Help us continue to cover more Australian films by making a donation to Cinema Australia below.
by MATTHEW EELES
In 2018 Heath Davis released his sophomore feature film, Book Week.
It was brilliant, hilarious, razor sharp and magnificently performed and, in Cinema Australia’s opinion, one of the best Australian films of the century.
Considering this, the news that writer and director Davis is set to start production on his fourth feature film, following his 2019 crime thriller Locusts, should come as a very early (or is that very late?) Christmas gift for all cinephiles.
Without giving too much of the plot away, Davis’ new film, a family drama called Christmess, will follow a shopping centre Santa who unexpectedly encounters his long estranged daughter and her infant son.
Like Book Week and Davis’ debut feature film, Broke, the budget for Christmess will come predominantly from crowdfunding.
“It’s an ambitious project,” Davis tells Cinema Australia.
“We plan to start shooting in July, get it to post-production, and release it just in time for Christmas. But we don’t have the money yet, so hopefully we can get enough support through the crowdfunding campaign to make it happen.”
If a new Heath Davis film isn’t exciting enough, Christmess will see the filmmaker reunite with Broke and Locusts’ Steve Le Marquand and Book Week’s Susan Prior.
“I chose Steve and Susan very early,” says Davis.
“I wrote these characters especially for them, as I usually do. I have a great mate-ship with both Steve and Susan, and it’s comforting to know I’ll be working with two people who believe in me and support my filmmaking approach and sensibility.”
Luckily for Davis, both Steve and Susan are two of Australia’s best actors and Davis says their talent and professionalism will help when working on the micro-budget feature.
“When you’re making a film as authentic as Christmess, you require a certain temperament in a person. Someone who just gets it and doesn’t require a lot of direction. The camera picks up energy, and if the team harmony isn’t working, you’ll be up against it,” says Davis.
“And believe it or not, Le Marquand’s first gig out of acting school was as a shopping centre Santa at Penrith Plaza,” Davis adds.
Susan Prior tells Cinema Australia she’s really looking forward to collaborating with Heath and his team, again, after having such an excellent time with Book Week.
“Heath is exploring different themes to Book Week, but I suspect it will be similarly honest, raw, naturally funny, highly relatable, and get deeply under the skin,” Prior tells Cinema Australia.
“We are primed and excited to get back to work, and will be very interested in exploring what family frictions and dynamics occur through the pressurised prism and expectations of a hot Australian Christmas, and Heath’s very humorous eye. ‘Found family’ versus blood ties, and how lonely the Silly Season can be when you are on the wagon, a cast of rough diamonds find each other on the outskirts of Sydney. Will they survive Christmas? Or will the turkey burn? Watch this space.”
Prior says she can’t wait to work with Steve Le Marquand, as well as Hannah Joy – lead singer, guitarist and pianist for Sydney alt-indie-rockers, Middle Kids.
A huge Middle Kids fan, Davis had an inkling that Joy might be interested in acting and hoped she would be open to exploring another creative outlet as a member of the Christmess cast.
“I’m thrilled that Joy agreed to join the cast. I believe this will be the unearthing of a genuine acting talent. It’s exciting to watch the evolution of Hannah’s acting process,” says Davis.
Over the past few decades very few Christmas films have been made locally, but recently there has been an abundance of new Australian Christmas themed films announced including Mathew J. Wilkinson’s horror comedy Stuffings and the upcoming release of Louis Mandylor’s Christmas Down Under.
Cinema Australia asked Davis why he wanted to wrap himself up in a film that explores one of the busiest, and silliest, times of the year.
“This is not exactly the quintessential Christmas movie,” explains Davis.
“That said I’ve always loved the idea of Christmas on film, but I’ve never really seen an honest one. So I wanted to make one that audiences will be able to identify with.”
Davis says Christmess will mostly explore the human connection.
“Christmas is that time where we all crave that connection with family, friends and loved ones, but it can also force us to scrutinise our own life, and what we discover within ourselves is not always pretty and sobering. I guess that’s why most of us consume alcohol at Christmas time, to get through it.”
Finding the support and funding for an Australian film has always been difficult, but as any independent filmmaker will tell you, it has become more difficult since COVID-19 hit at the beginning of last year.
Davis says he had no other choice but to attempt to finance a large porting of the film’s budget through crowdfunding.
“We will essentially be relying on the kindness of strangers and the belief of our friends to get Christmess made. This is a community project in spirit, so it makes sense to finance the film this way,” says Davis.
The exact amount the production hopes to raise will be announced next week, but Davis tells Cinema Australia that the amount won’t be excessive.
“Well, in filmmaking terms at least,” Davis laughs.