Years after its first incarnation as an ABCs of Death competition short, almost six months after its premiere at Sundance, four months after its audience award win at SXSW and with other festival selections in the bag, and on the same day it had its Asian premiere at BiFan in Korea, Turbo Kid had its NZ premiere at the Civic on Saturday night in this year’s NZIFF.
Taking the stage to introduce the film were producers Ant Timpson and Tim Riley. Up in Korea, directors François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell were representing the film at BiFan, so Timpson gave them a call to see how the Asian premiere had gone.
Courtesy of a distinctly average connection (“the worst phone sex call of all time”) Yoann-Karl said the team wished they’d been able to be back in NZ for the premiere, but would settle for moving here after spending three months here completing post in the lead-up to Sundance.
The project’s history is fairly well-known, being developed at Timpson’s invitation from the directors’ ABCs of Death competition entry T is for Turbo.
Despite the filmmakers and producers’ enthusiam for the “post-apocalyptic BMX love story”, it wan’t the easiest concept to secure finance for when pitched at Fantasia’s Frontieres market event – although festival organisers will no doubt claim the title as one of their own when it has its Canadian premiere there on Thursday (23 July). Jason Lei Howden’s Deathgasm (also produced by Timpson) and Christian Rivers’ short Feeder are the other NZ titles selected for this year’s Fantasia.
On Saturday night, producer Riley paid tribute to the NZFC’s previous CEO Graeme Mason for supporting Turbo Kid early on, and to Dave Gibson for continuing that support even if Turbo Kid “might not necessarily have been an inheritance he was looking for”.
Introducing the producers at the Civic NZIFF festival director Bill Gosden said, “[Timpson’s] programming of the Incredibly Strange Film Festival – now in its third decade – has been seminal in developing New Zealanders’ appreciation of film.” Generous words indeed from someone who’s been doing that work himself since joining the (then) Wellington Film Festival team in 1979.
Despite the amount of festival love Turbo Kid has received since its premiere at Sundance in January, Timpson was nervous to present the film to a NZ audience for the first time. It was much-enjoyed by a vocal audience who seemd to appreciate the nostalgic references and bloody kills in equal measure.
Apart from baddie Michael Ironside, whom older readers will recall from 80s features Scanners, Top Gun and cult TV show V, the young leads have limited international profile. Munro Chambers has a strong teenage fan club built off five years on Canadian TV show Degrassi High, a franchise which also had its beginnings in the 1980s. Female lead Laurence Leboeuf is mostly known in Quebec for French-language TV dramas, and is currently core cast in Montreal-made English-language cop show 19-2.
Rather like another recent co-production premiered at Sundance, John Maclean’s Slow West, Turbo Kid doesn’t show a lot of NZ influence on screen. While Slow West employed NZ landscapes playing America, plus a number of cast and crew playing Americans, Turbo Kid shows the other side of the co-production coin. Largely developed by its Canadian creators, it was shot in Canada with a heavily Canadian cast and crew, completing its post in NZ.
Beyond the producers, few Kiwis have key roles. Australia-based actor Aaron Jeffrey – last seen in a Kiwi production early in Outrageous Fortune’s run – successfully channels Indiana Jones and Clint Eastwood’s man with no name. Although masked throughout, Edwin Wright (Top of the Lake, Slow West, Tatau) is also key player, “a cult icon in waiting” per Darren Bevan’s review.
Luke Haigh (fellow Curious director Stephen Kang’s Desert and Cannes-winning short Blue, and currently editing Taika Waititi’s in-production Hunt for the Wilderpeople) was the most prominent local during Turbo Kid’s journey through post here.
The August theatrical release in the US will be accompanied by merchandising, with the soundtrack by world famous in Canada electronica trio Le Matos, some character toys and, one would hope, a BMX.
The directors have always imagined a much larger story universe than the tale told in Turbo Kid, according to Timpson. There were many ideas floated, especially when directors and producers were together in Sundance, about further ways to exploit that material.
If it happens, it will likely become a transmedia project, with comic book and computer game ideas already floated. Whether there’ll be much NZ involvement going forward is unclear. NZFC-equivalent Telefilm Canada is much enamoured of the the directors following the success of Turbo Kid, so they’ll be less likely to need co-production finance for their next Canadian project. For now, the directors are still busy supporting the film at festivals – which have been very accommodating in travelling all three directors – while considering offers for feature work in the US after they were signed by a boutique agency at Sundance.
Turbo Kid screens again in the NZIFF in Auckland tomorrow (Tuesday 21) and Tuesday 28, with screenings confirmed in all centres for which the NZIFF programme is announced so far. Post-festival theatrical outings are yet to be confirmed, as distributor Transmission picked up rights only recently.
As Timpson noted, it would make sense to try to organise any NZ theatrical as close to the late August US release date as possible, as that has a VOD component. Turbo Kid is likely to play 50 – 70 US theatres including the Alamo Drafthouse chain, with whom Timpson partnered for ABCs of Death. The film will have a small number of mostly late-night screenings, to encourage decent-sized houses. It’s definitely not the sort of film you want to watch with three other people scattered around the theatre. If it’s not yet on your NZIFF wish-list, it should be.