Vicky Roach, The Daily Telegraph, reports
Forget the quirky comedies and gritty urban dramas - Australia's leading filmmakers are heading back to the bush.
The Outback is the star of four high profile films scheduled to hit our cinemas next year, including Tracks and Wolf Creek 2.
Although targeted at very different demographics, the extraordinary true story of author Robyn Davidson's 2,700km camel trek from Alice Springs to the ocean and the bloodthirsty sequel to Greg Mclean's 2005 horror hit have both been selected to make their world premieres at the Venice Film Festival later this month.
A Sundance Film Festival launch is a strong possibility for The Rover, director David Michod's hotly-anticipated follow-up to Animal Kingdom, the internationally-acclaimed film about a Melbourne crime family that bagged Jacki Weaver an Oscar nomination.
Starring Robert Pattinson and Guy Pearce, the apocalyptic thriller was shot on location in South Australia about the same time as Tracks and Wolf Creek 2, competing for locations and crew.
And while Mad Max 4: Fury Road was eventually forced to relocate to Namibia, due to the uncharacteristic greening of Broken Hill, George Miller's groundbreaking franchise rewrote the rule book on creative, genre-bending uses of our iconic interior.
Scale is one factor contributing to the current Outback revival, which continues with Jocelyn Moorhouse's The Dressmaker, a gothic tale of love, hate and haute couture starring Kate Winslet and Judy Davis. Filming is scheduled to begin early next year in the Wimmera or Mallee regions of Victoria.
"You have to have something distinctive to go up against the big blockbusters,'' observes Oscar-winning producer Emile Sherman (The King's Speech), who is working with director John Curran on Tracks.
"And people, particularly the 30-plus audience who are getting a bit sick of endless franchises about superheroes, are looking for other journeys they can go on in the cinema that will take them to places they have never experienced."
The distinctive, naturally photogenic landscapes of Australia's jaw-dropping interior offer a very real alternative to Hollywood's spectacular, CGI-generated backdrops.
"You look at those big, glossy Hollywood movies, which I love incidentally, but it doesn't matter where they are filmed,'' says associate professor Jane Mills, of the Journalism and Media Research Centre at UNSW.
"We have all had that experience of going to any city in the world and there is another McDonalds or another Subway. Cities are a bit samey. The Outback is special. It gives you a sense of veracity; the sense that you are really there."
Supporting Mills' theory is Tracks' decision to shoot on film using an anamorphic, wide-screen format (a technique embraced by movie studios in the 1950s to compete with the popularity of television.)
"It feels like big cinema,'' says Sherman.
"And then there are the camels, which are such a key part of the film. There is this small girl (Mia Wasikowska) and these enormous camels with incredible, bellowing growls. It's a very visceral experience."
Michod and producer Liz Watts also chose to go against the current digital orthodoxy, again shooting The Rover on film.
The wide open spaces of the Australian Outback also give filmmakers plenty of creative elbow room.
Australia filmmakers have been mining the distinctive landscape for its imaginary possibilities since the 1950s, when John Heyer and Charles Chauvel set an extraordinarily high benchmark with The Back of Beyond and Jedda respectively.
Since then, whitefella directors have periodically returned to the bush for inspiration in films as diverse as Walkabout, Wake in Fright, Picnic at Hanging Rock and Priscilla: Queen of the Desert.
"It's certainly an Australian dreaming in a sense," says Sherman, acknowledging that the undomesticated landscape allows filmmakers more opportunity to take creative risks.
For someone like Michod, who is under intense pressure to deliver on his hotly-anticipated follow-up to Animal Kingdom, the Outback must have seemed like a chance to keep Hollywood at arm's length.
Marree, a one-pub town 650km north of Adelaide, is about as far from LA as a filmmaker can get.
"I was always concerned that if I made my second film in America, the freedom to make the film I wanted to make might not be the same as if I made the film here," he says.
Producer Al Clark (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) sees Michod's choice of location as significant.
"It's interesting that David, who I would assume would have been offered a lot of prospective films, ended up writing his own and writing something that was set in the antithesis of (Animal Kingdom's) confined space, which was an endless space.''
Mills says the effect of Baz Luhrmann's Australia on the current wave of Outback films should not be underestimated, either.
"His film drew upon so much history of Australian cinema and I think began to show a way of reconciliation between black and white, that both black and white Australians can feel a sense of belonging,'' she says.
Also informing the contemporary, whitefella perspective is a growing canon of work directed by internationally-acclaimed indigenous filmmakers, many of whom are right at home in the country's dramatic interior.
From The Sapphires and Bran Nue Dae to Beneath Clouds, Mystery Road and Samson and Delilah, indigenous filmmakers have been slowly remapping the Australian cinematic landscape from an alternative, Aboriginal point of view.
Challenging the accepted co-ordinates still further are films such as Ten Canoes, which Rolf De Heer co-directed with Peter Djigirr, and the upcoming Charlie's Country, on which he is collaborating with David Gulpilil.
Historically, white filmmakers have portrayed Australia's interior as a harsh and dangerous place in which they are extremely uneasy.
"It's a very particular view of the Outback that comes up a lot because it's the white settlers' experience of this foreign place where they weren't at home'' says Karen Pearlman, Head of Screen Studies at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School.
Wolf Creek 2, The Rover, and Mad Max 4 would seem to follow in this tradition - perhaps revisiting our troubled colonial past in the wake of the intervention and Parliament's 2008 apology to the stolen generations.
Tracks, however, appears to stand apart in this cinematic landscape, traditionally inhabited by men.
"Not only is she an explorer as opposed to an antagonist in the landscape, but (the protagonist) is a woman. That's really important in differentiating (Tracks) from the other films - seeing a woman take leadership and move fearlessly, with benign intent, into this landscape," says Pearlman.
A film adaptation of Davidson's autobiographical novel has been in the works since 1987, when Julia Roberts was to play the lead role. Why is it finally about to hit the big screen now?
"When we take on films at See-Saw, our question is always: 'what makes them relevant today.'
"That drive Robyn had to escape the chatter of urban life, and the 20s political conversations she was having, and to get out there alone and see what comes of her away from everything, that fantasy seems to me to be even more relevant today as we are bombarded by so much technology and social media,'' says Sherman.
The experience of the younger cast members on Wolf Creek 2, many of whom were more intimidated by the lack of internet access they experienced on location in the Flinders Ranges than they were of Mick Taylor, underscores Sherman's point.