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You haven’t even heard of it, but Dalkeith, a new Australian film, is about to enter the history books on several counts; it’s made not by new young filmmakers, but new, old filmmakers, reports Andrew L. Urban. (See Andrew’s comments on the film at the end of this feature.)

Shot in just 15 days for under $1 million, Dalkeith is set to recoup its budget for the various private investors who financed it by the end of April, 2003, says producer John Chase, from a combination of international cable tv sales and local box office takings – the latter at a handful of regional and independent cinemas such as the Waverley Cinemas in Melbourne, where it opened last week. “It’ll be running here for months,” says Nicole Jean, whose family runs the cinemas.

"based on a true story"

Dalkeith, shot on Super 16 and finished to digital and distributed by the filmmakers themselves, is unusual for other reasons, too. For all their many years of experience in film, television and theatre, this is their first feature film. “We’re nearly all over 50,” says Chase, who started his film industry career as a stuntman on Alvin Purple. Esme Melville is in her 80s, but some of her co-stars are younger, like Ray Barrett, Gus Mercurio, Alan Hopgood, Judy Banks, Geoff Brooks, Marilyn Maguire, James Benedict and Jacinta Stapleton.

Written by Victor Kazan and directed by Leigh Sheehan (who is not over 50, but only over 40), Dalkeith is based on a true story of a supposedly dud greyhound donated to a retirement home to give the residents something to focus on. The interaction helps not only the oldies – the dog turns out to be a real class runner.

While the commercial film distributors – like Alan Finney of Buena Vista – liked the film very much, they all felt it was too hard to market in the conventional manner. Chase, who has been working on programs for decades, took on the challenge and used his contacts in the international sales arena to secure early sales to companies like BSkyB in England, who have increased the film’s schedule this month from 4 to 10 screenings, after a notable response from viewers.

Similarly, in Ballarat, where the film was shot and had its premiere season in November, the cinema is booking it back for a second season this month, by popular demand. Six other regional cinemas are waiting to take the film in March, and a New Zealand exhibitor is flying over to have a look at it.

Shot digitally in widescreen (16:9) format, the film is actually getting screened from a DVD player on a digital projector – special equipment that was flown in from Singapore by a film industry contact and solid supporter of the film. Dalkeith has also been adapted for the 4:3 tv aspect ratio, and Chase hopes to complete some Australian tv or cable sales, as well as taking the film to cities like Sydney.

"keeps generating interest"

“It’s one of those films that just keeps generating interest – and it’s not just older audiences…we’ve found that about a third of the audiences buying tickets are under 30.

“The story of Dalkeith is indeed universal,” says Chase, “and could be set anywhere in Europe, the U.S.A, or indeed in almost any country of the world. However we set it in rural Victoria. The film was shot entirely on location in the historic city of Ballarat – site of the world’s largest gold find and a place of great architectural interest, owing to the many disparate nationalities attracted there by the lure of gold. The magnificent buildings of Loreto College were used as the location for the fictional retirement home.”

And the way things are going, Dalkeith will still be playing when its stars and makers have all retired.

Published February 14, 2002

Comment by Andrew L. Urban:
I finally got to see Dalkeith and really enjoyed it. The script is sharp, funny, occasionally moving and always sincere. It really is an audience pleaser despite what may seem a limited appeal by virtue of its setting and characters. Direction achieves a tone that is a well balanced mix of comedy and drama, and all the characters are treated with genuine compassion. The story is pretty good, but then it’s based on a true story; my only story complaint is the unclear resolution for the lovers’ tiff between Dave the groundsman at the retirement home, and the girl with a competing greyhound. Many of the performances are delightful, and Ray Barrett is outstanding. All up, Dalkeith is a little gem of Australian cinema.

Published July 3, 2003

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