The Black Balloon (film)
|The Black Balloon|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Elissa Down|
|Produced by||Tristram Miall
|Written by||Elissa Down
|Music by||Michael Yezerski|
|Editing by||Veronika Jenet|
|Studio||Icon Entertainment International|
|Distributed by||NeoClassics Films|
|Release dates||6 March 2008 (AUS)
5 December 2008 (USA)
|Running time||97 min.|
The Black Balloon is a 2008 Australian/British AFI award-winning dramedy feature film that stars Toni Collette, Rhys Wakefield, Luke Ford, Erik Thomson, Gemma Ward as well as a cast of newcomers. It is directed by first-time feature film director, Elissa Down.
The film was released in Australian cinemas on 6 March 2008. The world premiere was at the Berlin International Film Festival in Germany in February 2008, where the film received a Crystal Bear as the best feature-length film in the Generation 14plus category.
Fifteen-year-old Thomas Mollison (Rhys Wakefield) and his family move to a new home in the early 1990s. He is anxious because he has to start at a new school, and make new friends - all he wants is to do is fit in and be regarded in the same way as everyone else. However, it seems he struggles to achieve this goal. Although his family appears to be a fairly happy one, Thomas often feels isolated; it seems as if his mother only dotes upon his brother, Charlie (Luke Ford), and does not pay any attention to him. Thomas, however, is devoted to his brother and shows affection for him. Charlie is Thomas's older brother who lives with autism, as well as Attention Deficit Disorder. Charlie enjoys dressing up like a monkey, playing computer games using a Commodore 64 and receiving gold stars for good behaviour. Charlie communicates with the rest of his family by using Sign Language.
When their heavily pregnant mother, Maggie, (Toni Collette) must take a rest owing to a recommendation by her doctor as a consequence of Maggie's high blood pressure, Thomas is put in charge of Charlie. Thomas finds this task difficult and onerous. For example, when Charlie flees from the house in a high-spritited mood, Thomas runs after him in order to ensure the safety of his brother. Thomas is unable to keep up with Charlie. Matters become even more problematic when Charlie expresses the urge to go to the bathroom and enters the nearest house in order to use the toilet. When he does so, the brothers encounter Jackie (Gemma Ward) who is taking a shower. The fact that both brothers are only wearing their underwear is a source of severe embarrassment for Thomas.
Jackie exhibits her interest in Thomas when she attends a C.P.R. class at school as well as visits Thomas at his home in order to return Charlie's monkey hat he left when he used Jackie's toilet. Thomas's first response is to ensure that his brother is hidden away from Jackie. Maggie, however, is less than thrilled when she discovers that Thomas has locked Charlie in his bedroom, who then proceeds to rub his own faeces into the carpet. Thomas becomes frustrated and tells Maggie that Charlie is her responsibility. Maggie replies that Charlie will never be able to have a job, nor a family and will likely remain living with his parents for the rest of his life.
This latest episode proves too much for Maggie. Her husband insists that she spend the rest of her pregnancy in the hospital, leaving Thomas to become the primary caregiver for Charlie. Thomas begins to enter into Charlie's world when he rides the bus for children with various disabilities with his brother. When Thomas attends his swimming class, Jackie wears Charlie's monkey ears, which pleases and amuses him. When Jackie meets Charlie, she makes a concerted effort to know and understand him, as well as to use Sign Language as a means by which to communicate with Charlie.
Thomas and his father endeavour to care for Charlie. Simon tells Thomas that his mother is grateful to have Charlie as a child because she feels that the family is strong enough to be able to look after him. Representatives from Youth and Community Services visit the house and state that they have received complaints about Charlie. Simon is furious at his neighbour whom he attributes responsibility for the invasive visit. Thomas also displays his loyalty to his brother. Charlie accompanies Jackie and Thomas in order to swim in a river. When it rains, they all shelter in a nearby drainpipe where Jackie and Thomas share their first kiss. When the boys arrive home, there is a note taped to the television which states that Maggie has given birth to a girl.
When Thomas sees Charlie at his school, Charlie becomes the victim of malicious taunting and harassment. Jackie tells Thomas that he needs to quit wishing that Charlie was 'normal.' Tensions flare when Jackie eats a roast dinner with the family in order to celebrate Thomas's sixteenth birthday. Jackie wonders whether or not Charlie will ever speak again. Thomas is confident that Charlie will if everyone will stop communicating with him using Sign Language. When Charlie begins masturbating at the table, causing Jackie to become extremely uncomfortable, Thomas becomes irate and smashes Charlie's Super Nintendo console, leading to a fight between the brothers. After a physical altercation between the two brothers, Maggie exhibits sympathy for both of her sons. In spite of his mother's commiseration, Thomas still feels as if he behaved badly. In the morning, Thomas joins Charlie in his morning activity: sitting in the backyard while banging a wooden spoon on the ground.
The family attend a school musical production entitled 'Animals Afloat,' in which Charlie portrays a monkey. After Charlie's theatrical partner, Russell, has a meltdown on stage, Thomas and Charlie both don monkey costumes and give an outstanding performance. The brothers celebrate their success by taking a bubble bath together. Thomas confesses to his brother that when he was little, he used to fall asleep at night, wishing that Charlie would be normal. Charlie looks thoughtful. The film concludes with Thomas laughing and saying to Charlie; 'You just pissed on my leg, didn't you?' The brothers then share a laugh together.
- Rhys Wakefield as Thomas Mollison
- Luke Ford as Charlie Mollison
- Toni Collette as Maggie Mollison
- Erik Thomson as Simon Mollison
- Gemma Ward as Jackie Masters
- Lloyd Allison-Young as James
- Nathin Butler as Chris
- Lisa Kowalski as Sally
- Firass Dirani as Russell
- Sarah Woods as Janet
- Kieran Smith as Elephant No. 2
The Afloat! segment was cast from a group of teens and young adults whose lives are affected by autism and Asperger's Syndrome. Some of the Afloat! cast have high-functioning autism themselves, others were their siblings. This reflected the "two by two" nature of the Noah's Ark theme as well as continued the theme of siblings working together and loving one another. As you watch, you cannot tell who has autism and who does not.
The Black Balloon received positive reviews. The first weekend of release, The Black Balloon was number 10 on the Australian box office with an intake of $500,000. Rotten Tomatoes reported that, based on 19 reviews 95% of them were positive.
The Black Balloon won, on 11 November 2008, the Best Children’s Feature Film in the 2008 Asia Pacific Screen Awards. The award was accepted by Producer Tristram Miall and Director/Writer/Co-Producer Elissa Down.
Since then, The Black Balloon received numerous awards (and nominations) in Australia and at Film Festivals around the world:
- Winner – Don Quijote Prize, Kristiansand International Children's Festival – Norway, 2008 
- Winner – Jury Grand Prix Prize (Bronze Gryphon), Arca Cinema Giovanni Award and Campania Regional Council Award, Giffoni Film Festival, Italy 2008
- Winner – Best Direction in a Feature Film – Australian Directors Guild (ADG) Awards, Australia 2008
- Winner – Best Original Screenplay – Australian Writers' Guild (AWGIE) Awards, 2008
- Winner – Movie of the Year and Star of the Year (Gemma Ward) – Australian International Movie Convention's box office achievement awards – Australia 2008
- Winner – RoC Gold Standard in Filmmaking – Hamptons International Film Festival, United States, 2008 
- Winner – Best Children's Feature – Asia Pacific Screen Awards, Australia 2008
- Winner – Audience Award St Tropez Cinema des Antipodes, France 2008
- Winner – Best Original Song ("When We Get There") and Best Soundtrack Album at Australian Screen Music Awards, Australia 2008
- Winner – Community Service Prize – ASPECT Art Awards, 2008
- Winner – Best Script, Western Australia Premier's Book Awards, 2008
- Winner – Best Film, Best Direction, Best Script, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Editing at the AFIs 2008
- Winner – Best Australian Film, Australian Film Critics Association awards, 2008
- Nominated – 10 Inside Film (IF) Awards including Best Film, Best Director, Best Script, Best Actor, Best Actress, Australia 2008
- Nominated – 11 Australian Film Institute (AFI) Awards including Best Film, Best Director, Best Script, Best Lead Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Australia 2008 
- Nominated – Best Screenplay, New South Wales Premier's Awards, 2008
The Black Balloon grossed $2,265,689 at the box office in Australia.
Filming took place in the Sydney area at the following locations:
- Holsworthy Public School
- Bardia Parade, Holsworthy
- University of Western Sydney Hawkesbury campus swimming pool
- Granville Performance Hall
- "When We Get There" – Josh Pyke
- "Even" – Simon Day (Ratcat)
- "Heartbreak Hill" – Michael Yezerski
- "The Black Balloon Theme" – Michael Yezerski
- "Bath Time" / "Bullet Boy" – Michael Yezerski
- "In The Poo" / "The Bus" – Michael Yezerski
- "The Lolly" – Michael Yezerski
- "A New Game" / "Water Babies" – Michael Yezerski
- "Learning To Swim" – Michael Yezerski
- "The Kiss" – Michael Yezerski
- "The School Fight" – Michael Yezerski
- "Fall at Your Feet" – Glenn Richards (Augie March)
- "Aftermath" – Michael Yezerski
- "The Walk Home" – Michael Yezerski
- "The Greatest ACT in History" – David Campbell, Bert Labonte
- "Afloat! The Conga" – Claire McCarthy, Miriam Rihani, Afro Moses
"Fall at Your Feet" is a rendition of the Neil Finn (Crowded House) song. The soundtrack won 'Best Original Soundtrack' at the 2008 APRA-AGSC Screen Music Awards for Michael Yezerski, with Josh Pyke winning 'Best Original Song' for "When We Get There", which he co-wrote with Yezerski. Songs also featuring in the film include "Better" by The Screaming Jets, "Don't Go Now" by Ratcat, "Streets of Your Town" by The Go Betweens, "Know You Know" by The Someloves and Jimmy Barnes' "Driving Wheels".
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- "Black Balloon nabs 10 IF Award noms – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)". Abc.net.au. 1 October 2008. Retrieved 22 August 2010.
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- The Black Balloon at the Internet Movie Database
- The Black Balloon at Box Office Mojo
- The Black Balloon at ICON Entertainment