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Industry s heavyweights head to Busselton
Cinefest 2012.

Film festivals evoke a world of glamour - of movie stars on red carpets, first glimpses of anticipated new films, parties in which the beautiful and famous rub bare shoulders with the rich and powerful.

What's overlooked is that film festivals, from Cannes to Canberra (yes, our nation's capital now has a small but discerning event in October), is where a lot of the business of movie-making gets done.

While the media are drooling over a starlet in a stunning gown or a great performance in an Oscar-calibre movie, producers and directors are working harder than Uggie the Dog from Oscar winner The Artist to strike a deal that will get their next picture made.

And so it will be this year at Busselton's CinefestOZ, which, in a few short years, has evolved from a pleasant celebration of the Naturaliste region's French heritage into an increasingly significant event for the WA film industry.

The turning point was 2010 when CinefestOZ secured the WA premiere of the Sue Taylor-produced The Tree - which only two months earlier had closed the Cannes Film Festival - and the local unveilings of Blame and Little Sparrows. The local industry have been flocking south for winter ever since.

Unfortunately, this year's CinefestOZ, which kicks off tomorrow at Busselton's Orana Cinemas, will be light on local fare.

Busselton should have had the Australian premiere of the Sam Worthington surf movie Drift, which was shot in the region with the assistance of $1.5 million of government money (including $1 million from the Royalties for Regions program). Surely that investment would have been enough to have secured a first look for the locals who gave it so much support.

However, the Australian distributor, Hopscotch, is holding back the release of the film, which has been finished and viewed by Culture and the Arts Minister John Day, among other government and industry types. No release date has been announced, so watch this space.

What this year's CinefestOZ does boast is a significant ScreenWest-sponsored industry event in which several major players will take part in a seminar on film financing and marketing.

Among the film industry heavyweights heading to Busselton for the five-day event are veteran Australian US-based producer and financier Greg Coote, Roadshow boss Joel Pearlman, Madman Entertainment's Nick Batzias, Screen Australia's senior manager Alex Sangston and corporate lawyer Richard McMullen.

Coote, in particular, is a great get for ScreenWest and CinefestOZ because he has such a long history financing Australian and international movies, going back to classics such as Philip Noyce's Newsfront and George Miller's Mad Max.

Beginning his career in exhibition, where he held senior positions at Hoyts and Village Cinemas, Coote was recruited by Rupert Murdoch to run Channel 10 (in the three years he was CEO he took the station from third to first and is considered one of the company's most successful executives).

In the mid 1980s, Coote was snapped up by Columbia Pictures to be its worldwide head of marketing and distribution, arguably the highest position ever occupied by an Australian in the American studio system.

More recently, Coote headed the hugely successful joint venture between Village Roadshow and Warner Bros. that led to the sci-fi smash, The Matrix. Later, as the CEO of Dune Entertainment, he was responsible for financing much of 20th Century Fox's product, including the biggest box-office hit of all time, James Cameron's Avatar.

The movie business has changed considerably since the days Coote began his career as an office boy at Hoyts in Sydney in the early 1960s. However, he believes the principles of financing and making a successful movie are still the same.

"It is a very stable business model," Coote explains over the phone from Los Angeles. "If you cannot pre-sell a movie to a studio or to the foreign sales world, then you shouldn't make the movie.

"If the marketplace doesn't talk back and you still love the movie, then beware. If you make the movie, it will be a home movie because that's where you will be screening it. Movie-making is a business and if you don't view it as a business, you will be short-lived."

The biggest shift in recent years has been Hollywood's retreat from smaller and mid-size movies, which were its bread and butter during its Golden Age, to mega-budget action movies and the occasional raucous comedy in The Hangover/Bridesmaids mould.

"It is riskier for the studios to make a movie based on a fresh concept that costs $50 million than something based on an existing property that costs $200 million," Coote says.

"But the distributors around the world need product, so there has been a big gap created by Hollywood narrowing its focus to big-budget franchises. This is where I'm making movies now in my new role and it's where Australian movies can cash in."

Coote, who has maintained strong connections with the Australian industry despite three decades in the US, is extremely positive out about our industry. He is particularly excited about the prospects for The Sapphires.

"There are wonderful movies being made but you've got to give the audience what they want," Coote says. "Snowtown was a fantastic film but it sent people running screaming from the cinema. We need to see more films like Red Dog and The Sapphires."

Coote believes this is where there are opportunities for the Australia film industry, which is still making movies whose scale and subject matter could fill the gap in the marketplace created by the blockbuster/franchise fixation.

While mega-movies dominate the industry now, Coote is confident that the smaller adult-oriented films will return because they always dominate the Academy Awards. It's also the kind of entertainment sought out by the baby boomer audience, who are moving into retirement and have time on their hands.

"The guys who make Transformers and The Avengers are very jealous of the independents who almost invariably win all the Oscars. The studio bosses want the gold statuette so they'll get back into the business of making movies that win awards."

CinefestOZ is on in Busselton from tomorrow to Sunday. For more information visit cinfestoz.com.