Kokoda

Mates Became Heroes. The Track Became Legend.

Cast and Crew

Directed By

Alister Grierson

Writing Credits

Alister Grierson

John Lonie

Cast

Jack Finsterer Jack Scholt

Travis McMahon Darko

Simon Stone Max Scholt

Luke Ford Burke

Tom Budge Johnno

Steve Le Marquand Sam

Angus Sampson Dan

Christopher Baker Blue

Ewan Leslie Wilstead

Ben Barrack the Lieutenant

Shane Bourne the Doctor

William McInnes the Colonel

Darren Taylor Soldier - Forward Position

Lucas Stibbard Wounded Man

Jefffey Gunn PNG Stretcher Bearer

Stephen Cooper-Fox Digger (2/16 Battalion)

Kyle Baxter Runner

Chris Hillier Digger - AIF

Kit McDee Officer - AIF

Damien Cassidy Lieutenant

Crew

Producers

Julie Forster Line Producer

Lynda House Executive Producer

Catriona Hughes Producer

Leesa Kahn Producer

James Schramm Executive Producer

Antonio Zeccola Executive Producer

Music

John Gray

Cinematography

Jules O'Loughlin

Production Design

Nicholas McCallum

Makeup Department

Vivienne Mac Gillicuddy Makeup Department Head

Anita Morgan Hair/Makeup Stylist

Second Unit Director

Guy Campbell First Assistant Director

James Nicholas Third Assistant Director

Sound Department

Adrian Bilinsky Sound Editor

Nicholas Byrnes Sound Effects Editor

Tony Vaccher Sound Mixer

Jessica Wells Music Preparation

Visual Effects

Dan Ashton Film Recording Technician

Nick Booth Film Recording Supervisor

David Hampton Film Recording Technician

Pete Williams Film Recording Manager

Stunts

Chris Anderson Stunt Coordinator

Mick Glancey Stunts

Greg Jones Stunts

Camera and Electrical Department

Jason Boland Still Photographer

Peter Bushby Gaffer

Cody Richardson Assistant Camera

Mark Wareham Camera Operator

Matthew Weston Clapper Loader

Other Crew

Russel Boyd Location Manager

Alan Hansen Digital Film Colourist

Nicholle Leahy Assistant Accountant

James K. Lee Music Preparation

Toni Pearson Production Accountant

Jason Rowling Runner/Driver

Scott Stewart Location Manager

Details, Budget, Distribution, Reviews and Box Office Figures

Running Time

92 Minutes

Filming Locations

Mt, Tambourine, Queensland, Australia
Queensland, Australia

Financed By

Australian Film Finance Corporation (AFFC)

The AFFC allows for a budget of $36,750,000 and Kokoda is listed as being financed in 2005. Information on whether Kokoda actually received this amount or whether that amount is the AFFC's budget ceiling is unavailable.

GFN Productions

Pacific Film and Television Commission

Distributed By

Palace Films 20th April 2006 (Australian Theatrical Release)

Romar Entertainment 2007 (USA Theatrical Release)

Other

Cameraquip Australia Camera Equipment

Frame, Set & Match Digital Intermediate

Vision Matching Negative Cutting

Box Office Figures

By 20 April 2006 the film had taken $1,014,455

By 18 June 2006 the film had taken $3,088,154

DVD and alternate sales prices are not yet available.

The final total according to the Australian Film Commission is
$3.1 Million. This places it as the 5th Highest Australian film for 2006.

2006 was a good year for Australian film with Happy Feet, Kenny, Jindabyne and Ten Canoes all earning awards and doing very well in sales.

Awards

Kokoda was nominated for 6 awards in 2006

Australian Film Institute Best Costume Design
Best Visual Effects

Film Critics Circle of Australia Best Cinematography

IF Award Best Cinematography
Best Editing
Best Production Design

Details of Films Literature

Reviews

Review by Jim Schembri
http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2006/04/19/1145344148980.html

Review by Nick Prescott
http://www.abc.net.au/adelaide/stories/s1625923.htm

Review by Michael Clarke
http://www.abc.net.au/northqld/stories/s1628215.htm

Review by 'At the Movies'
http://au.movies.yahoo.com/Kokoda/movie/14751/featured-review/

Review by Paul Byrnes
http://www.smh.com.au/news/film-reviews/kokoda/2006/04/21/1145344262105.html

Review by Jennifer Fallon
http://www.jenniferfallon.com/news_movie_display.cfm?ID=69

Interviews

Interview of Alister Grierson by 'At the Movies'
http://www.abc.net.au/atthemovies/txt/s1613046.htm

Interview with Alister Grierson
http://media.smh.com.au/?rid=18653&sy=smh&source=smh.com.au%2Fnews%2Ffilm-reviews%2Fkokoda%2F2006%2F04%2F21%2F1145344262105.html
(forgive the ridiculously long URL)

Other Media

Due to Kokoda’s recent release no literature can currently be found which details it.

Similarly a search of the West Australian’s online archives REF only found a few references and reviews; however access to these archives requires payment.

Review and Thoughts

Synopsis

During the historical events of the famed 'Kokoda Track' in Australia's war against Japan, during the Second World War; a group of Australian Militia (nicknamed the Choco's due to their brown uniforms)2 are emplaced as forward scouts outside the village of Isurava.

After a Japanese attack the Militiamen are cut off from the bulk of their forces by a Japanese advance and are trapped behind enemy lines. They must attempt to find a way through the hostile jungle filled with well trained and experienced enemy soldiers and get back to the bulk of their forces still on the Kokoda Track.

The Japanese however isn't the only threat they must contend with, they are sick with dysentery, and the stress of the situation threatens to fracture the soldiers group with infighting; without a strong leader the Militiamen must rely on each other.

Stuck in the jungle and becoming weaker by the hour the Militia men burdened by sickness and a wounded comrade hear the main force at Isurava is under heavy attack by the Japanese forces and make a final desperate attempt to rejoin their comrades on the hill; it is their only chance for survival.

Plot

The plot follows group of Australian Militiamen from the 39th Battalion who are entrenched forward of Isurava in preparation to fight the landings of the Japanese army in Papua New Guinea. They are waiting for men of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) to relieve them.

After the introduction the main characters are sent to a forward position with an experienced AIF Lieutenant, to act as the first line of defence and an early warning against Japanese attack. The Japanese infiltrate their position however and kill the experienced AIF Officer leaving the section leaderless.

After a short fire fight the Japanese begin to overwhelm their position and they fall back. Where two of the main characters Jack and Darko watch one of their comrades being tortured and executed, after witnessing this the men are distraught and decide that their best chance of survival now that they are cut-off is to get back to their main forces at Isurava. They are then ambushed by the Japanese and run further into the jungle with the main character Jack trying to take command of the group and get them working together.

They become exhausted marching through the jungle and the character of Sam who was injured earlier refuses to let the group be slowed down by him, and so sacrifices himself by hiding so that they can move on faster without him holding them back. Soon after they become involved in another skirmish with the Japanese, this time beating them soundly, however at this point Jack's brother Max, is wounded in the stomach, the Militiamen make a stretcher for him and carry him on it.

The men then decide to take shelter in an abandoned village they have found, it is here that Jack and Darko become involved in an argument over the wounded Max, Darko wanting to abandon him so they can assist the troops at Isurava but Jack refusing to leave his brother behind. The character of Burke volunteers to stay behind and the rest head off to Isurava, soon after they leave the village is searched by a Japanese patrol and Burke leads them away from Max, even though it causes him to die, Max is later rescued by a New Guinea tribesman and returned to Isurava.

Meanwhile the small group of Jack, Darko and Johnno have made an exhausting climb up a steep embankment to reach the positions at Isurava, the AIF has arrived but is in poor shape after it's exhausting march to the forward positions, Jack, Darko and Johnny join the volunteers from the walking wounded at the aid station and join the front lines. During the night the Australians are assaulted by a large and well armed Japanese force, and defeat them ending the battle.

The next day the remaining troops of the 39th division is on parade, and receive news that they will be taken off the frontline, and that they have saved Australia from invasion by the Japanese (this speech is one that was actually delivered to the troops at the time) 3 as they leave Max sees his brother being carried to an aid station by New Guinea tribesmen, Burke's sacrifice has not been in vain and Max has survived.

Thoughts

Kokoda is a good example of a low budget film done right. Without the distraction of 'big-name' celebrities (eg, when you cannot recall the name of a character, just the actor who portrayed him) the audience is able to focus on the story and the characters and not the latest tabloid generated scandal, a big plus in my opinion. Kokoda does an excellent job of portraying very comfortingly the horror of a jungle war.

The characters not only have to contend with the threat of an experienced and ruthless enemy, but also the conditions, with the soldiers being sick with Dysentery, Malaria and all the other jungle malaises and a lack of supplies they soldier on defending for the first time in Australia's history a threat to it's own soil.

The focus is on a small group of soldiers separated from their main forces at the village of Isurava, and not the main battles around Isurava, it gives a very confronting view of fighting and surviving in the jungle and not the sweeping descriptions of histories description.

The cinematography within the film is excellent. It is both dark and evocative, making the jungle appear as the dark and sinister place it would have been in the minds of the inexperienced Choco's. Because of this it often appears to be something of a horror film (detractors have labelled it as comparative to the Predator films) 4, indeed it has even been billed as a 'psychological thriller' 5. I believe that this is something of a misnomer, whilst it may be evocative of such films; its impact is very much of a war film, and a particularly Australian war film at that.

But what defines an Australian war movie? All of them to date are of course based around the actions of Australian troops in wartime, and all of them to a degree play upon national stereotypes that have been developed in the course of Australia’s wartime participation. The use of the oft-coined terms of 'Mate ship' and 'Larrikinism' are always a highly prevalent theme throughout Australian war movies, all of which help to further develop the image of the Australian fighting man as a loyal and lighthearted warrior.

Kokoda a good example of the Australian War film genre; it too emphasizes the experiences of the soldiers from a personal level. They have little knowledge of the greater battle apart from what they are told and can ascertain and their personal characteristics are the focus of the film. Elements of courage, endurance and camaraderie are again brought forth

Criticisms of the film, the primary criticism I have is disappointment in the lack of a bigger look at the main battle of Isurava, part of the appeal of the war film is to see a large set piece battle and Kokoda lacks this, this is no fault of the filmmakers but a result of the budgetary constraints.

The portrayal of the Japanese on the whole I feel is mixed, for example you don't ever see a Japanese face, which does tend to 'demonize' them to an extent, however this does give a good feel of what the Australian soldiers (especially the inexperienced Militiamen) themselves no doubt felt about the enemy.

The Japanese, I feel, are portrayed as just a little too superior to the Australians, whilst the Japanese were more experienced then the Australian soldiers had they been that superior the Australian soldiers would not have been able to inflict a 10:1 Causality ratio, with some 750 Australians killed and 1,000 wounded to the Japanese casualties of 6,500 Killed and twice that many wounded. 6

The Japanese were suffering almost as much as the Australians in the jungle conditions, their equipment as portrayed in the film is far too clean and free of mud and dirt as opposed to the Australians who are more realistically filthy, the Japanese suffered very much as well with Dysentery and Malaria7 despite their better jungle experience. Despite this, the film as it is shot through the single experiences of a small group of soldiers without greater knowledge of the wider context does give a rather good job of what must have been running through the Australian troops minds, in this way Kokoda serves as a good reference to a soldiers perspective rather then pure fact.

Despite these minor quibbles, Kokoda is a good example of an Australian war film, and an impressive effort for director Alister Grierson first feature length film.

Circumstances of Production and Release

Kokoda wasn't a project that Alister Grierson had initially planned on making according to the DVD commentary he was inspired to do it by his visit to the Kokoda Track where he saw the monument which had been erected in honour of the veterans who fought at Kokoda; four pillars inscribed with 'Courage' 'Endurance' 'Mateship' 'Sacrifice' this formed the primary inspiration and the main themes behind the film. Filming began in 2005, however due to budgetary constraints the scale of the film had to focus on a small group of soldiers instead of the main battles at Isurava. 8

This story itself was also based on a true event which happened during the battle "...Lieutenant Sword that found itself cut off from supply at the beginning of the battle for Isurava. After many frightening days making their way back to Isurava with no food, carrying the wounded and suffering from the effects of tropical diseases, they emerged from the jungle near Alola. Upon hearing that the 39th Battalion was about to be overrun, they joined a party of severely wounded men and made their way back to the battle." 9

Kokoda was released on the 20th of April which is 5 days before ANZAC Day in Australia, this release date was no co-incidence and was timed to co-incide with the ANZAC Day services and memories, this fortuitous release meant that it was able to get seen by a wider audience due to the interest generated by ANZAC Day and this resulted in a higher box office taking then might have been excepted from a low budget film.

Reception to Film

Reviews made during the release were mostly positive. Critics citing it as an important film detailing Australians involvement in the Pacific theatre and a film that should be seen by the Australian public. 10 This was a widespread response due to the film being released just before ANZAC day; therefore interest in Australia’s wartime history was particularly high.

The public’s reaction was positive, as can be seen by Kokoda’s high box office gross. Kokoda is likely to be continually referenced in the future as a film to watch for Australian viewers. It is one of only a mere handful of films dealing with Australia’s participation in the Second World War, and only the second that deals with the events at Kokoda.

Prior and Subsequent Work

Director's other Works

Kokoda is the first full length feature from Director and Writer Alister Greirson, according to the IMDB website11 other credits include:

Director: Runtime:
Kokoda (2006) 92mins

Behind the Plastic Bubble (2005) 5mins

Bomb (2005) 3mins

Burning Ambition (2004) 15mins

Flight (2004) ?mins

Writer:

Kokoda (2006) 92mins

Bomb (2005) 3mins

Flight (2005) ?mins

Editor

Bomb (2005)

Unfortunately these films are neither available through any outlet I could find, nor are any reviews or information available.

Kokoda marks the first feature length presentation of Alister Greirson. This makes Kokoda a particularly impressive effort given Greirson's lack of experience with a feature length presentation. It also marks his first major commercial release as well; Kokoda did pretty well for an Australian release making 3 million within two months of its release.

Actors

This is the first film by Jack Finsterer and he delivers a good performance for an actor who's only acted previously in Australian television, appearing in shows such as Neighbours, Stingers and Blue Heelers amongst others. 12

The only characters with any credits of note within the film are Shane Bourne and Angus Sampson. Shane Bourne hosts an improvisational comedy show Thank God You’re Here on Channel 10. Whilst Angus Sampson makes regular appearances on the same show. 13

Position within Australian Cinema

Although Kokoda hasn't been released for long enough to determine whether it will have long term impact like other classic Australian war films such as Peter Weir's Gallipoli it is one of the few feature films based around the events of the Kokoda Trail, as such it's bound to be referenced in the future as a film to go and see for future generations wanting to get an impression of the conditions prevalent within that historical time frame.

It can be placed alongside other Australian war films and series due to its similar distinctly Australian themes, and in this way it continues to maintain the traditions set by earlier Australian features, for example Peter Weir's Gallipoli and the mini-series ANZACs. The themes of Mateship, Larrikinism and the theme of the characters having something to prove. Gallipoli and ANZACs both feature these theme's strongly and Kokoda continues with these themes, the only difference in Kokoda is that the characters have to prove themselves to their fellow Australian soldiers, rather then the British Empire as is the case with Gallipoli and ANZACs.

In this way it continues the tradition of Australian Cinema and the Australian war film, and will no doubt take its place amongst the short list of the Australian War genre.

References

1. Internet Movie Database, Cast List, 2006 (Accessed 16/04/07)
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0481390/

2. VX5226. (Et al) Khaki and Green, the Australian Army at Home and Overseas Australian War Memorial; Canberra, 1943.

3. Kokoda by Peter Fitzsimons, Hodder Headline 2005, p295
4. Tanzania Directory, May 2006 (Accessed 20/04/07) http://www.tanzaniadirectory.info/movies/news.asp?nId=8208921134471
5. Australian Interactive Media Industry Association, 2007 (Accessed 18/04/07) http://www.aimia.com.au/i-cms?page=2560
6. Wiest, A. The Pacific War: Campaigns of World War II, Motorbooks International
7. VX5226. (Et al) Khaki and Green, the Australian Army at Home and Overseas Australian War Memorial; Canberra, 1943.
8. Grierson, A. Kokoda, DVD Commentary, Palace Films; Sydney, 2006.
9. Kokoda by Peter Fitzsimons, Hodder Headline 2005, p29
10 At the Movies, 2006 (Accessed 17/04/07) http://au.movies.yahoo.com/Kokoda/movie/14751/featured-review/
11. Internet Movie Database, 2007 (Accessed 18/04/07) http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0340958/

12. Internet Movie Database, 2007 (Accessed 18/04/07)
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0278355/

13. Internet Movie Database, 2007 (Accessed 18/04/07) http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0100091/

Filmography
Kokoda, (2006) dir Alister Greirson. Duration 93mins. Palace Films
ANZACs, (1985) dir Pino Amenta. Duration 500mins. 9 Network Australia, Burrowes-Dixon Company
Gallipoli, (1981) dir Peter Weir. Duration 110mins. Assoc. R & R Films Pty Ltd

By, Christopher Tomich
for
Garry Gillard
MED 231 Australian Cinema