THE LUNATICS’ BALL is an extraordinary story about an obsessive and charismatic psychologist, Charles Duron (RUSSEL WALDER), whose unorthodox treatment of patients results in both triumph and catastrophe.

The film stars US actor RUSSEL WALDER (one of the world’s leading jazz oboists and a Grammy nominee) in his screen debut; MICHAEL DALY (Niki Caro’s “Sure To Rise”); JANE IRWIN and SARA ASHWORTH, also making their feature film debuts.

It is written, produced and directed by first-time filmmaker, New Zealander MICHAEL THORP. JAMIE SELKIRK (“The Frighteners”, “Heavenly Creatures”) is Co-Producer; NEIL CERVIN (“Wild Blue”) Director of Photography and MIKE HORTON (“Once Were Warriors”) and PAUL SUTORIUS (“War Stories”) Editors. The music is composed and conducted by PETER SCHOLES (“Memory & Desire”).

THE LUNATICS’ BALL was developed by Thorp “from the notion of one person reaching out and moving another,” he says.

And the filmmaker also wants to question the quality of treatment being given to mental health patients.

Questions Thorp, “While drug-based treatments for the mentally ill may make their lives more comfortable, are they stimulating change, empowering, building self-esteem, encouraging achievement, or encouraging patients to help themselves? My feeling is that more often than not, in the absence of love and personal attention, some patients are trapped into drug-based programmes and drug-based lives.”

Thorp is well aware that there are certain practicalities in psychiatric health systems which prevent people from receiving such ideal attention, but he has also been influenced by his father, a pharmacist for thirty years, who is “very cynical of the way in which he sees drugs being over-prescribed by doctors.”

Thorp discussed the issue with his family doctor, and also spoke to several psychiatric nurses about the treatment of patients. “I wanted to obtain snapshots in key areas which I felt would give a fair insight into what I felt was and wasn’t happening,” he says.

Convinced he had a script with merit, given its contemporary relevance, emotion-driven drama and love story component, he went in search of finance. “I realised early on that as a complete unknown it was unlikely that anyone would back me. I tried advertising for funds, going to festivals - no local producers showed any interest, so in the end I thought ‘O.K. I’ll go out there and make it happen myself.’” And indeed, he did.

Thorp sold his dream car (a Porsche 911 Turbo) and everything he owned and moved back home with his parents. He then approached the New Zealand industry magazine, OnFilm, to place an advertisement for cast and crew.

“I was amused at the response of the sales manager who told me ‘it’s not the done thing... no one ever advertises for cast and crew.’

“But I didn’t know any better; I didn’t know anyone in the industry. This was my first step in assembling a cast and crew.”

He also approached talent agencies. “I was totally up front with them, telling that this wasn’t an opportunity for their clients to make money up front, but to get recognition. And about ninety percent of them responded favourably.”

Through a friend, Thorp obtained a rehearsal room where he auditioned about 160 people.

“During this process I was promoting the fact that we had cinematographer Murray Milne on board (Milne had shot two of Peter Jackson’s films) in the hope that this would bring some credibility,” says Thorp. “I also gave everybody a five minute spiel, explaining the story, who I was, what we were trying to achieve and so on, which they must have found unusual. But it had a good impact.

“Instinctively I knew what I was looking for in the actors and what was good or bad,” Thorp continues. “My real drive was to cast actors who I felt would be very close to the characters.”

American actor RUSSEL WALDER was selected for the lead role of Charles Duron. “I was looking for people who were real individuals and had something special to offer and Russel was certainly that. He didn’t have a huge acting background, but there was a quality about him which was immediately obvious. He was great,” exclaims Thorp.

“I told Michael I really felt this character was right for me and I think the fact that I ripped his shirt during the audition, certainly got me noticed,” laughs Walder. “But I really wanted the part because the heart of the story is about someone who puts it all on the line, who is willing to do anything and I found that a very impressive quality. Charles could easily give up when things get tough, but he continues because he only has one goal in mind and it’s that important to him.”

Technical Info: 
Colour, 35mm, Dolby
Production Year: 
Wine Country Film Festival-USA 2000 Pyongang Film Festival-Korea 2000 International Film Forum-Aresenal-Latvia 2000
Sales Agent: 
NZ Film

Key Roles


Key Cast

Charles Duron
Russel Walder
Jane Irwin
Dr Taylor
Michael Daly