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Cleverman off to Berlinale

Epic genre series Cleverman is selected for Berlinale, not only commending the quality of Indigenous storytelling, but changing attitudes toward television too.


In 2005, Australian director Wayne Blair received a standing ovation at the Berlin International Film Festival for his short The Djarns Djarns, which went onto win the prestigious Kinderfilmfest Crystal Bear.

More than a decade later, Blair is heading back to Berlin, with news breaking that the high-concept television series he co-directed, Cleverman, will make its World Premiere at the festival in February.

“Make no mistake, Cleverman is an ambitious project. To be invited back to Berlin with our show is thrilling. A testament to the hard work from our cast and crew,” Blair said.

Based on an original concept by Ryan Griffen, it’s directed by Blair and Leah Purcell, and stars an international cast including Hunter Page-Lochard, Frances O’Connor, Deborah Mailman, and Game of Thrones star Iain Glen.

Described by Griffen as a show about Australia’s own superheroes, he says Cleverman isn’t your “standard sort of Aboriginal story."

“This is outside the box and very pop-culture driven. It’s a modern story with ancient roots, about how humans treat others in a world where Aboriginal dreamtime creatures exist.”

From the very beginning, Griffen wanted Cleverman to tell a universal tale, while still being grounded in Indigenous storytelling. This selection at Berlinale is testament to the series’ ability to resonate with audiences around the globe.

“For me, it’s getting Indigenous stories and faces out to the rest of the world as well as Australia,” he says.

Cleverman has been selected to screen in the Berlinale Special Series, where the filmmakers will walk the red carpet before showing it to the public, as well as the industry-only Drama Series Days in the European Film Market (EFM).

Producer Rosemary Blight says this opportunity will put a spotlight on their unique show and ensure as many people as possible see it.

“The Berlinale Special Series is selected by Dieter Kosslick, the festival director,” she said.

“There’s six series from around the world chosen and to be one of them is such an honour and nerve-wracking and wonderful at the same time.”

The move by Berlinale to showcase television series also points toward the worlds of cinema and the small screen colliding.

“Filmmakers who would normally sit within feature film land are working within the television environment and it’s recognising that,” Blight says.

In addition, it also highlights how cinematic television can be now, something that Blight says Blair had a huge hand in doing.

“Absolutely this selection recognises the work Wayne has done in giving Cleverman a cinematic scale.”

Screen Australia’s CEO Graeme Mason said, “We are so proud of the Cleverman team. The inclusion in Berlinale is an incredible coup for the Australian television industry and a tremendous boost for Indigenous storytelling. We wish the cast, creatives and the Screen Australia Indigenous Department staff congratulations.”

Australia’s presence at Berlinale doesn’t stop with Cleverman, with one feature and two short films also selected.

Theatre director Rosemary Myers’ feature directorial debut Girl Asleep will have its International Premiere at Berlinale, as the opening night film in Generation 14plus. The coming-of-age tale won the Audience Award at Adelaide Film Festival last year, where it was the fastest selling title in the festival’s 13 year history. Additionally, in Generation 14plus Australian producer Liz Watts (Lore, Animal Kingdom) is one of the three members of the International Jury.

Meanwhile in Generation Kplus, Kill Your Dinner by Bryn Chainey, which will have its World Premiere and Alice Englert’s The Boyfriend Game is set to make its European Premiere.

“The diversity of the Australian works at Berlinale this year is encouraging and I look forward to working on the ground in Berlin with members of our Business and Audience team at the Screen Australia market stall to ensure everyone in the marketplace knows about our stellar local product,” said Graeme Mason.

Berlin International Film Festival, also known as Berlinale, runs from February 11-21.