Movie stars took to the red carpet in what turned out to be a highlight of Wagga’s social calendar.
More than 700 people gathered in Forum 6 Cinemas to watch the premiere of the Wagga-based film The Merger.
The movie tells the tale of a struggling, small town footy team that recruits refugees to survive.
Reuniting the crew that created Backyard Ashes, director Mark Grentell and producer Anne Robinson joined forces with Damian Callinan once again to adapt to the screen his award-winning, stage show of the same name.
John Howard, who was cast as Bull Barlow, said he was ecstatic to be in Wagga for the premiere event.
“Without the people here in Wagga, the film wouldn’t exist,” he said.
“We have been looking forward to coming back here tonight a hell of a lot.
“We have been to Melbourne and we have been to Perth, but this is the one.”
Mr Howard decided to join the cast because he knew it was telling a ‘true story’.
“The characters are true country people,” he said.
“I come from the country and I hate seeing films that take the piss out of country people and we deal with some very serious issues.
“I love that at the end you get hope and heart as well as the hilarity.”
Carolyn Layton has already seen The Merger but travelled from Melbourne because she knew the event in Wagga would be even more special.
“We loved it and I wanted to come and see how Wagga would celebrate the premiere,” she said.
“It’s fantastic, everyone looks beautiful.
“The movie is really heartwarming and the story told is one we need to hear more of in the cinema.”
India-Rose Toll knows John Howard and her love for AFL pushed her to see the film.
“I actually umpire for the AFL Riverina around here,” she said.
“People have come out because it’s your classic sport film and there’s such a good vibe to it.”
Damian Callinan said he was stoked to be back in Wagga for the night.
“To be able to bring such an international story, but a story that is so relevant to Wagga and shines what is happening in regional Australia,” he said.
“Especially to cities and say look ‘these guys are so ahead of the game’.”
Mr Callinan said he was ‘blown away’ by the fact four cinemas had been sold out.
“People are attracted to the story, but also attracted to the fact that we as filmmakers and artists are bringing work back here,” he said.
Community members of the Wagga Multicultural Council whipped up a feast for movie-goers with traditional dishes including boraq, kubba and KFC – Kachin Fried Chicken.
Mark Grentell, director of the film, said he was so grateful to Wagga for backing the film.
“Everyone is really proud when we make stuff like this,” he said.
“I think we are so used to relying on each other in country towns and they have completely supported us from the get-go.
“I think Backyard Ashes also plays a role because it was so successful and I think people feel they have a connection to it.”