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AUSTRALIA

The Road To Oz
Never before has an Australian filmmaker attempted a project of such epic scope and ambition set in country. AUSTRALIA marks the culmination of a deeply personal journey for director Baz Luhrmann, and is a testament to the power and influence of Australian cinema.

The country began making an impression on international movie audiences in the 1970s, when government funding for Australia's burgeoning film industry launched a wave of breakout hits such as "Picnic at Hanging Rock,” "My Brilliant Career,” "Breaker Morant” and "Gallipoli.” The blockbuster "Mad Max” and "Crocodile Dundee” phenomenons of the 1980s piqued worldwide interest in the alluring land Down Under and popularized stereotypes of the larger-than-life characters that spring from its vast, untamed landscape.

With the release of the thriller "Dead Calm” in 1989 (starring a then-unknown Nicole Kidman), the 1990s ushered in a prolific era of smaller scale, highly acclaimed Australian films, including "The Piano,” "Flirting” (also starring Kidman), "Proof,” "Romper Stomper,” "Sirens,” "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” "Muriel's Wedding,” "The Sum of Us” and "Shine.”

Luhrmann burst onto the scene in 1992 with the release of "Strictly Ballroom,” an audacious comedy of dance manners crackling with energy, style and romance. "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet,” his searing, modernized adaptation of the Bard's classic, and the dazzling Academy Award-winning musical "Moulin Rouge!” firmly established Luhrmann as an innovative filmmaker with unique vision and a highly stylized, music driven cinematic language all his own. (Credited with reviving the long-dormant musical film genre, "Moulin Rouge!” was recently named by Entertainment Weekly magazine as number 10 on its list of 100 New Classics of the last 25 years.)

It was with the completion of this "Red Curtain Trilogy” – and after directing a Tony-winning version of Puccini's La Boheme on Broadway – that Luhrmann began developing a series of epic films, including a project with Leonardo DiCaprio about Alexander the Great. But after two years of intensive research across Jordan, the deserts of Morocco and the jungles of Thailand with his wife and creative partner, Catherine Martin, the project was shelved when Oliver Stone's Alexander film went into production.

"I was tremendously disappointed when our Alexander project fell apart, so I went on a journey on the Trans Siberian Railway to clear my head after focusing on it for such a long period of time,” says Luhrmann, who later joined his wife and young daughter in Paris. "We decided to spend time in Paris to regroup, recharge our spirits and assess what our next creative step would be. We began to discuss our little girl's life. There is no border between our life and work, and due to the nature of what we do, our children will always be part of a traveling circus. But, we asked ourselves, Where is the place they'll call home? Where will their roots lie? This, more than anything, prompted our desire to reconnect with Australia.”

While traveling back to Sydney from Paris, Luhrmann began to imagine a story about a main character who embarks on a great journey that transforms her in a profound way. "It is the issue of transformation that I am most interested in exploring at this time,” the director explains. "I recognize a feeling that exists in me and my generation that at a certain age, you get locked into a pattern of life that will remain constant for the rest of your days – growth simply stops. So I was very interested in the idea of growth and rebirth. Secondly, life in the post-9/11 world has created an unnerving environment in which the future seems unpredictable and precarious. So I was also interested writing a story about characters who live in uncertain and tumultuous times.”

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