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Five Questions with Ana Kokkinos

11 November 2021

Director Ana Kokkinos on set for The Hunting. Photograph: Nat Rogers

Ana Kokkinos is an Award-winning Australian film and television director and screenwriter of Greek descent born in Melbourne. Prior to her career in film, she worked as an industrial lawyer. Since then, Kokkinos has directed Head On (1998), The Book of Revelation (2006), Blessed (2009) and The Hunting (2019 TV mini-series)

In 2014 The Guardian wrote: “Kokkinos’s cinematic oeuvre is among the most hard-hitting bodies of work in Australian cinema.”

1. Before becoming a filmmaker you worked as an industrial lawyer. Was there a moment that triggered the change into filmmaking?

I became a cinephile when I was a teenager. Coming from a migrant working-class family, the idea of actually being a filmmaker felt very remote. So I studied law. Whilst I enjoyed working as a lawyer, it wasn’t my passion and harboured thoughts for quite some time about whether I should take the plunge and make films instead. My partner Mira and I left our lucrative jobs and cut loose. We went on a road trip for a year, spending time in Alice Springs. On the Larapinta Trail, we rolled out our swags in a dry creek bed and gazed at Mt Sonder in the distance. As dusk fell, the light on the mountain dazzled with shades of pink, red and blue. It was beautiful. Breathtaking. That was the moment when I finally decided to become a filmmaker.

2. You worked with black and white film for Antamosi (1992). What were the stylistic choices behind black and white?

Antamosi was like a memory. Although not autobiographical, I wanted to conjure up a dream like state when making the film and so choosing to shoot it that way just felt right. My grandmother came out from Greece when I was 12 years old and lived with us for 6 months. It was a big deal because my mother hadn’t seen her mother for 16 years. It was a joyous time. And of course, no-one could make spanakopita like my grandmother. But as a filmmaker, I searched for drama and conflict when creating a story around a mother and daughter re-uniting, framed by the perspective of the granddaughter. The Greek Civil War had been a defining moment for Greeks of that generation, and that history became ripe for generating conflict between the two characters, a deep wound that felt real and palpable. I chose to shoot it in black and white because I wanted the film to feel and look like one big flashback.

3. Head On is based on the novel Loaded written by Christos Tsiolkas. What was it about reading Loaded that made you want to create a feature film?

I optioned Christos’s novel soon after I read it because I felt deeply connected to it and I came from the world of the story. I too am a child of Greek migrants, who grew up caught between the pressure and expectations of that culture and the desire to be part of the mainstream Anglo culture. Growing up with two cultures creates a schism as you navigate a sense of self and identity, particularly when you’re young and don’t quite know how and where you fit in. I had already made a short feature, Only the Brave which dealt with similar themes of belonging and identity. It was this intersectionality between class, ethnicity and sexuality that was the key driver of my work as a filmmaker up until that point and Head On was an extension of or an elaboration of those obsessions, those themes. I understood Ari as an outsider because I also felt like an outsider growing up. I also wanted to make the film because it was such a strong representation of youthful rebellion.

However, the novel itself needed to be reinvented for the screen. It was a challenging adaptation because Loaded was written as a first-person narration. Everything happened inside Ari’s head. Our key challenge as writers of the screenplay and as the Director making the film, was to externalise his journey – to create a visceral ride with Ari through an urban landscape that dramatised his thoughts and words through conflict – with his cultural identity, his sexuality and his rejection of orthodoxies and boundaries. As I was also involved in co-writing the screenplay, I steered the adaptation towards creating a film that would take an audience on a visceral ride, to make the journey immersive for the viewer, to feel the pulse and sweat of Ari, to create a film of raw power and beauty.

4. Head On has been described to be similar to a ‘road movie’ – what was the decision behind this direction?

I always thought of it as a road movie. Ari moves between different worlds and he never stops moving. The novel had Ari traversing Melbourne’s North, South, East and West like the points of a compass, but as we wrote the screenplay, we dropped that literary device in favour of creating a more organic odyssey through this urban landscape.

5. What projects are you currently working on, can you share it with us?

I’ve just finished working on the TV Series ‘Fires’ and an anthology film called ‘Here Out West’, which we shot in Sydney late last year. I’m also in development on a feature film.

Head On (1998) is an Australian drama based on the 1995 novel Loaded written by Christos Tsiolkas – and stars Alex Dimitriades, Elena Mandalis and Damien Fotiou. The film was selected for ‘Director’s Fortnight’ at the Cannes Film Festival and has won 9 awards. Umbrella Entertainment is releasing Head On on Blu-ray with never before seen extra features.