Drafthouse Films

‘Wake in Fright’: 2012, the Film Odyssey

What is Wake in Fright? A newly restored, outrageous Australian film classic to be screened at Film Forum this Wednesday. The two key people involved in the making and publicizing of the film are executive director and producer Ted Kotcheff, and his close personal friend director and producer Antonio Saillant. Wake in Fright is variously described as one of the three great Aussie film classics ever made (along with Mad Max, and Walkabout), an expression of the Australian soul, a great favorite of Martin Scorsese, and of director and Executive Producer of TV’s “Law & Order,” Ted Kotcheff. It is also described as a deeply dark, raunchy, terrifying, madly intense film experience. It is a celebration of guns, booze, wanton destruction of outback-wild life, and descent into madness. Those who see it are inevitably blown away.

Wake in Fright is one of a kind. It is one of only two movies to hold the “Cannes Classic” distinction. 40 years after its first showing it has garnered rapturous press and all parties concerned are extremely excited to be bringing it back to New York and LA – in short it is rolling. This article about Wake in Fright and the men who created it, preserved it, and finally made it available to the public –even after a hiatus of 40 years — will be in two parts. This first article introduces the film Wake in Fright and also introduces Antonio Saillant, a film producer and ardent green activist, and a close friend of Wake in Fright’s producer/director Ted Kotcheff, who has taken a leading role in publicizing the film. The second part will expand on the elements of Wake in Fright but will primarily center on an interview- a celebration of the life and work of the inimitable Ted Kotcheff.

Who is Antonio Saillant?

New York producer Antonio Saillant is a close friend of TV’s “Law & Order: SVU” director and producer and director of Wake in Fright, Ted Kotcheff who is working towards a greener world through clean, green and sustainable energy in the energy hungry movie industry. Saillant is also an ardent fan of the work of Ted Kotcheff, including tonight’s film Wake in Fright. Antonio Saillant’s company, Angel Light Pictures, expresses his vision and passion for creating energy efficiency in movies and television. He says: “In the past decade, I’ve combined my knowledge of the energy business with the entertainment industry in hope of contributing to a green planet.”

Actor, producer, director, filmmaker and energy/green activist, Antonio Saillant, could very well be called an energy Renaissance man.

In his original capacity as an aerospace/mechanical engineer in the 90’s he saved energy and dollars for the New York City hospital systems and universities (Columbia and NYU) and for pharmaceuticals—Hoffmann, BMS, and other major businesses including Radio City Music Hall, the old Yankee Stadium, the Hebrew Home for the Aged and the Jewish Home Lifecare System.

One significant project was the World Bank in Washington where he met his good friend Ron Kamen, currently head of NYSEIA. That bond has endured and they often collaborate. Kamen has a very ambitious plan for government involvement in solar energy. Both he and Antonio are major supporters of solar technology and its potential to play a major role in creating sustainability.

How did Saillant meet Ted Kotcheff? Antonio met Ted at his home. Kotcheff directed American films throughout the 70’s and 80’s such as First Blood, starring Sylvester Stallone. In the 90s Kotcheff returned to directing and executive producing TV series such as NBC’s notable “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” Kotcheff and Saillant quickly bonded. Antonio shared with Kotcheff the fact that his brother Angel ‘s favorite film was Kotcheff’s North Dallas Forty, considered one of the best football films ever made.

The following week Ted had a lengthy conversation with Antonio, sharing their admiration for Sylvester Stallone, a guy who knows the audience and gives the audience what they want. After this chat Kotcheff brought Antonio onto the set of Law & Order as a guest and announced him as a “film producer, ‘so he may shadow me and learn the art of making a top rated television show.”

Antonio became Kotcheff’s “mentee.” He shadowed Kotcheff in his persona as a “Hollywood old school” guy. Other “old school” folks include Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg, Sidney Pollack- these guys understand every minute detail of making a film. Antonio was determined to follow Kotcheff, absorbing every detail of a director‘s job. In a recent interview with Kevin Spacey, Spacey shared his philosophy of life and work and the movies—very similar to Saillant’s Pay it Forward.

Saillant: Mr. Spacey, I admire you for your work and for what you are doing for upcoming filmmakers. I myself have a great mentor, Ted Kotcheff, a Canadian Hollywood director who shares the same passion for mentorship as you do. How do you find the time to juggle your career and at the same time take time to help others?

Spacey: My mother raised me right! In addition, the great Jack Lemmon was my mentor and once said to me – “If you’re doing well, send the elevator back down,” I’ve done incredibly well and it’s because the material I found early in my career was from first-time writers, first-time directors, and first-time playwrights. If it weren’t for that talent I wouldn’t have a career. So if one person gets a break then the competition [I have mounted] has been successful. This is my way of giving back and that is why I am here today.

Antonio considers himself the movie industry’s “energy guy” and believes that energy will be the issue of the near future. He points to the messages of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth as being at the forefront of change in the conservation movement. Antonio is also communicating his own personal message on conservation.

He was invited to speak at a Syracuse University event, “Showcase for Sustainability 2012,” on greening the entertainment sector. His speech on sustainable initiatives in film, television and on Broadway was held on April 18, 2012 at the Schine Student Center. Syracuse University (SU) Showcase is a campuswide, EarthWeek celebration of students work on sustainability and the future of a green economy across the energy entertainment and plastics industries.

Antonio was honored to be introduced to the students by Sherburne Abbott, who was shortly there after appointed Syracuse University’s Vice President for Sustainability Initiatives and Professor of Sustainability Science & Policy. Abbott, a leading expert in the field of sustainability science and policy, currently serves as the associate director for environment of the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Executive Office of the President. Coordinator of Sustainability, Rachel May, also pointed out that Syracuse is a top school in Journalism, and Antonio’s speech would give students an extraordinary understanding of the “green future of entertainment.” At the time of the speech Antonio was working with Ted Kotcheff, producing his documentary The Apprenticeship of Ted Kotcheff on Kotcheff’s life and times and on a football drama, The Golden Knights.

He had also formed his own company, Angel Light Pictures, dedicated to the art of learning and staying green through film and television.

Antonio says that he thinks the message is getting through – companies are trying to make money off the green concept. In addition to encouraging New Yorkers to follow the “green path,” Saillant and Kamen maintain that “going green” should support new jobs in film and TV.

Saillant says that Angel Light’s website will provide information to support organizations who want access to “Being Green,” through its affiliate Green Angel Productions.

What is Wake in Fright?

Wake in Fright is a newly restored, outrageous Australian film classic to be screened at Film Forum this Wednesday. A key role in publicizing the film has been taken by Antonio Saillant. How did Wake in Fright, which had not seen the light for forty years, surface?

Believed to be lost for many years, Wake In Fright was restored after an exhaustive decade-long search. The film’s editor, Anthony Buckley, was able to locate the last remaining print of Wake in Fright in a storage depot, scheduled for destruction in two weeks. It took considerable work to salvage the print and to restore the film so that it would run smoothly and cleanly. The materials were then restored frame-by-frame at Sydney’s AtLabDeluxe with the aid of the National Film and Sound Archives of Australia.

And how did actor and director Antonio Saillant, work with the restored version of the film and decide to screen it for Ted’s 80th birthday? Wake in Fright was not an immediate hit. It languished.

Enter Tony Timpone, editor emeritus of Fangoria and co-director of international programming of Fantasia Film Festival. He screened the film at his festival, and an audience began to build. In Germany they showed Wake in Fright to acclaim at the Oldenburg Film Festival, along with other Kotcheff films like Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? His later films included The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1973), Fun with Dick and Jane (1977), First Blood (1982) and Weekend at Bernie’s (1988).

Antonio says that this promotion created a domino effect. Australians were attracted to the amazing qualities of the film made in their own Outback. Recently, an explosion of interest has now established the film in New York, LA, and possibly Texas. Saillant and Ted’s wife, Laifun, both thought that a screening of Wake in Fright would be the perfect way to celebrate Ted’s birthday. They located a decent print with the aid of Anthony Buckley and the National Film and Sound Archives and obtained permissions to screen it. Saillant and Laifun have secured New York’s Film Forum for the screening.