AUSTRALIAN actor and director John Jarratt paid a visit to Sale Cinema on the evening of Wednesday May 22, for a screening and Q&A of his new film, What About Sal?, to a strong turnout and reception.

What About Sal? follows Sal, a young man in his 30s who embarks on a poignant journey after discovering his mother’s terminal illness.

As Sal grapples with the news of his mother’s lung cancer diagnosis, he sets out to find the rock musician father he never met (played by Jarratt), unravelling a tale of love, loss, and reconciliation.

Gerard O’Dwyer, a talented actor with Down Syndrome, takes the lead role, and he carries the film almost on his own.

The 72-year-old Mr Jarratt, who is probably most famous for his role as psychopathic killer Mick Taylor in the horror franchise Wolf Creek, has written and directed What About Sal? – a film with an almost polar opposite tone.

John Jarratt (right) chats to fans before the screening at Sale Cinema.

2005’s Wolf Creek has an extremely grim ending. In contrast, the opening of What About Sal? when the audience gets a first taste of Sal’s personality, may be the most wholesome thing you see this year. It sets the mood for the entire film – ‘feel good’ is an understatement.

Sal wants his own independence and he deserves it, because he is loved by everyone he meets, including strangers. They all care about him, and even as he hilariously puts himself in dangerous situations. It’s the kindness of others and himself that helps him pull through.

It’s a funny film with likeable characters, and Mr Jarratt did an admirable job behind the camera too, as well as the role of Sal’s long-lost father. It delves into the themes of loss, family and self-determination.

John Jarratt answers audience questions in Cinema 3 at Sale Cinemas. Photos: Stefan Bradley
John Jarratt answers audience questions in Cinema 3 at Sale Cinemas. Photos: Stefan Bradley

Sticking around in the theatre afterwards for the Q&A, and showing off a little dance in the aisle, Mr Jarratt said his role as Sal’s father, the alcoholic Tommy, was not a very difficult one to play.

“I didn’t find it particularly hard… because I’m 33-years sober. I’ve had my rounds with alcohol myself and I come from an Irish family,” he said.

He also described the shooting of the film as relatively trouble-free because there was a quality script to work from.

John Jarratt (right) is the writer, director and actor of What About Sal? Image: Contributed

The major challenges were related to COVID, and its release in 2022 was delayed because cinemas were closed. And then the film’s release was once again pushed back thanks to what he called “spandex movies” (superhero films) in 2023 taking precedence, as well as the likes of Barbie, Oppenheimer, Avatar: The Way of Water and Top Gun: Maverick.

“Apparently they’re more important than Australian films,” he said.

It became apparent the movie couldn’t come out in 2023, so they went for March of this year, but Dune: Part Two was moved to that month because of the Hollywood actors and writers strike last year, so April 2024 finally saw the first general audience screenings of What About Sal?

“We ended up putting it out in April in the independent cinemas in the three major cities Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney,” Mr Jarratt said.

“And then I went regional because country people support Australian movies a lot better than city people. And tonight’s turnout is proof of that.

Gippslanders from all over came to see John Jarratt’s new film in Sale. Pictured is Tenielle Jakins, Cohen Baylis and Jasmine Blell.
Gippslanders from all over came to see John Jarratt’s new film in Sale. Pictured is Tenielle Jakins, Cohen Baylis and Jasmine Blell.

“So the difficult bits of the movie had nothing to do with the movie-making part.”

As someone who worked in the Australian film industry since the 1970s, Mr Jarratt hopes that people will show up to the cinema instead of sitting back watching streaming services on the small screen.

With Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga in cinemas, it was the perfect time for Mr Jarratt to mention he was asked to audition for the original 1979 Mad Max film.

“I was asked to audition for Mad Max, and I was pretty well established and I had no money so I went and did Bluefin (1978). And Mel (Gibson) got the role… so I missed out on that one,” he said.

Before the screening, he also told this reporter about the future of Wolf Creek. He expects Wolf Creek 3 to come out in early 2025, and the script is already written. It has not started filming. He emphasised he really wanted a cinema experience for Mick Taylor, and believes the fans go out to see it.

He is also hopeful for a third season of the Wolf Creek series (originally released on streaming service Stan), but is focused on the film coming out first.

The Q&A ended with what many fans hoped to hear. Mr Jarratt performed his infamous Mick Taylor laugh. If you’ve heard it, you get it.

Mr Jarratt and fans then went back into the Sale Cinemas foyer for photos and more chit-chat.

What About Sal? will be screened at various cinemas over time, which Mr Jarratt hopes will help it build an audience.