ART imitates life in the hilarious new film ‘Leongatha’ which had its world premiere on the silver screen at the Kino Cinema in Collins Place, Melbourne last Thursday night. And walking down the red carpet with the film’s stars, including Chris Gibson (Denni), Kate Mulqueen (Roo), Trevor Major (Uncle Bob) and Bryce Hardy as Darryl ‘Plums’ Finch were local thespians Glenn Turner and Kerrie Giles who played small roles in the locally inspired production.
Of course, Leongatha had already attracted a strong cult following after being aired over six episodes on Channel 31 last month, and via access on the Internet, but seeing it on the big screen was a different experience altogether for the cast, crew and supporters who packed out Cinema Two for the film’s night of nights last week. Even Cr Phil Wright was there, representing one of the film’s corporate supporters, the Bass Coast Shire Council. Because the fact is that ‘Leongatha’ is more a film about a Wonthaggi family wedding and a road trip by bus around the beautiful Bunurong Coast, through Inverloch to Leongatha, than it is about the capital city of South Gippsland per se. Channel 31 writer and film maker, Shane Dunlop, was inspired to make the film after being pressed into action to record his cousin, Josh Dunlop’s wedding, five or six years ago, which fearfully included a family bus trip to the function.
“The wedding was to have taken place at Mossvale Park but in the week leading up to the date, the park got flooded out and they moved the ceremony to the Ruby Hall, with the reception back at the Dakers Centre,” said Shane’s aunty, Robyn Dunlop, a lifetime resident of Wonthaggi. “Shane was asked to film it for them. “And lot of the stuff that happens in the film actually happened on the day,” she said with a laugh. “There’s also lots of our family stories woven into it as well so I guess we were watching it on a slightly different level.” Shane’s father Jack, his uncle Paul, brother and cousins are closely associated with the Dalyston Football Netball Club and, although Shane didn’t live locally himself, he spent many happy hours in the area. And there’s a clear love and familiarity with the area’s popular locations that comes out in the film which includes a stop at Shack Bay to spread some family ashes (complete with Eagles Nest in the background) and lots of other recognisable local scenery as well. But the film is more about comedy and the family dynamics that are always present at your typical Aussie wedding, all thrown together and thoroughly mixed on the bus in your classic road movie genre.
It’s an absolute classic from start to finish, along the lines of the Working Dog Production’s The Castle… it’s that good! Shane builds tension from the outset as some family members (not the Dunlops, the actors!) arrive on time to get the bus but others get there late for one reason or another and it’s clear the groom, Darryl ‘Plums’ Finch played by Bryce Hardy, is never going to make it on time. Shane’s own character in the film ‘Denni’ is played by Chris Gibson, who is forced to try to keep things calm, as well as film the event and fill in, at the last minute, as best man. There’s some new-found love along the way, plenty to drink, lots of laughs and some unfortunate drama that make the bus trip an eventful experience not to be missed. It’s probably just too risky in real life to get a bus to a family wedding but then again, you only live once.
Those who missed the longer telemovie version on Channel 31 or last week’s showing at the Kino will get a chance to see the film locally when it premieres at the Wonthaggi Cinema on Thursday, September 12 for a week of screenings. There’s likely to be a gala presentation and fundraiser for a worthy cause, possibly on the Thursday night, so watch for details. The film is also likely to do the rounds of the film festivals where it is bound to attract favourable reviews as a funny, light-hearted, breath of fresh air, away from the heavy themes that seem to pervade film festivals these days. If, however, you miss ‘Leongatha’ at Wonthaggi, you’ll still be able to watch it on DVD.