The nominations for the Aussie Oscars have been announced, and Jocelyn Moorhouse’s "The Dressmaker" is up for a whopping 12 awards. The revenge comedy-drama starring Kate Winslet as a sophisticated couturier who returns to her middle-of-nowhere hometown to reconcile with her ailing mother (Judy Davis) and clear her name in a murder case received more nominations than any other film. The nominations include best feature film, best direction, best actress (Winslet) and best supporting actress (Davis).
And yet the path to getting "The Dressmaker" on screens was an arduous one. Why did a film that’s wracking up prestigious award nominations have trouble securing funding? Insufficient dude-power, at least in the eyes of financiers.
The film’s producer, Sue Maslin, has revealed that when she pitched the project to international buyers, she was met with hesitation and told the film was "too high a risk." To be clear, this was after Kate Winslet — international movie star and award-show staple — had signed on. In an article published in The Sydney Morning Herald, Maslin wrote, "In a film about a woman dressmaker targeted primarily to a female audience, the exclusively male sales agents and buyers needed A-list male actors to secure the sales estimates." (Liam Hemsworth ended up being cast in the role.)
As for local distributors, Maslin opted to take "The Dressmaker" to Universal Pictures "because it was the only one at the time to talk seriously about the female demographic as a commercial market." This year, Donna Langley’s studio also released "Fifty Shades of Grey," "Pitch Perfect 2" and "Trainwreck."
In an interview with Women and Hollywood, Moorhouse said the the film got funded because Maslin "never gave up!"
Looking into the future, Maslin observed, "I have come to the conclusion that nothing will change unless we can effectively make a business case demonstrating that having more women leaders [in the form of directors, producers, writers, distributors and exhibitors] will be good for audiences and for the bottom line of the industry."
Women directors have fared much better in the Aussie awards circuit than in the U.S. Five female-helmed films — Jennifer Kent’s "The Babadook," Kate Woods’ "Looking for Alibrandi," Elissa Down’s "The Black Balloon," Sarah Watt’s "Look Both Ways" and Cate Shortland’s "Somersault" — have won the Best Film and Best Director prizes in the Australian Film Institute and Academy Awards in the last 12 years.
"The Dressmaker" opens in Australia today. The film made its world premiere at TIFF in September, but there’s no word on a U.S. release date yet.