AFIcionados – Your Choice, Your Voice…

Now that the six nominees for the AFI Members’ Choice Award have been decided, we’ve been calling all AFI film aficionados* to submit a 200 word max response on why you thought these films were Australia’s best.

*aficionado – a person who likes, knows about, and appreciates a usually fervently pursued interest or activity.


In the countdown to the announcement of the winner of the AFI Members’ Choice Award this Sunday 15 January at the Samsung AACTA Awards Luncheon, presented by Digital Pictures, we will be profiling two of the six nominated films per week on our blog, along with the best member responses on why you voted for them. This week we’re profiling RED DOG and Snowtown.

Red Dog



“You’ve gotta love a tear-jerker, desert shots and a great underDOG story. RED DOG was the most fun I’ve had at the cinema in a long time!”
– AFI member Jason Rooney, WA.

RED DOG’s fresh and heartwarming take on what its like living in a small mining town in Western Australia has definitely caught the public’s imagination. I’d say there’s nothing like a cheeky kelpie to unite a nation!”
– AFI member Brendan Smythe, QLD.




Snowtown is heartbreaking and hopeless but absolutely captivating. I was glued to the screen. They were some of the most powerful and deeply disturbing performances I have ever seen. ”
– AFI member Rosie Piper, TAS.

“Australian arthouse cinema at its best! Snowtown is evocative, provocative and mind numbingly horrifying. It simultaneously entices and repels its audience by capturing in stunning detail every horrendous moment.”
– AFI member Lucy Fraser, VIC.

Thank you to all members who participated in our AFIcionado’s Audience Choice Award competition. Your responses have been invaluable.

**Conditions apply: in order to have your response published you need to be an active  AFI member and be willing to have your full name and state disclosed on the AFI Blog **
Thanks to Madman Entertainment and Roadshow Films for providing DVD copies of these films for our lucky winners!

AFIciaonados – Your Choice, Your Voice…

Now that the six nominees for the AFI Members’ Choice Award have been decided, we’ve been calling all AFI film aficionados* to submit a 200 word max response on why you thought these films were Australia’s best.

*aficiaonado – a person who likes, knows about, and appreciates a usually fervently pursued interest or activity.


In the countdown to the announcement of the winner of the AFI Members’ Choice Award on 15 January at the Samsung AACTA Awards Luncheon, presented by Digital Pictures, we have been profiling two of the six nominated films per week on our blog, along with the best member responses on why you voted for them. This week we’re profiling Mad Bastards and Oranges and Sunshine.


Mad Bastards

Mad Bastards

Mad Bastards

Mad Bastards…poignant and powerful, set to the playful Pigram Brothers’ lively tunes!
– AFI member Phil Lesley, NSW.

“Dean Dayley-Jones is remarkable as T.J. He brings humour and pathos to this broken character and reaffirms the remarkable power of self-discovery. Mad Bastards is well worth watching!”
– AFI member Jane Deans, ACT.


Oranges and Sunshine

Oranges and Sunshine

Oranges and Sunshine

Oranges and Sunshine is a beautiful rendition of a heartwarming story about the vision and compassion of an exceptional woman. Wenham, Watson and Weaving are truly magnificent. It is another priceless period piece from the talented producers of The King’s Speech.
– AFI member Mary Edwards, VIC.

“Putting the spotlight on a rarely discussed aspect of Australian and British colonial history, Oranges and Sunshine tells a horrifying story with sensitivity and avoids all sensationalism.  Emily Watson gives an understated, yet powerful performance in the lead role and she is surrounded by an outstanding support cast. Particularly, Hugo Weaving, who shines in a heart-breaking performance that’s his best in years. The film doesn’t provide an easy catharsis and closure, but it still comes to a conclusion that leaves its mark on the viewer.
– AFI member Simone Richards, NSW.

Next week we’ll be lavishing love on Red Dog and Snowtown. Don’t miss out on winning a DVD pack of the top six Best Film Nominees for the AFI Audience Choice Award, send in your response today!

Entry Details:
Submit your entry (along with your AFI member number, full name and state in the subject line) to
**Conditions apply: in order to have your response published you need to be an active  AFI member and be willing to have your full name and state disclosed on the AFI Blog **
Thanks to Icon Entertainment and Paramount Pictures for providing DVD copies of the films for our lucky winners!

‘The chance to work on a broad canvas’ – Kriv Stenders on directing Red Dog

There’s no doubt that Kriv Stenders is a multi-talented writer, director and cinematographer. His films include Lucky Country, Boxing Day, BlacktownThe Illustrated Family Doctor and award winning short film Two/Out.  What these films have in common is a certain bleak intensity, a combination of powerhouse performances, tight scripting and the inventive use of micro-budgets. So how did Kriv Stenders come to direct Red Dog, a sunny upbeat crowd-pleaser with a cute doggie, an energetic soundtrack and heartwarming plot? “It’s very, very different from anything I’ve done before,” agrees Stenders, on the phone from Jakarta, where he’s shooting a television commercial, “but I’ve been wanting to do something like this for a while. You come to a certain point as a filmmaker, where you want to reach as large an audience as you can, and this was a chance to work on a really broad canvas, and I took it on as a challenge.”

Kriv Stenders on the set of Red Dog

Director Kriv Stenders on the set of Red Dog.

Based on the 2002 short novel by UK author Louis de Bernières (Captain Correlli’s Mandolin), Red Dog  is based on the true story of a famous wandering kelpie, who was adopted by the new mining community established by Hamersley Iron in West Australia’s Dampier in the 1960s. The cast of Red Dog is headed up by a pair of bright and sparkly stars – US leading man Josh Lucas, and our own Rachael Taylor as his love interest. A supporting cast of Australian talent includes Noah Taylor, Loene Carmen, John Batchelor, Luke Ford, Arthur Angel and Rohan Nichol. Produced by Nelson Woss (Ned Kelly) and Julie Ryan (Ten Canoes) and written by US screenwriter Dan Taplitz (Breakin’ all the Rules), Red Dog also boasts Geoffrey Hall as director of photography, Jill Bilcock as editor, and Ian Gracie as production designer.

In the interview below, we chat to Stenders about making his first ‘family film’, about collaborating with a giant mining company, shooting on the Red camera, and learning to trust his filmmaking team.

AFI: Congratulations on Red Dog. This is the first film you’ve made that you could take your kids to see. Would you call it a children’s film?

Kriv Stenders: I wouldn’t say it’s a children’s film at all. I’d really say it’s more of a family film. So it’s for everyone – children, parents, grandparents, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, everyone! We wanted to make a film that was as broad in its audience appeal as possible. You can do that with a central character who is a dog, because people’s relationships with dogs are very special.

Rachael Taylor and Josh Lucas in Red Dog

Rachael Taylor and Josh Lucas as young lovers in Red Dog.

AFI: Are you a dog lover?

Kriv Stenders: I’m a cat and a dog lover. I’m AC/DC!

AFI: You talk about wanting to reach a broad audience. That’s not something that’s evident with your previous films, so why this change in approach?

Kriv Stenders: The whole industry, the whole market has changed so radically over the last ten years. Now you really have to know why you’re making your film and who it’s for, and you have to realise that audiences are finite.

AFI: Do you feel like you weren’t making a film for audiences with your previous films?

Kriv Stenders: I was making films for a niche audience. But niche audiences used to be a lot healthier than they are now. When you make edgy material these days, it’s just harder for it to get seen. It’s harder to find that audience, especially in Australia, because there are so many more films out there competing for attention. DVDs and Internet – all of that has spread people’s interest now, whereas before, niche films found it easier, I think, to gain an audience. So it’s just the basic mathematics and the basic hard realities of the film market.

Rachael Taylor and Koko in Red Dog

Koko charms leading lady, Rachael Taylor.

AFI: This is certainly a larger budget than you’re used to working with isn’t it? [Widely reported to be around $8 million]

Kriv Stenders: Sure, yeah. But I think you never ever have enough money! For the scale of the film we were making it was really tight, and we really pushed the envelope a lot on what we could achieve with the money that we had. But again, we had a great crew, an amazing team who just pulled off miracles. In a way, every film should be like that. You should always be working hard to put every dollar on screen. And that focus is what you’ve got to maintain throughout.

Working hard to put every dollar on screen.

AFI: This film has close ties to the mining industry in Dampier, where it is set and partly shot. Rio Tinto is one of the investors?

Kriv Stenders: They basically gave facilities investment. They gave us incredible, extraordinary access to the sites and also provided us with things like accommodation. With that accommodation came food. So it was a substantial fiscal investment – not a monetary one but a fiscal one.

AFI: What would you say to critics who might argue that this film is a massive public relations exercise for mining in Australia?

Kriv Stenders: [Rio Tinto] really are Dampier. Hamersley Iron set up the town and was bought out by Rio, but historically they were the company we were making a film about. So it just makes sense that we were able to connect to their systems, their infrastructure and their history. What we tried to do with the film is actually make Australians aware of the history of the place and of the industry. And people can criticise it all they want. I mean the film isn’t really about that. It’s about the formation of a community, and an incredible part of our history. It’s an extraordinary part of the world and it’s not going to go away. The more knowledge we have about it, the better. We’re simply providing people with more of a context.

Red Dog on train

'Koko is the star. He's the actor,' says Stenders about his lead performer.

AFI: Working with animals is notoriously tricky, You used a number of dogs, with the now famous ‘Koko’ as the main player?

Kriv Stenders: Koko is the star, he’s the actor. He did all the close-ups, he did the hard work. We had to have some other dogs for things like long shots and for other pragmatic reasons, but Koko is really the dog. We spent about six months casting the film, and we looked all over Australia. We found him at a breeder’s place in Bendigo. You cast dogs exactly like you do actors. They’ve got to have that fire going on behind their eyes. They’ve got to have that ‘X factor’, and they’ve got to know what they’re doing.

AFI: You’ve talked about using editing to craft the dog’s performance, and using very limited CGI to do things like erase the dog trainer from the frame. Can you talk a little about working with editor Jill Billcock? Was it a new experience for her to be working with an animal performance?

Kriv Stenders: Yes, it was. And she did an extraordinary job. It was such an honour to work with her, she’s an extraordinary filmmaker in her own rights, a really amazing and creative person. Although Koko certainly had a personality and was delivering something, Jill was really able to sculpt it, refine it and focus it in a way that I could never have imagined. I think that a lot of the emotional impact and emotional power of the film is basically the result of Jill’s incredible work.

Koko in Red Dog

Editor Jill Bilcock was able to sculpt and refine Koko's performance.

AFI: You have a background as a cinematographer and a reputation for working well in intimate spaces on low budgets. Yet this film is very big and open, showcasing the wide landscape. Can you talk about working with your DP (director of photography) Geoffrey Hall?

Kriv Stenders: I’ve known Geoff for about 30 years and we’ve worked together on commercials, so we have a lot of history, which helps. This is the first film that we’ve made together. Geoff is one of this country’s finest DPs. He’s incredibly experienced and talented. We wanted to really create something classical, like a lot of those great Australian Outback films before, like Wake in Fright and the Mad Max movies. We wanted to acknowledge those, but at the same time make something that was unique to the world and unique to the story. We shot on the Red [digital] cameras, but Geoff made the Red look extraordinary. In fact, people who’ve seen the film couldn’t believe we shot it on Red and said they’ve never seen Red look so good. It looks as if we shot on 70mm.

AFI: Was it always the intention to shoot it on Red?

Kriv Stenders: Yes, because we couldn’t have shot it any other way. I mean with the dog as the central performer, and needing to have extra coverage, shooting in digital obviously gives you so much more freedom and liberty to shoot without having worry about film stock. And it allowed us to shoot with more than one camera. With our budget, if we shot it on film we wouldn’t have been able to do that. So the Red was the perfect system for us. With the Red, the 4K resolution that you get is actually still better than even the Alexa camera, despite what people say. Technically the Red is probably still the best digital camera around in the marketplace.

Josh Lucas and Koko in Red Dog

Shot with the Red camera, Stenders and DOP Geoffrey Hall wanted to create a look that paid homage to Australia's other great Outback films.

AFI: As a filmmaker, what is the biggest thing you learnt on this project?

Kriv Stenders: I think the biggest thing I learnt was to really, really trust my team and be open to as much collaboration as possible because every day, everyone has a good idea. That includes the cast and everyone. It was just great fun relaxing a little bit and finally being just in the director’s chair! On my other films, I’ve always been standing up or operating the camera or trying to do lots of other things as well. I really learnt to trust my team here, which is really a major part of the filmmaking process.

AFI: One last question. While you were shooting in Dampier, did you encounter real life stories about this famous dog?

Kriv Stenders: Funnily enough a lot of people we bumped into hated the dog! There were people who would say to us, ‘I can’t believe you’re making a film about that mongrel! He was a nasty, horrible dog.’ But he was also loved. The film is about storytelling and it’s as much about the myth as it is about the real. Thirty years later people still talk about this dog. He’s still bringing people together. And that’s extraordinary.

AFI: Thanks for talking with us, and best wishes with the film.

Red Dog releases nationally 4 August. Watch the trailer below.

Why I Adore: Adaptations

by Popzilla

Cloudstreet Poster

The eagerly awaited 6-part adaptation of 'Cloudstreet' premieres on Foxtel's Showcase this Sunday, 22 May, at 8.30pm.

As much as I’m a film nut, I’m also a book nut. So when both media are awesomely combined – I’m as happy as a ham in mud.

I have to admit, I probably discovered books before I discovered film. But some of my most vivid child and teen memories arise from not only the musky damp comfort of books, but also the thrill of seeing them come to life on screen – through film adaptations.

Theatre works, comic books, games, pop-fiction novels, classical adaptations – I’m there. I might love it, I might hate it , but I appreciate the efforts involved in every little detail, to bring much loved, pop-culture adventures, or undiscovered tales to big or small screens.

Through  written stories, we discover (quite often in GREAT detail), heart rending family sagas (Cloudstreet; The Slap, Our Father Who Art in the Tree), quirky coming of age kerfuffles, seedy criminal underworlds (Truth), and even classic  poems  (The Man from Snowy River).

Great stories are already awash with all the colours and sounds of ‘the big screen’. So what happens when novels are translated onto big or small screens? There is a moment where you’re about to take a gamble –  into the cinema, or say, reserving a quiet weekend to open the first page of a novel just watched on the big screen… when some of us take a big pensive breath and say… “um, should I really be doing this?”

Will we love the film version just as much if characters are removed; plots changed and (gasp!) endings completely re-written? In speaking with friends, family, filmmakers, and some cranky librarians, I have found that not everyone immediately jumps for joy at the mention of an adaptation. No – quite the opposite.

There are literary purists who immediately promise to stay ‘true’ to the author’, to never forsake the written word for the big screen version. Not even choc-tops can lure them away from their musty pages. There are others who are bitterly disappointed in ‘crude adaptations’, and the impact the screen sometimes takes on a good story. And then there are those (just like me) who love the opportunity to see a story brought to the big screen. To revel in the backdrops, the little details, and even the changes that are evident in adaptations.

It’s kind of ridiculous I guess, but sometimes I also wonder about the correct order – whether I should be seeing a film before I read it the book it’s based on, or afterwards! Many a book has no doubt been improved by its film adaptation, not to mention the sudden increase in book sales. Film adaptations can quite often bring hidden novel gems to mainstream masses – something that has been hiding on dusty shelves just waiting for the chance to come to life.

And, yes, some books have been ruined by screen adaptation. Whether it’s overzealous screenwriters, directors, bossy-pants authors or badly cast actors – who knows who is to blame? Converting a book into film is a tricky business. Firstly – you have to secure the rights to the novel – and the cost ranges for script and development can be much higher than those associated with filming an original screenplay.

However, it must be said that adaptations can also raise books, games and comics to new heights – creating brand new interpretations (and new BRAND interpretations), even adding further value to a story… or film.

There’s also the question of what happens to the screenwriter after all the writing is  completed. Have they written themselves off the page and out of the film? (An interesting interview with screenwriter John Collee  (Happy Feet, Master and Commander) sheds some light on Collee’s screenwriting experiences in the biz.)

In honor of writers, screenwriters, and filmmakers everywhere, and to illustrate how wonderful they can be – here are (in no particular order) my ‘adored’ Australian film adaptations:

Puberty Blues

“You wanna go down the dunnies for a smoke?”

I love the teen awkwardness that is captured in this film, and the snapshot of 80s Cronulla. Based on the book by Gabrielle Carey and Kathy Lette – not all of the book made it to the screen, but it is an absolute screen gem. And who could forget the theme song?

Picnic At Hanging Rock

It’s spooky, it’s kooky –just like the book, if not better! The BAFTA award-winning Peter Weir adaptation of the book by Joan Lindsay is still loved today. Just go to Hanging  Rock to hear Swedish backpackers yell ‘Miranda!!’ from the haunted peaks…

Oscar and Lucinda

A glass church. A GLASS CHURCH! I still can’t believe Gillian Armstrong mastered this complex and imaginary tale whilst auditioning Cate Blanchett for the world screen. And the chemistry between Ralph Finnes and Blanchett set the pages of this Peter Carey novel on FIRE!

 Romulus, My Father

Everyone is heartbreakingly beautiful in this AFI Award winning film adaptation of the book by Raimond Gaita. With the screen adaptation written by British poet Nick Drake, stunningly filmed by Shine cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson, and an impressive directorial debut by Richard Roxburgh, even the author himself saw the film more than 20 times…

Playing Beatie Bow

Australia’s version of Labyrinth with kids instead of goblins. Adapted from the Ruth Park novel of the same name, I’m just hanging out for a film on Park to come out one of these days…


I just love it. The performances, mood and feel of John Curran’s 1999 movie completely match that of the book by Andrew McGahan.

He Died With A Falafel In His Hand

I know a lot of people who have yet to warm to this early 2000 flick. But for me, it captures so many true-to-life tales of share-house living, and has one hell of a kick-ass soundtrack. Noah Taylor is the bees-knees as a depressed and down and out writer living on the dole.

My Brother Jack

Some heartbreaking moments in this AFI Award Winning production starring Matt Day, Claudia Karvan, William McInnes and Jack Thompson. A 2001 made-for-television adaptation of George Johnson’s classic novel.


Here are some upcoming adaptations to watch out for:


I’m already taken in by the trailer! Written for the small screen by the author himself, alongside co-screenwriter Ellen Fontana.

Cloudstreet premieres on the Foxtel channel Showcase on Sunday, May 22 2011, 8.30pm.

The Slap

An eight part ABC television series adaptation of the bestseller by Christos Tsiolkas is to star a stellar lineup including Brendan Cowell, , Melissa George, Alex Dimitriades, Sophie Lowe, Jonathan LaPaglia and more.

Red Dog

The story of Red Dog is a well-known WA legend but it was popularised by English author Louis de Bernieres in his book of the same name.

The film adaptation directed by Kriv Stenders is based on the legendary true story of the Red Dog who united a disparate local mining community while roaming the Australian outback in search of his long-lost master

.Starring Josh LucasRachael TaylorNoah Taylor, Luke Ford and Bill Hunter with release set for August 2011.

Oranges and Sunshine

Based on the true story by UK social worker Margaret Humphreys about her expose of the scandal of Britain’s forgotten and abused child migrants (previously published as Empty Cradles), Oranges and Sunshine stars Hugo Weaving, David Wenham and Emily Watson. Set for release in Australia in June 2011.


LBF is a ‘pop art film’ based on the novel Living Between F***ks by Cry Bloxsome from which it draws much of its wry narration. Paris-based writer Goodchild (Toby Schmitz) returns to Sydney for the funeral of his ex-girlfriend l and steadily veers off the rails. Starring Gracie Otto, Septimus Caton and Australian model April Rose Pengilly, the film also has a very cool little soundtrack featuring aussie bands Boy & Bear and Operator Please. Premiering at the 2011 Sydney Film Festival.

The Telegram Man

Based on a short story by John Boyne, the award-winning author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Set in Australia, The Telegram Man is short film with a mega cast including Gary Sweet and Sigrid Thornton,and will be actor Jack Thompson’s first short film acting debut. Currently in post production and coming soon to a Film Festival near you in 2011.

Adaptation Websites

More? The story doesn’t end here folks…

Australian Adaptations

50 Upcoming Book-to-Movie Adaptations

Film of the Book: Top 50 Adaptations

UK paper The Guardian provides a list of Top 50  usual suspects.

Top Grossing Film Adaptations

As declared by Forbes – there’s billions in the books!

From Page to Screen

Four part article written on worldwide adaptations – successful, unsuccessful and upcoming.

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Do you know of any upcoming adaptations with Aussies in them?

Be sure to post below!

Also keen to know your own top 5 Australian adaptations…