Directed by: Rob Sitch
Written by:Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, Jane Kennedy, Rob Sitch
Starring: Sam Neill, Kevin Harrington, Tom Long, Patrick Warburton, Genevieve Mooy, Tyler Kane, Roy Billing, Bille Brown
Released: October 19, 2000
Grade: A-

Parkes is a small town with a population of around 10,000 in central western New South Wales.  You can find the Southern hemisphere’s largest telescope there that was built in a sheep paddock in 1961.  Man first walked on the moon on July 20, 1969 and it was life-changing event watched worldwide by millions.  Life’s full of small stories and the relationship between these two has been brought to the screen in The Dish.

Cliff Buxton (Neill) is the “dishmaster” at Parkes and is nervously anticipating his date with destiny.  His telescope has been selected by NASA to receive radio signals from the Apollo 11 crew and be responsible for beaming the indelible images of the moonwalk across the globe.  His crew are ready to go with the help of NASA representative Al Burnett (Warburton aka Puddy from Seinfeld) but some are apprehensive of the need for U.S. involvement.

In town, Mayor Bob McIntyre is preparing to put Parkes on the map.  The U.S. ambassador has arrived, the Prime Minister is eminent and “celebrations” are in full swing.  It’s time to show those Yanks just how it’s done.

Without giving much more away, The Dish is a charming comedy bearing strong similarities with Rob Sitch’s previous effort, The Castle.  Both stories are simplistic in nature with the focus on the people rather than the story.  These are not characters from a Hollywood blockbuster for which life and words are always perfect.  These people have more than one dimension.

Ideally, this is illustrated by Sam Neill’s character.  More is revealed of his background as the film progresses until we find that his wife passed away a year ago and it was her inspiration that reignited his enthusiasm for the project.  Instead of turning into a schmaltzy, sympathetic soap opera, the film continues and lets us do the reflecting rather than have the film do it for us.

There are many subplots created for laughs but some are distracting.  A notable example was the relationship between the Mayor’s daughter and the soldier next door.  It was a criticism of mine that The Castle took some of its jokes too far and both these characters were funny for a while but were overused and overplayed.

The film is wonderfully scored by Edmund Choi (who also worked on The Castle) and has some great cinematography by newcomer Graeme Wood.  Rob Sitch’s direction is also top notch and one can expect bigger studio’s knocking on his door in the near future.  It’s a tribute to the four collaborators (Sitch, Jane Kennedy, Santo Cilauro and Tom Gleisner) that they have come up with such rich stories given the current drought that’s plaguing the U.S. (and me thinks that drought will continue).

What an unbelievable year it has been for Australian films and The Dish will carry the tradition.  Highly acclaimed last month at the Toronto Film Festival, it looks set for international success - something which eluded The Castle.

I’ve seen the footage of Neil Armstrong taking his first step on the moon and echoing those famous words a thousand times previous.  This time is was different.  This time I saw it was about more than man’s conquest of the universe.   The telescope is still in a sheep paddock in Parkes and the moon is still looking at us from above but both played a part in created memories and stories that will be told as long as time permits.  This is one of those stories.