Top storytelling from girl from the Top End
To those sitting in the Palmerston cinemas in Darwin, the NT premiere of Top End Wedding feels more like a large family gathering than a red carpet event.
By a show of hands, at least two-thirds of the attendees know the film's star and co-writer Miranda Tapsell personally, and many of the rest have played some part in the film.
It's a warm, celebratory atmosphere; after all, it's not every day a romantic comedy comes to film in the NT.
Top End Wedding shows off some of the best scenery the Territory has to offer, while shirking the stereotypes of Crocodile Dundee.
The film, written by Tapsell and Joshua Taylor and directed by Wayne Blair, follows newly engaged couple Lauren (Tapsell) and Ned (Bohemian Rhapsody's Gwilym Lee) as they go on a mission to reunite Lauren's parents (Huw Higginson and Ursula Yovich) in time for their dream wedding.
Their pursuit of an AWOL mother-of-the-bride takes the young lovebirds from the capital city of Darwin to Kakadu and Katherine Gorge.
The action culminates in the picturesque Tiwi Islands, an AFL-mad community visited by few tourists let alone a film crew.
"The first thing people say when I tell them I'm from the Territory is 'Isn't it dangerous?'. It can be if you're not mindful, but so can Sydney and Melbourne. It's a matter of perspective,” Tapsell says. "I was really touched by how invigorated people were by seeing all the beautiful landscapes and reminding everyone it can be romantic.
"Seeing the Territory through new eyes, through Gwilym's eyes, I started to see all the little special things I took for granted growing up. I couldn't wait to leave home and chase my dreams in Sydney. I'd wanted to be an actor ever since I was 13 years old.”
Lee worked on Top End Wedding during post-production for the Oscar-winning biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, in which he played Queen guitarist Brian May. The Welsh actor is full of praise for his co-star, who spent five years working on the film.
"Getting a film made is so difficult. It requires passion to get it done and this person has passion in bucket loads,” he says.
"Miranda has something she wants to say and I don't think many people have that. To have such a clear idea is quite a rarity.
"I remember reading the script for the first time before I met Miranda and that idea of home and family, which is very much connected to Tiwi and the NT in our story, everyone's got their own version of that. I connected it to my version of home, family and heritage.
"There's a Welsh word called hiraeth, which means longing for country and longing for your home ... that's what's going to appeal to people around the world.”
The film has given Tapsell, a two-time Logie Award winner, the confidence to pursue work behind the camera as well as in front of it.
"Sometimes I feel like a lot of actors have to leave their career up to fate, in a way. Now that I've had a taste of this I'm certainly not going to say no to it because I know the kind of films I want to see in cinema,” she says.
"It was more than just wanting a role for myself. I wanted to show my community off in a positive light.
"I used to be scared to ask for things, but making this I was thrown in the deep end. Now I'm shameless in asking for what I want. One thing I've learned from writing Top End Wedding is if I'm told no it's not that terrible.”
Top End Wedding opens in cinemas on Thursday.
STARS: Miranda Tapsell, Gwilym Lee, Kerry Fox, Huw Higginson, Shari Sebbens, Ursula Yovich.
DIRECTOR: Wayne Blair
REVIEWER'S LAST WORD: While this film takes a little while to settle into its rhythm, it's an impressive rom com writing debut for star Miranda Tapsell. Top End Wedding will take you from laugh-out-loud scenes to awe-inspiring vistas and touching family moments.