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Tapsell takes the Top End to Sundance

Top End Wedding’s Miranda Tapsell speaks from Sundance about being empowered to write the stories she wants to see.

2019 Sundance Film Festival Top End Wedding Premiere / Photo Credit George Pimentel / Getty Images

Blanketed in thick snow, Park City in Utah might be a world away from Australia’s Northern Territory, but Sundance Film Festival audiences have been enamoured by Top End Wedding.

The romantic comedy, which was co-written, associate produced and stars Miranda Tapsell, made its World Premiere at the film festival on 30 January, ahead of another three screenings.

“We had people cheering, clapping, standing up,” Tapsell says over the phone from Park City.

“[At the] second screening there was a standing ovation. For it to be so warmly embraced is hugely overwhelming for me.”

Tapsell says Top End Wedding contains a lot of Australianisms – not that it’s bothered international audiences.

“Our audiences here have just completely immersed themselves in the Territory,” she says. “It’s such a different place from Utah and it’s really lovely they saw how universal the story is.”

The film follows lawyer Lauren (Tapsell) and her fiancé Ned (Gwilym Lee), who have just 10 days to find her mother in the far north of Australia, reunite her parents, and pull off the wedding she’s always dreamed of.

It’s also one of a record-breaking six Australian films selected to screen at Sundance in 2019, including Animals, I Am Mother, Judy & Punch, Little Monsters and The Nightingale.

Tapsell says the multifaceted films show “there are many different ways to speak about Australia.”

With Top End Wedding, she says she wrote the kind of movie that she would want to see – and she’s not alone. Reviews have already been appearing which applaud its energy and wit, but also signalling its importance in the “global push for diversity onscreen”, with another calling it “the new template for inclusive cross-cultural romantic comedies.

Tapsell says she’s been speaking on diversity for such a long time (remember her rousing 2015 Logies speech?), that with Top End Wedding it gave her the chance “to be a part of a film where I was able to find my perspective and my gaze and speak honestly from there.”

Tapsell co-wrote Top End Wedding with Joshua Tyler (Plonk), which marked not just her first time taking on a writing role, but being an associate producer too.

“I found it really incredibly empowering,” she says.

“I’m very proud of having the platform that I have, because now I’ve been given permission as an artist to be able to talk about the communities I love so much. I’m able to write a love letter to the Territory.”

And along the way, she discovered just how much writing has meant to her. “I only want to do more,” she says.

It was not without its challenges though.

Tapsell says she “had a blast” filming in the Northern Territory, “but in the lead up to all of it I had this sick feeling in my stomach about how I was representing the Territory.”

“Was I getting it right? It was so important to me to not have the locals up there be the punch line. And also I really wanted the unique perspective of the Indigenous bride to be very honest and authentic.”

To do that meant asking a lot of questions and raising any issues she had about misrepresentation.

“I learnt so much about asking and being ok if I was going to be told ‘no’, because that was what made the film so special – the fact that all the things I voiced that I was concerned about got fixed, or I was assured it was going to be ok. And then we went on to make a really, really beautiful film.”

Key to that was also having Wayne Blair as director. Tapsell first worked with Blair on the beloved 2012 feature The Sapphires – starring alongside Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy and Shari Sebbens (who also features in Top End Wedding), it was her breakout role before television performances in series such as Love Child, Black Comedy, Secret City, Little J & Big Cuz, Newton’s Law and Doctor Doctor.

Tapsell says she and Blair had a real short-hand on the set of Top End Wedding, but more importantly “he just understood it.”

“He understood the genre and what the heart of the story was,” she says.

“[And] he was able to bring so much of his lightheartedness and pride of wider Aboriginal Australia and bring that to the role.”

One of the next stops for Top End Wedding will be in Australia. Top End Wedding will make its Australian premiere this April in Adelaide before it releases nationally on 2 May through eOne.

“I can’t wait for people in Australia to see it,” Tapsell says.

“It’s celebrating a culture that’s more than 65,000 years old; it’s celebrating what makes this country so unique; but also, I guess it really speaks to the kind of Australia that I want to see and I know other Australians want to see.

“To have that depicted in a romcom is really, really special and I hope that more films like Top End Wedding get made.”

Top End Wedding is produced by Goalpost Pictures and releases in Australian cinemas on 2 May through eOne.

ALSO FROM SUNDANCE

Read some of the reviews and stories coming out of Sundance for the other five Australian titles by clicking the links below

  • Review Animals Variety 29 January
  • Review Judy and Punch Hollywood Reporter 29 January
  • Little Monsters raises stakes for big screen comedies Deadline 28 January
  • Review I Am Mother Variety 26 January
  • Jennifer Kent on The Nightingale Vulture 25 January