By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist November 27, 2012 at 1:01PM
Blue Tongue Films has become inextricably linked with the recent renaissance of Australian cinema. And at its center are two brothers: Joel Edgerton, whose Hollywood career has grown gradually from small roles in the "Star Wars" prequels and "King Arthur" to leading man turns in "Warrior" and "The Odd Life Of Timothy Green," and his stuntman-turned-actor/director elder sibling Nash. Set up by the Edgertons in the 1990s in order to make an action-packed short called "Loaded" to show Nash's stuntman skills, and named after the pair's then-recently-deceased pet lizard, it's more of a collective than a company, assembling a group of like-minded filmmaker types who collaborate on each other's projects. Nash Edgerton helped to make his name as a director with the ouststanding short "Spider" (watch below), and within a couple of years the group was seemingly everywhere with Nash's feature debut "The Square," a taut noirish thriller, arriving in theaters soon after "Animal Kingdom" had hit theaters. Meanwhile, the editor of both films, Luke Doolan, had been nominated for an Oscar for his own short, "Miracle Fish," while Kieran Darcy-Smith, who appeared in both that and "The Square," opened Sundance this January with his own film, "Wish You Were Here," which stars Joel Edgerton. And that's all without mentioning the group's sole American, Spencer Susser, who operated the camera on several shorts by Edgerton, and co-wrote his debut feature, "Hesher," with David Michod. Phew. And big things are on the way for the group with Nash Edgerton premiering his new short, "Bear," a sequel to "Spider," at Sundance and SXSW earling this year, and he's developing feature projects. Meanwhile, in addition to recently directing a music video for Bob Dylan, he also acts alongside Joel in Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty," while Joel has written a starring role for himself in the thriller "Felony" with Tom Wilkinson and Jai Courtney, another Blue Tongue production, and he'll crop up next year in Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby."
As uncompromising and brutal as some of these films have been, nothing within New Australian Cinema so far could have prepared audiences last year for "Snowtown" (or "The Snowtown Murders" in the U.S.), the debut feature from director Justin Kurzel. The helmer started off as a designer for theater and film before heading to film school at the Victorian College of Arts. His graduation film, "Blue Tongue," (which coincidentally shares its name with the production company, although Kurzel isn't actually directly involved with them), about two teenagers and a lizard, saw him win the prize for Best Australian Short Film, and the project ended up selected for Critic's Week at Cannes 2005. Since then, he mostly directed music videos for bands like The Vines and The Sleepy Jackson, but when Warp Films, the British company behind films like "Dead Man's Shoes" and "Kill List," opened an Australian offshoot, Kurzel was the first person they came to. The result was "Snowtown," an unrelentingly bleak examination of the real-life Snowtown murders, where killer John Justin Bunting was responsible for a ring that led to the death of at least eleven victims in the 1990s. The killings took place near where Kurzel grew up, in Adelaide, and it's clear from the finished film the extent to which the events haunt him, and there's an extraordinary matter-of-fact feel to the movie, reminiscent of Gus Van Sant's more experimental work. It was one of the most unforgettable cinematic experiences of the last twelve months, and marked Kurzel as one of the most thrilling talents in world cinema right now. The director had been developing a feature film expanding on the themes of "Blue Tongue" at one point, but he'll join Cate Blanchett and Mia Wasikowska, among others, as one of the directors of portmanteau picture "The Turning," as well as writing a dark coming-of-age comedy set in the tennis world called "Ivan Lendly Never Learned To Borrow," also with Warp Films. But it looks like his next feature will be his first step into Hollywood territory -- he's working on the John Le Carre adaptation "Our Kind of Traitor," penned by "Drive" writer Hossein Amini, with production aiming to get underway soon, with Ralph Fiennes, Jessica Chastain and Mads Mikkelsen rumored to be taking the lead roles.
One can certainly say that many of the films of this Australian New Wave are pretty testosterone fuelled; bloody, brutal crime pictures, for the most part, with women often absent or minimized (bar Jacki Weaver's Smurf in "Animal Kingdom."), so it's fortunate that this year saw the return of the much-missed Cate Shortland, with her second feature. Shortland graduated from film school with the Southern Star Award for the most promising student, and was behind a quartet of acclaimed shorts in the 1990s and early 2000s, in the shape of "Strap On Olympia, "Pentuphouse," "Flower Girl" and "Joy." From there, she went on to helm ten episodes of the cult Australian twentysomething soap "The Secret Life Of Us," which helped introduce the world to Joel Edgerton, Sullivan Stapleton and "Fringe" star Anna Torv, among others, before getting her chance in the features world with 2004's "Somersault." Revolving around the complex realationship between a teenage girl and a sexually confused farmer's son, the film was responsible for kick-starting the careers of both Abbie Cornish and "Avatar" lead Sam Worthington. And looking back at the film, it's no wonder; it's a lovely, delicate film with tremendous performances from the two leads (anyone who's found Worthington's Hollywood work wooden needs to take a look at this), beautifully lensed and scored. Premiering at Un Certain Regard at Cannes, it went on to win a record 13 awards (from 15 nominations) at the AFI Awards (the Australian equivalent of the Oscars) that year. Despite the success, the next few years saw Shortland return to the small screen, helming TV movie "The Silence" with Richard Roxburgh, and serving as a writer on the acclaimed miniseries "The Slap," starring Melissa George and Sophie Okonedo. But fortunately, the start of this year saw her return to tthe feature world, and in an unexpected manner, with "Lore," a German-language tale about the children of Nazi parents embarking on an epic journey as World War II comes to a close. Winning acclaim on the festival circuit (read our review here), and picking up top prizes at Locarno and Stockholm, the adaptation of Rachel Seiffert's novel has, fingers crossed, put Shortland right back on the map again, particularly with the film selected as Australia's entry into the Best Foreign Language Oscar race, and Music Box Films releasing it in the U.S. in 2013.