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Movie role casts BHP Billiton in new light

JAPANESE Story may have been nominated for 10 Australian Film Institute Awards but Toni Collette’s latest screen success could also be the catalyst for a State Arts Sponsorship Scheme Awards win.

Awards finalists will be announced at a black-tie event next week with BHP Billiton and Gecko Films nominated in the most innovative partnership category. 

And some recent controversial statements made by Ms Collette haven’t soured the company’s involvement, according to BHP Billiton spokesman John Crowely.

“She’s entitled to her view,” he said.

And it’s a view that added greater emphasis to a region that attracts 12,000 visitors a year.

“Mt Whaleback [where the movie’s mine blast scene was shot] has 12,000 visitors a year. It’s the largest single pit open cut iron ore mine in the world and is a tourist attraction in itself,” he said. “We work with the local tourism authorities to promote it.”

In fact, the main thrust of the company’s involvement in Japanese Story was to increase tourism exposure for the Pilbara region.

“We took the view that there was an opportunity to promote the Pilbara region. The producer, director, and writer were looking for some support from a resource company, as the story revolves around a geologist,” Mr Crowley said.

The movie was shot on a number of BHP Billiton mine sites in the Pilbara. The company supplied vehicles, uniforms and human resources, and contributed to the Perth and Pilbara launches.

The sponsorship package cost the company about $50,000 and more than 1,000 hours were invested.

“This sponsorship was different and provided us with an opportunity to show how mass production comes together. It was nice from a corporate representation point of view but it was more about focusing on sustainability for the area in terms of tourism,” Mr Crowley said.

“The whole reason for us getting behind it was a chance to showcase the Pilbara and people across the world would be attracted to it.”

ScreenWest (which has nominated the Gecko Films and BHP Billiton partnership for the award) invested about $400,000 in the project.

Mr Crowley said months of negotiations took place before the 2002 filming.

“Three people came up [writer, director, and producer] and we looked at how they would film it and we sat down and looked at the safety elements and mobilising the film crew,” he said.

“Safety was a prime concern for us. They undertook our safety requirements and that worked in pretty well. 

“We provided some little items, such as employees’ old work boots, and the scene in the mess was interesting – it’s exactly how it happens.”

The winners and finalists of the West Australian State Arts Sponsorship Scheme Awards will be featured in WA Business News on Thursday November 13.

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