Browse Updates

The Black Balloon

Release date: March 06, 2008
Directed by: Elissa Down
Written by: Elissa Down, Jimmy Jack
Produced by: Tristram Miall
Running time: 97 minutes

When Thomas (Rhys Wakefield) and his family move to a new home and he has to start at a new school, all he wants is to fit in. When his pregnant Mother (Toni Collete) has to take it easy, he is put in charge of his autistic older brother Charlie (Luke Ford). Thomas with the help of his new girlfriend Jackie (Gemma Ward) faces his biggest challenge yet. Charlie’s unusual antics take Thomas on an emotional journey that cause his pent-up frustrations about his brother to pour out, in a story that’s funny, shocking, and ultimately heart-warming.

Cast & Characters

Rhys Wakefield (Thomas Mollison), Luke Ford (Charlie Mollison), Toni Collette (Maggie Mollison), Erik Thomson (Simon Mollison), Gemma Ward (Jackie Masters), Sarah Woods (Woman Next Door), Sam Fraser (Kid Next Door), Makirum Fahey-Leigh (Mate of Kid Next Door), Oliver Brookes (Other Mate of Kid Next Door), Jan Ringrose (Neighbour), Bradley Orford (Neighbour), Zelie Bullen (Mother in Van), Anthony Phelan (Mr. Masters), Deborah Piper (Janet), Henry Nixon (Trevor)

Production Notes

The Black Balloon is a clever amalgamation of two types of story – the coming-of-age romantic comedy, and a family drama with disability. It is highly autobiographical for director Elissa Down, who co-wrote the script. She grew up with three brothers, two of whom are autistic. Her father was in the army, so they moved a lot, and many of the things that Thomas experiences happened to her – such as having to chase her escaping brother d own a suburban street. This sense of the lunatic humour of real life pervades the film and makes it distinctive. An early idea for the script had two brothers with autism, but Down says it just became too big, and too much like a movie-of-the-week about autism. The film as shot is as much about the painful process of being 15, awkward and constantly embarrassed, as it is about having an autistic brother.

The film treads a difficult line in its depiction of autism, but it succeeds largely because Luke Ford’s performance is completely believable. Autism can take many forms and Charlie has a high degree of functionality in some areas – especially in his sense of mischief and fun. That allows Ford to give the character a great sense of freedom from inhibition – just the opposite of Thomas, who’s a ball of resentment and fear by comparison. In its review, The New York Times wrote, “Ms. Collette’s Maggie is the film’s prime mover. This wonderful Australian actress, who hasn’t a shred of vanity, virtually disappears into the complicated characters she plays, and Maggie is one of the strongest. With every forceful gesture and glaring look, Ms. Collette portrays Maggie as an indefatigable woman of heart and sinew who, through sheer determination, holds off chaos”. “The Black Balloon” won a Crystal Bear in the teenage film competition category of the Berlin Film Festival in February 2008. It has since won 6 AFI Awards, including Best Film and a Best Supporting Actress Award for Toni Collette.

Awards & Nominations

  AFI Award – Best Supporting Actress
  Film Critics Circle of Australia – Best Supporting Actress