On a podcast recently I heard the actor Sam Neill refer to the lifestyle he was enjoying in New Zealand at this stage of the pandemic as a ‘strange privilege.’ It was the perfect phrase, far better than ‘survivor guilt’, which is not in any way actually appropriate.
In Australia, we’re also enjoying this strange privilege, and it may have rubbed off on our cinema industry. For at least five weeks now, multiple Australian films have dominated the Australian box office; while each have many merits, there is no doubt that the enormous financial success of The Dry, Penguin Bloom and High Ground in cinemas around the country has been augmented by the lack of Hollywood blockbuster competition. Australians historically have a terrible habit of shunning their own movies at the box office, but, during this strange privilege, we seem to have enthusiastically embraced a suite of movies that have come along, paradoxically, at a very good time.
The Dry, the most successful of the three, has finally been knocked off its number one position at the Australian box office by the kind of Hollywood product that has been around forever: the serial killer thriller (it’s called The Little Things, and stars Denzel Washington, the kind of American movie star who can still drive people to the cinema). But The Dry dropped just 18% in its eighth weekend, which is pretty phenomenal; it is on track to make $20 million at the first-run domestic box office, and is already the 14th highest grossing Australian film of all time.
This is reason to be proud, and, of course, it’s hard to feel proud in a pandemic, because our privilege is strange. But hearing today that New Zealand is trialling digital vaccination passports that will be the prototypes for the world, and reading about the vaccine support Australia will be providing across the South Pacific, does make me kind of proud to live and work in Australasia. Our strange privilege comes partially from the societies we have built, and the current success of our movies comes from the industry of artists who have been allowed to develop within them.