In a surprisingly low-profile shoot in Adelaide, an Australian filmmaker is filming a tense thriller about the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai that has been likened to The Towering Inferno.
Writer-director Anthony Maras has assembled an impressive cast headed by Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire), Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy from the Harry Potter movies) and Armie Hammer (The Social Network) for Hotel Mumbai.
It focuses on one of the locations attacked by Pakistani militants in that Indian city with the loss of 164 lives.
Patel, who impresses with his Australian accent in the new trailer for the coming Australian film Lion, plays an Indian waiter, with Hammer and Nazanin Boniadi (Homeland, Ben-Hur) as a couple who are trapped with their baby in the hotel for four days. Tilda Cobham-Hervey (The Kettering Incident) plays their nanny.
Co-writer John Collee, best known for the Happy Feet movies and Master and Commander, says the film centres on fictional versions of the victims and heroes of the attack. The script is based on a documentary about the attack on the iconic Taj Mahal Palace hotel.
“Everyone who came out of that was traumatised by it so it seemed difficult and unfair to use real people’s stories,” Collee says. “So we created compilation characters of the many of the victims.
“The servants, cooks and waiters of the hotel were the real heroes. The police were massively outgunned and couldn’t do much so it was up to the hotel staff to hide their clients in various rooms then get them all downstairs to smuggle them out through the back passages and corridors that they knew.”
The names of the heroic staff who were killed are now inscribed on a memorial wall at the hotel.
The attacks took place in multiple locations in Mumbai, including a cafe, train station, hospital, cinema and Jewish community centre.
“We decided just to focus on this one place and do it like the old Towering Inferno, those sorts of movies, which we both like,” Collee says. “It’s an ensemble piece and an old-style disaster movie.”
Once shooting wraps, the crew will head to Mumbai for further filming.
Heavyweight Hollywood distributor the Weinstein Company snapped up North American and British rights at the Cannes Film Festival. It has a fair investment in Patel, with another highly anticipated Australian film that he stars in, Lion, having its world premiere soon at the Venice Film Festival.
The Mumbai terrorist attacks have also inspired another coming Australian film, Lliam Worthington’s low-budget psychological thriller One Less God, which looks at the “theatre of the mind” that plays out among travellers trapped in their hotel.
In more Australian film news …
Girl Asleep wins $100,000 prize ahead of release
Harrison Feldman and Bethany Whitmore in Rosemary Myers’ Girl Asleep.
Winning a handy $100,000 in the country’s richest film prize has been a boost for Rosemary Myers’ quirky coming-of-age film Girl Asleep ahead of its cinema release next week.
The top award at the CinefestOz film festival in Western Australian on the weekend has encouraged more cinemas to release the film and allowed the prizemoney to funnelled towards extra advertising.
“It’s been amazing,” says Myers after the Palace chain added eight cinemas to what is shaping as a 20-screen release.
Adapted from a stage play, Girl Asleep stars Harrison Feldman and Bethany Whitmore, who were both 15 when they shot it.
Having won the Age critics award at the Melbourne International Film Festival and two prizes at the Seattle International Film Festival, Myers says the film is proving to appeal to “anyone who’s a fan of Wes Anderson or Napoleon Dynamite“.
“We’re absolutely thrilled with how it’s travelled,” she says.
The film is also due to open in 30-odd cinemas in the US next month.
Producers announce awards finalists
The makers of The Dressmaker, The Daughter, A Month Of Sundays, Nowhere Boys: The Book of Shadows and the coming comedy Spin Out have been named as finalists in the Screen Producers Australia Awards.
They will join TV drama series nominees from Cleverman, Love Child, Rake, The Doctor Blake Mysteries, Wanted and Wentworth at the awards, which celebrate the work of the producers of films, television shows and interactive work, in November.
Up for best comedy series are Mad as Hell, No Activity, Please Like Me, Sammy J and Randy in Ricketts Lane and The Family Law.
3D still popular and merchandising up
Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Some fascinating trends in cinema-going were revealed in last week’s record profit of $130.2 million for Event Hospitality and Entertainment Ltd – up 19.6 per cent on the previous year.
The parent company of the Event cinema chain attributed a 7 per cent increase in box office revenue to a strong line-up of films in the first half of the financial year, dominated by Star Wars: The Force Awakens, with strong box office as well for Deadpool, Spectre and Captain America: Civil War.
But the chain’s results suggest we are clearly happy to upgrade when it comes to cinema visits. It noted a boost for premium sessions – Gold Class, large-screen V-Max and even 3D sessions – which bumped up the average ticket price.
Patrons also spent more on merchandising per cinema visit in its candy bars.
Little love for David Brent
Ricky Gervais wrote, directed and stars in David Brent: Life on the Road. Photo: Tristan Fewings
One belated spin-off from a classic British comedy series, Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, has performed strongly in Australian cinemas, taking $7.8 million so far.
But the second one in a month, Ricky Gervais’ David Brent: Life on the Road, has struggled.
Set 12 years after The Office as Brent sets out to become a rock star, it took just $379,000 (with a flat average of just $1700 a cinema) after uninspiring reviews.
Classic remake Ben-Hur also had a lacklustre opening after damaging reviews, taking $960,000 with an average of just over $3000.
Strangely enough, Bad Moms topped the box office for the first time on its third weekend when it outdid Suicide Squad on its fourth weekend. But for the first time since mid-March, no movie topped $2 million.