Kriv Stenders

Strewth! Old Dogs and New Tricks at Glasgow Film Festival

Still from Red Dog (Stenders, 2011)

The wonderful folks over at Glasgow Film Festival have truly delivered on their promise of late last year, programming a veritable cornucopia of Australian cinema for their 2015 installment, which runs 18 February – 1 March.

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Australia at the BFI London Film Festival 2014

Production still from Charlie's Country

Five fiction features, four documentaries, four shorts and one omnibus film, exploring life and death – from the outback to the city – with detours into sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll – Australian cinema is set to make a significant contribution to the 58th BFI London Film Festival, which takes place in cinemas across London, 8-19 October 2014.

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Red Dog posts disappointing UK opening

Released onto 56 screens across the UK and Ireland last week, 2011’s Aussie breakout hit Red Dog dragged in a disappointing £20,837 and the combined British and Irish box office.* Relatively meek pre-release previews saw that first week tally rise to  just below £25k, with the film posting a meagre site average of £372. In his indispensable weekly column on the UK box office, Charles Gant reads the numbers as proof that the film is convincing ‘neither as mainstream family fare or as a niche title for fans of Antipodean cinema’.

Production still from 'Red Dog'

Given the scale of the marketing (including television and newspaper advertisements) and a limited release focusing on major cinema chains, G2 Pictures – the film’s UK distributors – were no doubt hoping for a sizeable opening that might have allowed the film to repeat its trajectory at the Australian box office, where a strong opening blossomed into a full-blown hit over a couple of months.

But whilst Australian films are often given short shrift in their own cinemas, the sheer volume of films released onto British screens every week (and the lack of vested interest amongst audiences and exhibitors) meant that this approach was always likely to be a gamble. Indeed, amid such a busy release schedule – particularly in the aftermath of awards season, when successful films like The Artist are being re-introduced to major cinemas – it is inevitable that a small film like Red Dog will struggle for attention unless handled very carefully.

The notion that Red Dog might have become a hit in the UK is not entirely absurd. At home, the film drew comparisons with Crocodile Dundee – mostly in terms of tone and the nature of its success – which was a monumental success in the UK (seen in theatres by an estimated 9.8m Brits according to the BFI’s Ultimate Film List), and was also discussed as ‘the film Baz Luhrmann’s Australia should have been’, a positive comparison with a film that disappointed UK critics and audiences alike a few years back. Plus there are few things that the Brits love more than animals, especially dogs.

But lacking the kind of buzz necessary to drive audiences to previews and first week screenings, the very fact that Red Dog opened predominantly in multiplexes operated by three of the UK’s largest chains (Vue, Cineworld and Empire) placed it at something of a disadvantage. In these multiplexes, audiences scanning through the screening times might pass half a dozen films before seeing Red Dog listed against one of the venue’s smaller screens, and unless they are visiting the cinema specifically see the film, are much more likely to choose an option they’ve heard discussed or seen advertised.  In many senses, Red Dog is perhaps better suited to miniplexes such as those operated by City Screen under the Picturehouses banner (which typically feature 3-4 screens per site), where it would only be competing for audiences with a small cluster of films. Indeed, much of the chatter about the film on Twitter over the last week seems to come from people who saw the film at many of these smaller, niche venues that hosted the film (including the four-screen Broadway in Nottingham or the two-screen DCA in Dundee).

Of course, a slew of rather tepid reviews from UK critics wouldn’t have helped the cause, but G2 might have been hoping that strong word of mouth from those who did catch Red Dog in its first days might sustain the picture in the coming weeks, perhaps giving it enough time to build an audience. But given that the multiplexes involved have scaled the film back to mostly daytime screenings, it’s unlikely the film will cumulate much more at the UK box office. There is hope, however, with the relatively wide opening of the first week giving way to a more appropriate style of ‘platform’ release, which sees the film opening at smaller independent cinemas across the UK and Ireland over the next few weeks, with an opportunity to build local audiences and gain the kind of appreciation that it no doubt deserves.

Check local listings to see if the film is playing near you, or visit the ‘cinema listings” section of the official UK website, reddogthemovie.co.uk.

* Opening week box office figures taken from Charles Gant’s weekly box office column for The Guardian.