IT WAS turned down by government funding bodies and rejected by every film distributor in the country, and was poised to make a low-key debut on the shelves of video stores.
Now The Jammed, a provocative feature film about the sex slave trade, is shaping up as one of the hottest Australian movies of the year.
The film's fortunes were transformed on Wednesday night, when the hosts of the ABC's At the Movies both gave it a four-star rating. Describing the movie as a "fabulous taut thriller", Margaret Pomeranz decried the lack of interest from funding boards and distributors as "shocking".
A rave review appeared in The Age the next day, and suddenly the producers of the film no one wanted were bombarded with calls from distributors anxious to screen it. A bidding war is now a real possibility and the producers are hoping to delay the DVD release to allow it to be shown in cinemas across the country.
The film's executive producer, Andrea Buck, described the superlative reviews as "way better than we could have expected - it felt life-changing. We've dealt for so long with lukewarm, negative responses. To have someone say 'I love your movie' with such passion and conviction is overwhelming."
None of this seemed possible a few days ago, when the film's producers were preparing for last night's low-key premiere at an independent cinema in Melbourne. They secured a modest two-week season - designed to promote the release of a DVD on September 5 - by agreeing to pay the cinema's marketing costs and sharing any profits.
"The motivation for having the theatrical screening was really to give the cast and crew an opportunity to celebrate," Buck said.
The Jammed was written, directed and co-produced by South African-born Dee McLachlan. She researched her screenplay by reading court transcripts and attending the trials of those accused of forcing women into prostitution.
The story of a Chinese mother searching for her missing daughter, it features a cast of up-and-coming young actors including Sydney's Emma Lung, Saskia Burmeister and Sun Park.
"Demand for this film was coming from the ground up," Buck said. "People were demanding to see this film."