Kriv Stenders’ Australian box-office hit of the year, Red Dog recently cleaned up at the Inside Film Awards – Australia’s “people’s choice” awards – winning in seven of the nine categories it was nominated in, including Best Director, Best Actor (Josh Lucas), Best Cinematography (Geoffrey Hall), and Best Feature Film. Since its domestic release in August, the film has gone on to clock just over $21.2 million dollars at the box office. In pure dollar terms, that makes it the eighth highest grossing Australian film of all time, in front of The Dish with just under $18 million in ninth place and just behind Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom at $21.7 million in seventh place.
Adapted from the Louis de Bernières novella of the same name and based on a true story, Red Dog follows the adventure-filled life of an Australian red kelpie dog who travelled throughout the Pilbara region of Western Australia during the 1970s in search of his long-lost master, John Grant (Josh Lucas; Poseidon). We’re introduced to the life of Red Dog through Thomas (Luke Ford; Animal Kingdom), who arrives in the mining town of Dampier to make a delivery one warm evening in 1979, only to find everybody gathered at the pub. Red Dog has been poisoned and the community has come together to hold vigil. Characters pleasantly odd and affable come and share their stories of Red Dog with Luke, and that’s where we’re transported back to the early 1970s to see the great life of Red Dog unfold.
Red Dog is a gorgeous family film that has truly captured the attention of young and old in Australia, helped no doubt by its soundtrack of Aussie rock songs that will make even the Generation Y viewer nostalgic. Coming in at just over ninety minutes, the film loses no time with character-introductions and does suffer mildly for it in the beginning. What comes across as awkward at first, however, is largely forgiven as the story progresses and the film is revealed to be just a little bit camp. As reviewer Anders Wotzke described it, ‘If Baz Luhrmann ever directed a “Men at Work” music video, well, I’ve now seen it’. At the centre of the film is, of course, Red Dog, played by Koko. The lovable canine has also been marketing genius for the film, whose “screen test”, available on YouTube, has received the same number of hits as the film trailer proper. There’s also its Facebook page, Mac store appearances and television guest-spots. It’s been an unusual, albeit highly successful, turn for director Stenders, whose previous features, The Illustrated Family Doctor (2005), Blacktown (2005), Boxing Day (2007) and Lucky Country (2009), have tended towards a more realist, and bleak, tone. Lucky Country, in particular, explored the tensions between the stories Australia often tells itself and the sometimes heartbreaking reality that nevertheless underlies them. Red Dog may embrace the larrikin-filled, heavily romantic self-image of Australia over its reality, but it does so with rare humour and skill.
On a budget of only $8 million, Red Dog now looks well placed to do what most Australian films can’t: make it overseas. G2 Pictures will be distributing the film throughout the United Kingdom this winter and after its grand prize win at the Indianapolis Heartland Film Festival in October (beating Oscar favourite The Help), a North American distributor is reported to be on the cards.
Red Dog opens in the United Kingdom in January, 2012.
Carolyn Lake is a Film International ‘In the Field’ writer.