‘It’s a story about finding your home and about a community coming together,”
says Nelson Woss, the producer of the film, Red Dog, which is the opening
attraction at the 8th Australia-Israel Cultural Exchange Australian Film
Festival. The festival opens tonight at the Jerusalem Cinematheque and will also
play later at the Tel Aviv and Haifa Cinematheques.
Red Dog will be the
opening-night film at all the venues.
Woss, who says he is excited to be
visiting Israel for the first time to present the film, explains that Red Dog
both the story of a particular dog, and much more than that.
The film was
shown at the Berlin Film Festival and won the Audience Award at the Vail Film
Festival. It stars Josh Lucas, Noah Taylor and Keisha Castle-Hughes (the
youngest woman to ever have been nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, for her
performance in Whale Rider
Woss divides his time between his hometown
of Perth and Los Angeles and has produced such films as Ned Kelly
Ledger and Orlando Bloom. His latest film is based on the true story of Red Dog,
who was adopted by the rough mining town of Dampier in the Outback about 40
years ago and is based on a novel by Louis de Bernieres. Woss says, “I was
excited when I came across the story because it’s set in my backyard, but it has
universal themes and concepts.”
The film is set “in one of the most
remote places in Oz,” says Woss. In the ’60s iron ore was discovered in this
region, and towns had to be built very quickly to extract and export
“It was just a few thousand people at first and in 10 years it was
five times that. It was just single men then and now it’s a thriving mini-city,”
“People came in from all over. They were there to make money and
But some people fell in love with it. It’s true Outback, one of
the most beautiful places in Australia.”
“It was so tough you basically
fit in or else, but there were a lot of people of very different backgrounds,
pedigrees and jobs and a connection happened very quickly among them, no matter
how different they were.”
“And then one day this charismatic dog walks
into town,” says Woss.
“The dog didn’t care what you did, he loved you
for who you were. The film is about a number of people whose lives intersected
with the dog’s.”
THE TOWN actually erected a statue to the dog, which
author Louis De Bernieres saw when he visited, “and he was fascinated with why a
town would erect a statue of a dog instead of, say, an explorer.”
order to tell this story, “We needed to find a dog who could act.”
common in the movies to have several dogs playing a single canine character.
Woss, who worked on the film, Beethoven’s Second
, said, “In that film, we had 15
dogs. But on Red Dog
, there were three.” One played an older version of the dog,
“one was just hopeless,” and the third was Koko, a cattle-herding, or Kelpi,
Koko trained for two years to portray the central figure in the
film, and Woss has since adopted him. Now he’s getting used to being in his
“I have about 30 friends on Facebook, and Koko has 1600.
He’s like a rock star. But he’s not spoiled.”
Unfortunately, Koko won’t
be joining him for the film’s Israeli premiere because of Australia’s strict
laws. A dog that travels outside the country must undergo a long quarantine
before he can return.
But you can check out Koko’s screen test on
YouTube, where he shows off his acting chops with the film’s director, Kriv
Both Woss and Stenders were influenced as children by the 1972
Israeli film, Azit
, the Paratrooper’s Dog
, directed by Boaz Davidson, which
details the heroic exploits of the dog in question.
It was very popular
in Australia, where cattle-herding dogs are “an important part of the
Asked whether his relationship with Koko might be characterized
as an on-set romance, Woss laughs.
“On-set romances usually fizzle out
after shooting.” But Woss and Koko are still going strong: “I travel around with
him, I take him everywhere with me. He tags along to meetings. And he looks
around at everything as if it’s a movie set.”