Aussie films look beyond Oscar gold

lion nicole kidman

At this time of year Hollywood is buzzing with talk of potential Oscars and box office receipts but two Oscar-nominated Australian made films are making an impact far away from tinsel town.

People involved with Hacksaw Ridge, the WWII epic directed by Mel Gibson, have been working with military veterans and the Weinstein Company's Australian family drama Lion, is raising funds to benefit impoverished children in India.

After each movie wrapped production, filmmakers began to realise their work might help people.

Lion producer Iain Canning said that in early screenings, people asked how they could help Calcutta's homeless children, who are depicted in the film. A team did research and "identified three charities that had a good plan to help kids in this situation", he told Variety.

"So we started this process. It was just something we needed to do."

Canning and Emile Sherman of See-Saw Films worked with US distributor Weinstein Co. and a network of the film's global distributors to launch the #LionHeart social impact campaign.

Nicole Kidman who portrays the adoptive mother in the film, got the fundraising off to a start with a $US10,000 donation. So far the Lion project has raised more than a quarter-million dollars to help more than 80,000 children in India.

The Lion team has been working with Charity Network, which oversees digital fundraising platforms. Lion ran two auctions via Charitybuzz, an online auction site; Prizeo, which offered fans such sweepstakes as "Meet Dev (Patel) and Nicole for a Champagne toast"; and Chideo, which collects donations from anywhere in the world.

Among the beneficiaries are Magic Bus, which educates at-risk children about how to move out of poverty; Railway Children, which fights on behalf of kids suffering abuse and exploitation; and Childline India, which runs a 24-hour crisis hotline for youngsters in emergency situations. The latter group is looking to install support kiosks in places where homeless kids congregate, like the train stations in the film about the life of Saroo Brierley. Other beneficiaries include UN Foundation, UNICEF, Intl. Center for Missing & Exploited Children, and ISSA.

The makers of Hacksaw Ridge started screening the film for military veterans early in 2016; they wanted to make sure everyone was comfortable with the intense battle scenes. As it turns out, the vets' reaction was overwhelmingly positive, says producer Bill Mechanic, because the realism helped them confront their demons and to show loved ones what their experiences were like. So the film team decided to expand their outreach.

The film is about conscientious objector Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) and his heroic deeds during WWII; a key element is his father (Hugo Weaving), a veteran of the first World War who experienced PTSD, long before there was a name for it. The Ridge filmmakers continued their screenings for vets, including at the Disabled American Veterans national convention, the annual Medal of Honor ceremonies (where Doss is "a hero among heroes," said Mechanic), and the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

The Hacksaw team have linked with multiple organisations, including National Center for PTSD, Veterans in Recovery, and PTSD Foundation of America, with websites and help lines.

Mel Gibson said the project was close to his heart.

"Veterans are too often sadly overlooked. They sacrificed so much, and some aren't doing too well. It's always good to remember these people and I hope this film helps bring attention to them."

Lion producer Canning summed it up by saying quite simply: "Films can entertain, but they can also open doors and be an instrument for change."

© RAW 2017

Image: EPA/Warren Toda