Several distribution companies were checking out the acquisition title Tracks this weekend as the 40th Telluride Film Festival rolled on. But as Deadline exclusively reported The Weinstein Company had the real inside ‘track’ out of the Venice Film Festival premiere. The film financed by EOne in the UK and Transmission in Australia first screened here last night and again this morning as the filmmakers hightailed it out of Venice to get to the remote Rockies for their next stop.
The true story of Robyn Davidson’s 1977’s 2000 mile solo trek with four camels and a black dog across the Australian desert to the Indian Ocean stars Mia Wasikowska, was directed by John Curran (The Painted Veil), and next heads to Toronto. Producers Iain Canning and Emile Sherman, who won Oscars for The Weinstein Company’s The King’s Speech two years ago, told me they are relieved after the enthusiastic reception the film has received in both Venice and now Telluride. Curran said the nerves were flowing for him as well before the North American debut here but he also is happy with response so far. Several specialty film distributors checked out the film in Telluride and two top execs I spoke with after the screening were impressed but obviously Weinstein is doing the deal. After seeing the film I thought this fascinating adventure picture would have no trouble at all finding domestic distribution. If it did we should all get out of this business. It’s that good. I don’t think Weinstein will want to release in this crowded awards season and their plate is already full. Spring seems right to me.
Audience applause after Sunday morning’s 9 AM screening was continuous through the key credits and very strong by Telluride standards. Curran, the producers, Wasikowska, and real life subject Robyn Davidson introduced the movie and sat for a half hour Q&A later. Wasikowska is outstanding in the emotionally and physically challenging role of Davidson. The real life counterpart was very happy with the results. “Mia was so remarkably like me. And yet it’s the film version of my story so it’s quite different. So it’s a very bizarre feeling of seeing yourself in another version, sort of like a parallel universal. Each time I see I just love it more and more. I think it’s a really terrific film. Everyone involved in this film has been so respectful and really came to respect the feeling of the book and I really appreciate that, ” she said.
Curran managed to take this very individual tale and bring it to life in ways that I can’t imagine audiences, particularly animal lovers not responding to in a big way (although beware there are some unsettling moments in that regard). It’s a wonder that the story, which began in National Geographic and then became a best-selling book, has taken so many decades to get to the screen. It’s hugely cinematic. In some ways it reminded me of the 1974 film The Dove (produced by Gregory Peck) which was about the solo journey of another Robin, 16-year-old Robin Lee Graham (played by Joseph Bottoms) who sailed around the world taking only his cat with him.
Curran says the movie is being compared with two others in the Telluride Festival that also pit a single human being against the elements. “With All Is Lost and Gravity there must be this theme of disconnect or something that is similar to all of them. There must be some existential edge developing in a younger generation that’s continually connected. There must be some fantasy in just going off on your own and being completely removed,” he said, adding the several years of development for this was taking a book without a clear narrative structure and finding a form for it until it was muscled into the version on screen now. Upscale adult moviegoers like those found out Telluride will respond but I think younger audiences are going to go for it as well.
Sherman thinks it does have great appeal for today’s generation even though it is set in the late 1970s. “It’s just that sense of being alone, of wanting to cast off the shackles of our endlessly talkative social media civilization that we’re in, the urban environment most of us live in and work out what you are outside of all that,” he said noting he and partner Canning had been developing it with Curran for several years and he had been tracking it for years when it was tied up with a studio.
Wasikowska believes the film came just at the right time for her and happy to work again in Australia for the first time since she was 17. “I got very attached to Robyn’s character. It’s the sort of book and you read it you feel less alone,” she said. Next week she will be very busy in Toronto with two more films getting their North American premieres there. She’s in Jim Jarmusch’s Cannes entry Only Lovers Left Alive, and is especially fine opposite Jesse Eisenberg in the intriguing The Double which I managed to catch ahead of its world premiere coming up in Toronto.