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RED DOG: True Blue director on prequels and modern myths and legends

RED DOG: True Blue director Kriv Stenders hopes Australian kids continue to embrace locally made films and television – but not because they have to. Because they are just that good.

RED DOG: True Blue

In early 2015, director Kriv Stenders took his son and a group of friends to the movies. Alongside The Penguins of Madagascar and Oscar heavyweights was an Australian film – Paper Planes.

“It was great to be able to take my son and his friends to see an Australian movie that was about Australian kids. And they enjoyed it. They loved it. They didn’t judge it. They didn’t look down on it. They actually really embraced it,” he says.

“What’s exciting now is this idea that ‘just because it’s Australian it’s not worth anything’ is thankfully beginning to evaporate. And I think it’s a great thing that younger generations are starting to see films like Paper Planes, Red Dog, Oddball and hopefully soon RED DOG: True Blue and Storm Boy.

“It’s telling younger generations that this is your world. These are your stories as well and this is what you can continue to build on.”

It was an audience Stenders and the Red Dog team hadn’t accounted for when the movie was released in August 2011.

They had hoped it would resonate, but never imagined the film – based on the true story of the wandering red kelpie who won hearts across the Pilbara – would connect with audiences so strongly, especially with children and families.

The box office climbed for three weekends in a row – unheard of in the world of cinema. And it would remain in the top ten on the box office for 11 weekends, going on to earn $21.3 million and becoming the 10th highest grossing Australian film of all time.

“I think that was the thing that surprised us the most – how much kids really enjoyed it, because we never really set out to make a children’s film,” he says.

When it came to making another Red Dog film, Stenders, writer Daniel Taplitz and producer Nelson Woss had a few ideas, but it felt like too much, too soon.

“There was a certain alchemy and magic about the first film that wasn’t necessarily something we felt we could replicate,” he says.

But when Taplitz pitched them the idea for RED DOG: True Blue – an origin story and family film – it clicked immediately.

Levi Miller stars in RED DOG: True Blue

RED DOG: True Blue stars Levi Miller as Mick, an 11-year-old who has to move to Karratha cattle station to live with his Grandpa (Bryan Brown) and stumbles upon the puppy who would one day become the legendary dog of the Pilbara.

It’s set against the true backdrop of Karratha in 1968, when the agricultural industry began to decline alongside the birth of the mining industry.

“It was this moment of change in 1968, with the fight for equal pay, the building of the railroads, the establishment of the mines,” Stenders says.

And within this period, they were also able to weave in a storyline about the Indigenous people of the area and their connection to land.

It was something Stenders said they wanted to do with the first Red Dog.

“With the first film, we couldn’t bring an Indigenous element in there truthfully without it being tokenistic, even though we had an Indigenous character in that film. We just felt it wasn’t appropriate to wedge something in. But this time it was the perfect opportunity to do something that was actually relevant and true and appropriate to the story.”

When RED DOG: True Blue releases on Boxing Day, it will be one of a number of Screen Australia-supported film and TV series coming up that feature either familiar faces or stories.

Stenders is directing Network Ten’s Wake in Fright, while Foxtel is bringing Picnic at Hanging Rock back to screens. And in film there’s also a reimagining of Storm Boy on its way.

Stenders believes the fact these stories are emerging again is just a sign that Australia’s culture is growing older.

“As we get older as a country and have a screen culture that’s been transferred from one generation to the next, we realise we have legends and stories of our own. We realise we have an aesthetic of our own, and a mythology and iconography of our own,” he says.

“I think we’re now at a point where we can be confident, proud and strong with our stories and go into our collective history and continue to explore and find a contemporary relevance in that.

“To me it’s a sign of maturity that we’re getting more confident with who we are and who we’re becoming.”

RED DOG: True Blue releases in Australian cinemas on Boxing Day. It is distributed by Roadshow Films.