Australian Cinema

Jessica Martinez

Assignment. 2. Critical Review and Bibliography

(Part 1)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Rating: M Moderate themes, moderate coarse language
Genre: Drama
Release Date: March 6 2008 in Australia
Release details: Wide National Release. Outlines  in newspapers for screening details.
Press Images:
Official site:
Language: English
Country: Australia
Selected for the 2004 Aurora Development Scheme through the NSW Film & Television Office - The Black Balloon was written by Elissa Down and Jimmy The Exploder (Five Guys Named Moe). The Black Balloon is made with the assistance of the Film Finance Corporation Australia, The New South Wales Film & Television Office and the Australian Film Commission with international sales by Icon Entertainment International and theatrical distribution in Australia by Icon Film Distribution.

Toni Collette.................... Maggie Mollison- lead actor
Rhys Wakefield............... Thomas Mollison
Luke Ford..................... ...Charlie Mollison
Erik Thomson.................. Simon Mollison
Gemma Ward................... Jackie Masters
Firass Dirani..................... Russell
Nathin Butler.................... Chris
Henry Nixon..................... Trevor
Lisa Kowalski................... Sally
Andy Meritakis................. Daniel
Aaron Glennane................ Bucko
Lloyd Allison-Young........ James


Writer/ Director..................Elissa Down
Casting Director………… Nikki Barrett
Producer………………... Tristram Miall
Line producer…………….Sally Ayre-Smith
Executive producers…….. Anita Belgiorno- Nettis
                                           Sally Chester
                                           Toni Collette
                                           Mark Gooder
Writers............................... Elissa Down
        Jimmy Jack(a.k.a. Jimmy the Exploder)
Cinematographer………… Denson Baker Acs
Editor……………………. Veronica Jenet Ase
Production Designer………Nick McCallum
Costume Designer……….. Claire Granville
Casting Director…………...Nikki Barrett
Composer………………… Michael Yezerski.
Budget and box office figures, release of box office
“Similarly, the Australian film The Black Balloon is doing extremely well, adding screens and growing its audience by 5% across 61 sites. It took 217K over Easter, $357K over the week, and, after three weeks of release, is powering towards the ton. Whatever one thinks of the film, there's no denying how smart Icon has been in its release strategy for this film.” (The 2008)
Box Office Table –

Rank Total Chg Title (Distributor) Week Screens Chg Avg

By the Numbers from 1-15 - The Top or highest is 15

Amount per week

Thursday 20 March - Wednesday 26 March, 2008


$357,368 14 THE BLACK BALLOON (ICON) 3 61 9 $5,858 5 $1,026,687

Easter Weekend Box-Office Thursday 20 March - Sunday 23 March 2008


$217,087 - THE BLACK BALLOON (ICON) 3 61 9 3,558 -9 886,406

Box Office Table: Thursday 13 March - Wednesday 19 March, 2008


$311,992 -12 THE BLACK BALLOON (ICON) 2 56 4 $5,571 -16 $669,319

Weekend Box Office: Thursday 13 March - Sunday 16 March, 2008


$217,865 -9 THE BLACK BALLOON (ICON) 2 56 4 3,890 -12 575,192

Box-Office: Thursday 6 March - Wednesday 12 March, 2008


$356,327 - THE BLACK BALLOON (ICON) 1 54 - $6,598 - $356,327

Weekend Box-Office: Thursday 6 March - Sunday 9 March, 2008


238,747 - THE BLACK BALLOON (ICON) 1 54 - 4,421 - 238,747

(Legend: box office ranking; taking for the week; percentage change from previous week's taking; film title; distributor; weeks in release; screens showing on; percentage change from previous week's screen pattern; average earnings per screen; percentage change from previous week's figure; box office takings for the year; top 100 ranking for the year thus far.) (The 2008)

Bibliography of interviews with film makers ( directors writers and producers) during the release of the film.
Abc Home- at the Movies with Margaret and David. Interviews. David Stratton speaks with Director, Elissa Down, actors Rhys Wakefield and Luke Ford.

Urban Cinefile. The world of film in Australia on the internet.  Down Elissa- the Black Balloon: Makin E’m laugh…and Cry. March 6 2008.

AFC News march 2008.  Elissa Down talks about her highly acclaimed debut feature The Black Balloon. Australian Film Commission.

Movie time ABC radio national Julie Rigg Interviews Elissa Down, writer-director, 'The Black Balloon' march 6 2008.

The law society of NSW Aussie film wins the prize, The Black Balloon By Michelle Asprey, Lawyer

Bibliography of reviews in news papers, critical essays in journals and discussions in books
Because the film has been recently released it has been all over the newspapers especially when it comes to international and originally Australian supermodel Gemma Ward the following are some articles, reviews and comments in newspapers
The Advertiser Sunday mail in Adelaide
Courier and Sunday mail, Queensland Newspapers
The Age Entertainment
Sydney morning herald
Sunday times
West Australian
Express magazine
Ok magazine
Who Magazine, first for celebrity news. Feb 2008. Hot topics: Stars turn out for the premiere of The Black Balloon.

Al Cossar.  Mar 12, 2008. Reviews: The Black Balloon (2008) In Film Australia.

Curtin University of Technology, Curtin news. March 3 2008. Media release archive: Curtin graduate’s award winning film opens this week

The Sydney Morning Herald: national, world, business, entertainment, sport and technology news from Australia's leading newspaper. The Black Balloon: A writer-director portrays life with an autistic brother to heartwarming effect writen by Sandra Hall, reviewer. March 8, 2008. Ninemsn movie fix. The Black Balloon- movie info

Herald Sun.  film review- The Black Balloon: so close to home so far to go.  March 6 2008.,21985,23329700-5014207,00.html

The Blog Central. Posted by Jim Schembri. March 2008

Sydney morning herald.  Black Balloon soars above competition. Febuary 18 2008.
The Age Entertainment. Auteur's Autism Artistry.  March 7, 2008

Courier and Sunday mail, Queensland Newspapers. Movie review the black balloon
Sunday times- Perth Now. Spotlight on the movie: The Black Balloon.  Shannon Harvey in STM march 8 2008.
The national library of Australia and partners: Parliament of NSW . 13th March, 2008. The Black Ballon by Rev The Hon. Dr Gordon Moyes, A.C., M.L.C.

Details of the films online presence on the web literature
Web wombat the original Australian search engine has many reviews on the film.  The internet is jam packed with reviews and interviews on the film from different sites particularily box office sites, entertainment websites that have been mentioned.  People have the freedom to comment on their thoughts about the film.  The public have the opportunity to chat to others on line about the film- not to mention postings on Youtube.  Youtube allows the audience to view clips and snippets of the film and also online video reviews. Ones the movie leaks on to the internet you can download it and save it on the I pod or burn it on to a CD.  There are many photos and shots taken from the film for the public to put on their personal web pages like those of Facebook and MySpace.  The web is a forum of knowledge and information for all to see and for all to share amongst each other.

(Part 2)
This new film seems ideal for families with teenagers, because it deals intelligently and compassionately with teenage issues, and at the same time it is funny and true to life. (The law society of NSW. 2008.) The meaning of the film’s title isn’t spelled out on screen, but the director has said it is “a metaphor for a ‘different’ childhood, filled with moments of chaos, joy and sadness for what may have been”. (The law society of NSW, 2008)
The Black Balloon is a story about fitting in, discovering love, and accepting your family.” The story revolves around the Mollison’s are an army family; but it’s not what you’d call a regimented life, or even a regular household. Thomas’s cricket-obsessed father, Simon, talks to his teddy. Simon and Maggie are openly intimate, and now Maggie is going to have another baby.
Thomas is a sixteen; and moving into a new house, and school. Thomas’s older brother Charlie who is Autistic and has ADD and announces their arrival to the neighbours by banging a wooden spoon and wailing on the front lawn. Charlie is unpredictable, sometimes unmanageable, and often disgusting. Thomas hates his brother but wishes he didn’t.
Maggie has complications with her pregnancy and becomes bedridden. Thomas and Simon between them take on Charlie’s daily routine; and Thomas experiences the less savoury aspects of coping with his brother. What he didn’t bargain for was the shit-smearing, shopping centre tantrums, and riding in the Autistic School bus. It’s sink or swim; and Thomas is drowning.
The school swimming lessons are a nightmare, as Thomas only ever knows how to doggy paddle. Thomas is partnered with Jackie for basic life-saving; young love blossoms between the two and Jackie helps Thomas to deal with his brother’s autism. Later on Thomas’s birthday dinner goes horribly wrong. Frustrations about his autistic brother build up.  
(Official site, The Black Balloon.2008)
This movie is brilliant I loved it! I laughed felt every emotion, all the actors really caught the essense of living with autism I’m proud of this aussie film.  I think this film has portrayed the struggles of growing up. It’s a movie that makes you it is a film that keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire time and there are some really captivating scenes. There's no doubt that Australian made films carry an empathy for "old" Australians, and perhaps also for the "new". A film that is so true to life. It is a real portrait of family strengths in our world of fragile relationships. The script has expressed both the tragedy and the hilarity of the experiences of a family with someone who is so obviously different from what is considered 'normal'. The cast played their roles perfectly and the situations played were so unpredictable and funny it is an excellent portrayal of ordinary human beings.
Discuss the critical uptake of the film (both at the time of release and subsequently)
The premier was recently and The Black Balloon received good reviews from some of Australia’s top critics such as Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton.”  (Curtin University of technology, Curtin news. 2008) Curtin’s Head of Communication and Cultural Studies, Dr Ron Blaber, said Elissa was an outstanding example of the accomplishments that Curtin students can attain. (Curtin University of technology, Curtin news. 2008)
There have been many comments by the public that it hit so close to home especially with families who deal with autistic children. It has been said that the film is brilliant and that it was a great depiction of the Australianess in the film- I must say that I agree.  There haven’t been so many bad comments on the film as there are good. The film is said to be a good coming of age film yet a bit too cliché but I say that it has to be cliché in order for it to be a realistic portrayal of the characters and the situations played out.
The film is situated in relation to the subsequent and prior work principally of the director, cinematographer, writers, lead actors and producer. Also outlining circumstances of production
The film was shot on the fringes of Western and Southern Sydney and the ability of the production to secure an army house was central to the film’s success. They wanted the film to have the Australian summer feel to it, with lots of warmth in creating a tale of this nature could be portrayed as dark and gritty but uplifting.  It was shot over 29 days in the height of the Australian summer in early 2007. (Cinematic Intelligence agency, 2008)

Most of the film is based on and inspired by Elissa Down’s experience, growing up with two autistic brothers, the emotions, the resentment the love, embarrassment through the character of Thomas- it is everything that she felt when growing up. Down always thought it would be a powerful story to tell. The character of Charlie is based on her youngest brother Sean. Many elements in the film really did happen to Downs’s family such as chasing her brother down the street and get him out of other people’s houses and toilets and the struggle to get him to take his medicine, (Cinematic Intelligence agency, 2008) not to mention the shopping tantrum was a real event in her life. This film is a representation of her childhood which was insanely funny at times. Originally when they were going through the development of the film, some people were advising the directors to break up the parents but in the end elissa Down wanted the film to be truthful to the experience through laughter, tears and joys (ABC home at the movies: interview with ElissaDown,2008).

Icon’s Sally Chesher had seen Elissa’s Tropfest film, Summer Angst and upon reading the script of The Black Balloon expressed interest in the project. With Icon’s subsequent commitment to the film she became one of the executive producers. With the script finally in place it was a principal to find exactly the right people to play the lead roles. The script was given to Toni Collette who committed to the role of Maggie immediately. (Cinematic Intelligence agency, 2008)

In 2002 the NSW Film and Television Office launched a new initiative - the Aurora Development Scheme - an intensive script workshop giving writers an opportunity to work with leading filmmakers, in honing their work and preparing their script for screen. In 2004, The Black Balloon was accepted into Aurora and the result in a story of the difficulties of growing up - especially dealing with autism within a family.  In preparation for the role Thomson not only spent time in an army barracks to get an understanding of the culture, but he also grew his own moustache. He also met with Down’s parents and spoke with Elissa Down’s father to better understand parenting a child with autism. (Cinematic Intelligence agency, 2008)

It was a big challenge for Luke Ford in playing the character of Charlie- an autistic child as he was trying to portray Elissa Down’s autistic brother in real life. There was a lot of research of the physical and the mental side of autism. There was a lot of time spent with Elissa Down’s brother whom the character is based off “they had that beautiful balance of getting the condition and the character working together” (ABC home at the movies: interview with Elissa Down, 2008) Thomas and Jackie  find comfort in each other, as well as excitement, in being together and the enchantment which accompanies their discovery of one another is reflected in Denson Baker's cinematography, which softens the sun-baked flatness of suburban Sydney in summer with long shadows and a clear, shimmering light.

There are many expected clichés of boy meets girl story. The film feels like it crosses the line from a movie-lite or semi-tragic representation of autism. The general public’s reaction to Charlie slides from mild discomfort to overt disdain to pronounced horror as he produces the kind of socially awkward moments, and The Black Balloon’s writing and direction in this regard are generally successful in enabling the viewer to sympathise and understand the love, confusion, and frustration that surrounds Charlie.  At one point director Elissa Down took it one step further and decided that these characters should be road tested on the street to the public, the audience reaction was insane the whole day was spent in public dealing with the stares of people on the street. (Cinematic Intelligence agency, 2008)

Keeping faithful to the script Down and Baker planned to shoot The Black Balloon as an epic suburban tale, They wanted to use the whole width of the frame, and have a frame within a frame. They also wanted to take the film outside and shoot really big panoramas which were done in the scenes at the creek, the school pool and the army barracks. (Cinematic Intelligence agency, 2008)
Use the film to estimate what it’s uptake and current place on contempory critical and market horizons tells you of the general position of Australian film and its value
The film had rave reviews in Europe and Australia The Black Balloon was accepted into competition at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. A low budget production, it does not spare the viewer how they would cope with having a son who is autistic and has ADD. The film is a modest Australian drama that achieves its potential in showing a dysfunctional family suffering in the suburbs. (CN Cath news, 2008)
This film is authentic and true to life. It is not sentimental, but does have a realistic estimate of a young teenager’s growth in his acceptance of a brother who is different at a time when any teenager does not want to be different in any way to his peers. There is casual swearing throughout the film, presenting it as normal and acceptable. However, it is an uplifting, educational, affirmative film that helps in our understanding of families with a member who is disabled. (The national library of Australia and partners: Parliament of NSW. 13th March, 2008)

Situate the film in relation to Australian cinema as a particular type of film and as belonging to a genre of genres
Elissa Down’s The Black Balloon, a semi-autobiographical piece that layers the experience of autism within a suburban family over a more traditional coming of age story, is officially the first Australian cinema success story of the New Year.  The Mollison’s are an Aussie family of mild, loving dysfunction has taken to a new lease of suburbia. Thomas wears stubbies and Jackie, who is extremely tall, rides a ­bicycle that is ­ludicrously small for her. The effect is faintly ridiculous but their acting just about carries them through. (The law society of NSW, 2008)
But excepting the presence of an autistic child, the script here seems to be at pains to otherwise provide cliché upon cliché through its setup of its all too true blue Aussie family, from a battler mum (domestic scenery) to a battler Dad, to the depictions of Australian culture (the Dad who’s hung up on his old car, the surf life saving classes). The background to its central fraternal relationship, one of a dysfunctional, chaotic family life.
The film has a wonderful sticky Australian summer feel even though it was filmed in Sydney’s western suburbs, in Holdsworthy.. It’s an authentic Australian experience. (The law society of NSW, 2008) The Black Balloon also manages to capture the vivid and bright colours of Australia. “I chose to shoot it with a lot of bright colours to capture that sense of suburbia. You know, Queensland has that bright fluoro light feel to it.” (Beat street paper online.2008)
The Black Balloon is a great example of the kind of work being produced by our home-grown talent. It distinctly conveys the cultural ways of Australia and tackles the challenging subject of autism. Futhermore, the film is funny and appealing despite it being a drama (Beat street paper online.2008)


Beat street paper online. The Black Balloon, by Lieu Pham, 5 march 08. accessed 15/04/08
Abc Home- at the Movies with Margaret and David. accessed 6/04/08
Abc Home- at the Movies with Margaret and David. Interviews. David Stratton speaks with Director, Elissa Down, actors Rhys Wakefield and Luke Ford. accessed 15/04/08
The Blog Central. Posted by Jim Schembri. March 2008 accessed 6/04/08
Cinematic Intelligence agency accessed 6/04/08

CN Cath news: A service of church resources Fr Richard Leonard, march 3 2008 Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting. accessed 6/04/08

Curtin University of technology, Curtin news. March 3 2008. Media release archive: Curtin graduate’s award winning film opens this week accessed 05/04/08
Icon film Distribution Australia.
accessed 05/04/08
Official site, The Black Balloon: synopsis.2008. accessed 4/04/08

The Law Society of NSW. 2008. Aussie film wins the prize: The Black Balloon by Michelle Asprey, Lawyer. accessed 05/04/08

The national library of Australia and partners: Parlament of NSW . 13th March, 2008. The Black Ballon by Rev The Hon. Dr Gordon Moyes, A.C., M.L.C.