The 2012 film ‘The Sapphires’ was a monumental success in Australia. The film, directed by Wayne Blair, earned over $14 million at the Australian Box Office and is the highest grossing Indigenous feature film of all time in Australia. The Sapphires connected with audiences and was critically acclaimed worldwide.
So you may ask, why did this film connect with a large Australian audience? Why did this film about a singing troupe performing during Vietnam, do so well at the box office when other Indigenous films can not even get a release?
One Answer – Star Power and Catchy Music
Indigenous singer and Australian pop icon Jessica Mauboy was featured in a lead role and Irish actor Chris O’Dowd was a prominent supporting member in the film. The film featured well-known 60’s songs such as ‘Land of a Thousand Dancers’ and ‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine’.
One of the major reasons the film received an extra amount of attention from audiences, was because of the well-established actors and songs. If the film had featured unknown Aboriginal actors and original songs, then people would have been less inclined to see the film.
The film’s success was also due to excellent word of mouth. Troy Lum, managing director of Hopscotch/eOne illustrates that the film company heavily promoted and screened the film before it was released. This advertising tactic prompted people to talk about the film and encourage others to see it.
The Sapphires success at the Cannes Film Festival
The cast at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival | Picture Source – News.com.au
The film premiered at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in May 2012. The film received an applause from the audience which lasted several minutes. (FYI – if a film receives a standing ovation for several minutes at Cannes, then it has been well received)
Many critic’s described the film as ‘brilliant’, as it was able to capture a dark moment of Australian history with humour.
Although the film did not win any awards, it was acquired by Weinstein Co. and distributed in the United States. Thus, this little Australian film was put on the world map.
Comment on Australian Films
Picture Source – Backing The Battler-wordpress
Despite The Sapphires success, Lum makes a very interesting point about Australian Films. He states that “My feeling with Aussie films is that people need that personal recommendation. People need to be told, ‘Yes, this is a good movie, you should go and see it”.
This is a very common view amongst Australian film goers. I know from personal experience that many individuals are put-off/highly reluctant to see an Australian film. The films are seen to be lacking in quality to American films. They also do not have ‘big budgets’ or ‘star power’. In addition, the films often focus on the same stereotypes (i.e. the outback, the bush, the ocean, the drover).
For this reason, individuals choose to consult with their friends or family members before seeing an Australian film. If an acquaintance says that the film is ‘worth seeing’, then more people are inclined to go. Therefore the good word of mouth propelled The Sapphires success. Without this it would not have garnered the same box office results.
This cultural ethos needs to change.
All Australian films are worth celebrating.