city centre.


100 Bloody Acres

100 Bloody Acres

Reg and Lindsay are having trouble sourcing the “secret ingredient” for their organic fertiliser – human remains sourced from car crash victims. When a trio of young music festival-goers find themselves stranded at their front door, the two businessmen have a devious idea – but struggle to bring themselves to go through with it.

One for the schlock fans, 100 Bloody Acres is produced by Julie Ryan (RED DOG) and Kate Croser, with Damon Herriman, Anna McGahan, John Jarratt and Angus Sampson adding a touch of crackle to the cast of this grisly, comedic horror flick. They’re not psycho killers… they’re just small business owners.

Being Venice

Being Venice

The first feature-length film by New Zealand-born filmmaker Miro Bilbrough follows the eponymous Venice (Alice McConnell) as one man leaves her life and another re-enters it. The former – her boyfriend – announces that he needs some space and promptly leaves the house they share, while the latter – her estranged ex-hippie father Arthur (veteran comic actor Garry McDonald) – worms his way into staying on Alice’s couch while visiting from New Zealand.

Being Venice was warmly received at the Sydney Film Festival earlier this year, described by Frank Hatherly of Screen Daily as “thoughtful” and possessing “something of a European sensibility” in presenting Venice’s struggle to make sense of the male relationships in her life.

Dead Europe

Dead Europe

The first announced of MIFF’s “surprise screenings” on the last day of the festival, Dead Europe is the latest in a string of adaptations of Christos Tsiolkas novels, directed by director Tony Krawitz (The Tall Man), adapted for the screen by veteran television writer Louise Fox, and starring acclaimed young actor Ewen Leslie in the lead.

Described by Gary Maddox in the Sydney Morning Herald as “a bruising blast of intense drama”, the film is a deep, densely wrought examination of Europe, “the continent of lost souls”, and the burden that children of “cursed” peoples must bear.

Errors of the Human Body

Errors of the Human Body

Described as a “psycho-scientific thriller” developed while director Eron Sheean was artist-in-resident at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, early reviews of Errors of the Human Body have noted the scientific authenticity with which the film’s plot is realised.

A German-Australian co-production directed by an Australian based in Europe, with a cast including Karoline Herfurth (Germany), Tomas Lemarquis (Iceland), Rik Mayall (United Kingdom) and Michael Eklund (Canada), it’s a horror film set on the cutting edge of science and technology, dealing with the ethics of biological and genetic science.



Melbourne local Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s work straddles both art cinema and mainstream filmmaking, with over a dozen short fiction films to his credit as well as three highly-acclaimed documentary features.

Hail shapes the extraordinary life experience of artist and ex-convict Daniel P. Jones into an experimental, autobiographical dramatic tapestry. Jones’s own words – transcribed and edited from interviews with the director – form the basis for the film’s dialogue, which is spoken by “characters” being played by their real-life counterparts. The resulting film is not strictly a drama and not strictly a documentary, but an exploration of hope in the face of oppressive adversity.

Jack Irish – Bad Debts

Jack Irish – Bad Debts

MIFFsters will be treated to the first of two Jack Irish tele-features scheduled to air on ABC TV in late 2012, boasting a stellar cast including Guy Pearce, Aaron Pedersen, Colin Friels, Shane Jacobson, Marta Dusseldorp, Steve Bisley and Roy Billing.

Guy Pearce is Jack, an old-school former criminal lawyer turned part-time private detective and debt collector, whose line of work has won him some rather colourful friends and acquaintences over the years. When one former client turns up dead, Jack burrows deep into Melbourne’s seedy underside to get to the bottom of it all.

Based on the eponymous series of crime novels by Miles Franklin Award winner Peter Temple, Jack Irish: Bad Debts will be followed by Jack Irish: Black Tide.

Last Dance

Last Dance

David Pulbrook (a veteran, AFI Award-winning editor) makes his directorial debut in this tightly-wound drama, set in the immediate aftermath of a synogogue bombing perpetrated by the Muslim Sadiq Mohammed (Underbelly‘s Firass Dirani). Seeking shelter, he forces his way into a flat occupied by a Holocaust survivor Ulah (Julia Blake), and thus begins a hostage drama which forces both Sadiq and Ulah to confront their own pasts.


Closing out the festival is Mental, a so-called suburban dramedy which reunites director P.J. Hogan with Toni Collette for the first time since Muriel’s Wedding was released in 1994.

Anthony LaPaglia is a philandering small-town politician shocked to discover that his wife has been institutionalised and has left him to take care of five children – none of which he has any particular interest in getting to know. By serendipity, a “charismatic, crazy hothead” (Collette) finds herself thrust into the household as the girls’ nanny, and slowly but surely transforms their home into something resembling normality.

Save Your Legs!

Save Your Legs!

A new addition to the MIFF calendar this year is the mid-festival gala event, turning the middle weekend of the festival into yet another party – if the opening and closing nights weren’t enough. A decidedly more relaxed affair than the glitzy opening night, the mid-festival gala will see the upbeat Bollywood-influenced musical comedy Save Your Legs! screened.

The Abbotsford Anglers, a D-grade local cricket team more interested in the shots on offer at the bar than those being made on the cricket field, make one last thrust for glory by going on an ill-conceived cricketing tour of India which ends in disastrous on-field results but more than a few laughs.

Starring Stephen Curry, Brendan Cowell, Damon Gameau and many more (plus a cameo by cricket legend Sir Richard Hadlee), Save Your Legs! is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.




In late 1928 upwards of 100 innocent indigenous men, women and children were brutally murdered to avenge the death of a white dingo trapper named Fred Brooks, who was killed by Aborigines after “taking liberties” with the wife of a Warlpiri tribesman.

One of many films presented in partnership with Blackfella Films, Coniston is a combination documentary-dramatisation of the Contiston massacre as told by Warlpiri, Waramunga, Anmatyerr and Kaytetje people. Based on a shameful episode of Australian history – the last large-scale massacre of Aborigines by whites – is an important exercise in educating modern audiences.

Croker Island Exodus

Croker Island Exodus

Also blending the documentary and dramatic forms is Croker Island Exodus, based on the true story of a Methodist mission on Croker Island off the coast of Arnhem Land.

After the bombing of Darwin in 1942, the Australian government evacuated all white women and children from the far north of the Northern Territory, including Croker Island. The (white) missionaries refused evacuation, not wanting to abandon the 95 aboriginal children in their care, and instead embarked on an epic 44-day, 5,000-kilometre journey to Sydney by boat, truck, canoe and even by foot.

First-time feature director Steven McGregor combines dramatic reconstructions with interviews of three of the children who made the journey, now in their 80s, who reflect on their childhood as part of the Stolen Generation and their remarkable journey to sanctuary.

The First Fagin

The First Fagin

Is Fagin – the grotesque thief/landlord in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and one of literature’s most enduring characters – based on Ikey Solomon, a real-life 19th century English criminal and escape artist? That’s what The First Fagin, directed by the trans-continental team of Alan Rosenthal and Helen Gaynor and narrated by the great Miriam Margolyes, sets out to discover.

Exploring the expulsion-happy criminal justice system of the 19th century as well as the life and reputation of Solomon, who was sentenced to be deported to Australia but for reasons unknown never made it to his down under prison, The First Fagin is one of many docu-drama features playing at MIFF this year. Tracing Solomon’s movements from England, through continental Europe, the United States and finally to Australia – where his wife had been deported – the film is a fantastical portrait of a man whose influence on culture is still being felt.

Lasseter’s Bones

Lasseter’s Bones

Beyond Our Ken, Luke Walker’s exploration into Kenja Communications – the “self-empowerment” group and alleged cult run by Ken Dyers and his wife Jan Hamilton – stirred up significant controversy when it screened at MIFF in 2007, and was nominated for an AFI Award in 2008.

His follow-up, Lasseter’s Bones, trades quasi-religious fanatics for an outback legend stretching back over 100 years, based around the existence (or non-existence) of Lasseter’s Reef, an enourmous gold deposit reportedly discovered and subsequently lost by Harold Lasseter in 1897.

With the help of Lasseter’s eccentric elderly son Bob, who continues to search for the fabled river of gold to vindicate his father, Walker attempts to get to the bottom of a legend which has taken on a life of its own – and taken one over, too.

Make Hummus Not War

Make Hummus Not War

A documentary about a different kind of war in the Middle East, Make Hummus Not War is about, well, hummus. Specifically, which culture can lay claim to ownership of the chickpea dish, which is steeped in thousands of years of contentious history and is one of the oldest prepared foods in human history.

Veteran filmmaker Trevor Graham, who won an AFI Award in 1997 for his documentary about the life of Eddie Mabo (Mabo: Life of an Island Man), traces the history of this unlikely dish and its symbolic importance to the Arab people of the Middle East. A lawsuit brought against Israel by Lebanon in 2008 about the heritage of hummus inspired Graham to delve a little deeper into what place hummus holds in Middle Eastern culture, and maybe, its role in Middle East reconciliation.

Paul Kelly: Stories of Me

Paul Kelly: Stories of Me

Australia’s unofficial troubador laureate Paul Kelly has been capturing the Australian condition through his folk/rock/country music for decades, and has been called “one of the greatest songwriters I have ever heard, Australian or otherwise” by Rolling Stone editor David Fricke.

Paul Kelly: Stories of Me charts Kelly’s life, loves and losses, painting an intimate picture of a private man living in the public eye. The film, directed by Ian Darling, offers an exclusive insight into the man behind the fame, his creative processes and his remarkable catalogue of music.

Stay tuned to the AFI | AACTA blog as we post further updates throughout the festival.