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July 2020

Australian film Penguin Bloom is selected for Toronto

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This article first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald. Click HERE to see the original.

By Garry Maddox,

It’s an inspirational Australian story, about a struggling family whose lives are changed when they find a baby magpie, that first went viral on Instagram then became a bestselling book.

And now a film, Glendyn Ivin’s Penguin Bloom, based on that book, will have a world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Naomi Watts with magpie in Penguin Bloom.
Naomi Watts with magpie in Penguin Bloom. CREDIT:HUGH STEWART

Shot on Sydney’s northern beaches with a cast headed by Naomi Watts, Jacki Weaver and Andrew Lincoln from The Walking Dead, the drama is one of just 50 feature films chosen for the leading international festival that has been “reimagined” because of the pandemic and will take place in September.

Ivin, who is in lockdown in Melbourne, was delighted by the selection.

“There are so few festivals happening around the world that I really thought there must be a glut of amazing cinema that hasn’t been able to find a home,” he said. “To be included is very cool. I’m very excited and breathing a sigh of relief.”

Based on real events, Lincoln plays photographer Cameron Bloom whose wife Sam (Watts) is paralysed in a near fatal fall on a family holiday in Thailand.

Back home on the northern beaches after spending seven months in hospital, the discovery of an injured magpie chick that their three sons call “Penguin” helps the family get through the crisis.

Screenwriters Shaun Grant (Snowtown) and Harry Cripps (The Dry) adapted the book by Bradley Trevor Greive and Bloom.

Ivin, whose recent work has included the television series The Cry, Safe Harbour and Seven Types of Ambiguity, only finished the film three weeks ago.

“There’s a simplicity in the story that’s incredibly warm and emotional and it really affects people,” Ivin said. “Whether it’s a short clip they’ve seen about the real Penguin online or they’ve read the book, there’s something very moving about this story.”

He made “a few little tweaks” during editing because the film seemed especially timely during the pandemic.

“It felt like we were making a film that was a metaphor for the times,” he said.

Ivin is unsure whether he will be able to get to the premiere.

“I’m in Melbourne so it doesn’t feel like I can leave my house at the moment,” he said. “But I’d so love to be there. I can’t believe our film is going to be shown to people for the first time and we won’t be there.”

Producer Emma Cooper, who optioned the book with Big Little Lies producer Bruna Papandrea four years ago, said the film was “a unique Australian story that is also universal”.

“It’s very much about the human spirit overcoming adversity and healing through a connection to nature and family,” Cooper said.

Watts is also one of the producers of the film, which is scheduled to open in Australian cinemas on January 1 next year.

A sequel to the book, Sam Bloom: Heartache & Birdsong, will be published around the time the film debuts in Toronto.

Another new Australian film, Roderick MacKay’s drama The Furnace, will have a world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in September.

Set during the Western Australian gold rush in the 1890s, it centres on a young Afghan cameleer (Egyptian actor Ahmed Malek) and a mysterious bushman (David Wenham) who go on the run with two gold bars.

Photographs by:
Cameron Bloom
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