THE feature film Newcastle will premiere in its namesake city next month but its distributor is playing down the movie's gay following overseas for fear of frightening off mainstream audiences in Australia.
The movie about three young surfer brothers was filmed in Newcastle last year.
Newcastle, written and directed by American Dan Castle, will begin its Australian commercial release with a red-carpet premiere at Greater Union Newcastle on October 29 before opening nationally on November 6.
The film, which is expected to be rated M, stars Lachlan Buchanan and Xavier Samuel as 17-year-old brothers.
While rising surf star Jesse chases waves and girls and battles his resentful older brother, a former surfing champion, misfit Fergus develops a crush on one of Jesse's macho mates.
The film's name cast includes Kenny's Shane Jacobson, veteran actor Barry Otto and former All Saints star Joy Smithers.
Andrew Johns, Layne Beachley and Mark Richards have cameo roles.
Newcastle had its world premiere at New York's famous Tribeca Film Festival in May.
US critics have not been kind to the film, praising the Newcastle backdrops and surfing action but lambasting its coming-of-age plot and performances.
The most enthusiastic reviews have come from gay audiences and publications.
Newcastle was among 212 films from 25 countries featured in July at Outfest 2008, the 26th Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.
Paul Birchall wrote in LA's City Beat newspaper that the film played like "a pilot for Boy Baywatch".
"Here's a movie jam-packed with hot blond Australian surfer boys and not only do they surf, they do so shirtless (and often shorts-less), their toned bodies dripping with salt water and sweat."
A reviewer at the Seattle International Film Festival noted the film's "startling amount of skin".
"There's almost fetishistic reverence paid to cast members' bare buns. While a couple of bodacious babes are thrown into the mix for good measure, Newcastle is more interested in its guys."
Castle, whose previous films include the 2005 documentary Zona Rosa about male cage-dancer strippers working in the gay nightclubs of Mexico City, was nominated for an AFI Award for his Australian-made short The Visitor, which won best short film at the 2002 Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival.
Castle, who hails from New Castle, in the US state of Delaware, has said he wove aspects of his own experiences as a surf-mad teen into his Newcastle script.
But Icon Film Distribution is playing down the film's gay themes, fearing its potential audience of surfers and teenage girls will be scared off.
Icon refused to discuss Newcastle's enthusiastic gay reception overseas, except to say the film would not be marketed in Australia as a "gay film".
Icon acquired the distribution rights to Newcastle following its $21 million purchase of arthouse distribution and cinema group Dendy in April.
The company is co-owned by Lethal Weapon star and Passion of the Christ director Mel Gibson.
Icon group marketing director Lisa Garner said Newcastle showed the rough side of its namesake city as well as its sun, surf and sand.
"Truly, the first thing that strikes you is just how beautiful the city looks," she said. "But it also shows a tough edge to the city."
Ms Garner would not be drawn when asked whether audiences in Newcastle were likely to find the film's depiction of their city and its surfers accurate.
"The Newcastle landscape beautifully mirrors the characters' journey, in that life can be beautiful and free at times and tough at other times," she said.
"I'm sure the people of Newcastle will go and see the movie and decide for themselves."