Simon Baker's Breath to have world premiere in Toronto

Heading for Toronto: Breath. Photo: Nic Duncan
Heading for Toronto: Breath. Photo: Nic Duncan

Two days after details of a messy legal dispute emerged, Simon Baker's Breath has been selected for a world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival next month.

The adaptation of an acclaimed Tim Winton novel will compete in the contemporary world cinema program at a festival considered a leading entree to the North American market.

It joins two other Australian films at the festival - Warwick Thornton's period western Sweet Country, which is having its North American premiere in the Platform competition, and Violeta Ayala's documentary Cocaine Prison, about Bolivia's notorious San Sebastian jail, which is having its world premiere in TIFF Docs.

"There is no doubt that TIFF sets Australian films on the path to international success, as we saw with Lion and The Dressmaker," the chief executive of Screen Australia, Graeme Mason, said, adding that "the screen adaptation of this much-loved Australian classic not only showcases our industry's creativity but also our country itself."

Baker returned from Los Angeles to direct and star in Breath.

An adaptation of a novel that won the Miles Franklin Award in 2009, it follows two teenage boys (played by newcomers Samson Coulter and Ben Spence) who form an unlikely friendship with an enigmatic older surfer (Baker) and his wife (Elizabeth Debicki) in coastal Australia in the mid-1970s.

Written by Gerard Lee (Top of the Lake), Winton and Baker, it also stars Richard Roxburgh and Rachael Blake.

In a statement, Baker said he was "immensely proud" that Breath would represent Australian cinema at the festival.

"From an early age I was both seduced and terrified by the ocean," he said. "The Australian coastline raised me; it's enmeshed in my identity.

"Tim Winton's book Breath authentically captured the rawness of growing up on that coastline,"

The film's selection for Toronto comes after a company that had been negotiating to finance it, Arclight Films, threatened legal action against the production company.

A letter from a Los Angeles lawyer claimed that Arclight agreed to finance the film through a loan of $3.053 million and a distribution guarantee of $1 million towards the budget of $8.998 million.

But early last year, it alleged that Breath Productions began trying to find a better deal elsewhere.

Breath producer Jamie Hilton rejected the allegations, saying "our advice is that this claim is entirely without merit".

Hilton, best known for The Little Death, produced the film with American Mark Johnson, who won an Oscar for Rain Man and two Emmys for Breaking Bad.

Breath opens in Australian cinemas in May next year.

This story Simon Baker's Breath to have world premiere in Toronto first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.