/News 27.01.21


After its world premiere at Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 2020, the Australian film adaptation of inspiring international bestseller Penguin Bloom from director Glendyn Ivin and starring Naomi Watts, Andrew Lincoln and Jacki Weaver, is in Australian cinemas now and on Netflix internationally. 

Naomi Watts stars in the true story of Sam Bloom, a young mother whose world is shattered after a near-fatal accident leaves her unable to walk. As Sam, her husband Cam (Lincoln), their three young boys and her mother (Weaver) struggle to adjust to their new situation, an unlikely ally enters their world in the form of an injured baby magpie named Penguin. The bird’s arrival makes a profound difference in the family’s life and ignites a healing journey for Sam Bloom. 

Screen NSW spoke to director Glendyn Ivin about the making of Penguin Bloom, filmed in New South Wales, including the importance of representing people with a disability on screen. 

The film was shot inside the Blooms’ actual home in Sydney’s Northern Beaches. How did this change the dynamic in your directing and the acting for the cast themselves? 

I loved [how we shot the film]. We are telling a true story but of course it’s an adaptation, so everything is changed. It’s not like we’re making a documentary. I loved the idea of using their house. First and foremost, from a physical point of view, the roof plays an important part of the storytelling. Sam had such an active lifestyle before the accident and now she was trapped. It’s all still out there – but she couldn’t connect. In this way, there was an important narrative role to the house being there. For me, there was just something about setting our story within the walls [of the Blooms’ home].

If the walls could talk, they would tell the story. The DNA of the story was there. You can feel it in the house, all the good stuff and the bad stuff that had happened, and it worked. It was a very suitable location [in a practical sense] and we didn’t really make many compromises. The story kind of fell into the location. 

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It is incredibly refreshing that, like the book, you tell the Blooms’ story in an authentic way and really communicate to an audience Sam’s journey of acceptance to living with disability. Why was this so important to you? 

I’m hesitant to say that she [Sam Bloom] has accepted the injury. This is what is important for me in the film. There is a genre of films about people who are overcoming adversity, particularly physical injuries, and [the ending is] now life is better than it was before. You want to have that arc in a story, otherwise a character doesn’t change but Sam Bloom isn’t that person. She says she will never accept the injury. She still has incredibly difficult times, very dark times, so, the arc of the story for me is, ‘I wanted to die but now, I don’t think I do anymore’. 

It’s not a huge arc and that was a really hard balance in the film to get right. I hope people don’t see it as an anticlimax because that is actually the truth of the story. With Sam Bloom she hasn’t been delivered into this redemption at the end, but I hope there’s redemption in the film. I think the journey she has is incredibly beautiful and you can see that she’s a different person, but she was at the beginning and you know, she hasn’t accepted it fully.

I think that was important to acknowledge, particularly for Sam Bloom, because she would give up everything to have that day again. She has found some new life that she never knew she had, but every day she wishes she could not just walk, but go to the bathroom normally and just stand. That moment where she does stand in the film, it’s about standing – it’s not about anything else. It’s about an able-bodied version [of herself] and her existing version, acknowledging that they are the same person but they’re in a very difficult situation.

Naomi Watts and Glendyn Ivin on set of Penguin Bloom. SD05 – photo by Joel Pratley

What is the key takeaway you would like audiences to have after watching this film?

I guess what drew me to the story was, and it sounds cheesy to talk about it, the healing power of nature. Penguin is there as a metaphor for lots of things. Some people see Penguin as an angel, spiritual, like it’s God that came into her life. I guess that’s how I see it: There’s something about how looking at nature, being generous to another person or having empathy for someone else, opens up something in your heart that is healing; it changes you. Particularly [being generous] to people, like a sick bird that isn’t going to help you back. You’re just there to help them. It’s about giving.

I think that’s really what happened with Sam Bloom; it was the spirit of generosity that changed her not anything else. It was about having something to look after and to care for and in doing that, it opened up her life to a different way of thinking that there were other things out there, which is nature to me, like it’s the power of nature. That’s how I see it. 

Read the full interview here.

Filmed on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, the screenplay was adapted by Shaun Grant and Harry Cripps. Penguin Bloom is a Made Up Stories, Broadtalk and JamTart production, produced by Emma Cooper, Bruna Papandrea, Steve Hutensky, Jodi Matterson and Naomi Watts. 

Screen Australia provided major production investment and the film was financed with support from Screen NSW. Roadshow Films launched the film on January 21, 2021 and Endeavor Content is handling international sales.

Ausfilm members Fox Studios Australia provided space, Alt VFX provided post-production and visual effects, Soundfirm in Melbourne was responsible for the sound mix, and Showfilm provided travel services and accommodation. Penguin Bloom is in Australian cinemas now and available on Netflix internationally.

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