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ANDREW L. URBAN visits the set of Feeling Sexy, where artist Davida Allen is making her first, nerve wrecking foray into filmmaking – with some helpers on hand.

Sunshine everywhere, like a kid let out of school; not the beefy sunshine that burns you or the mellow sunshine that dopes you – this is winter sunshine in Queensland, light and airy, frolicking sort of sunshine. The olympic size pool at St Lucia, in the grounds of the University of Queensland, is rippling as swimmers plough the miniature waves. They’re not extras, but real swimmers doing laps. Deliberately.

On the side of the pool, this tall, dark, handsome, Greek-god-like figure of a young man is walking towards the camera unit in his silver Speedos, carrying a silly little blue towel. He’s about to play Vicki’s daydream fantasy….

Vicky, played by Susie Porter, is grinning like an urchin as she dangles her feet next to his in the pool, and writer/director Davida Allen is maneuvering the camera unit to the edge of the pool so she can get a profile shot of the two of them. When we see this, it’ll be a fantasy sequence, and the next shot is Vicky lying on the grass by the pool, gazing with a fanciful smile across those bulging silver Speedos. . .

“I want to do it on my own. . . that’s the ego” Davida Allen

Vicky is a young mum going nuts at home with two young kids. She flirts with the idea of having a fling with a hunk (see Greek-god-like …. above), but decides that in fact she does want to have her husband, Greg (Tamblyn Lord) the marriage, the kids, the full catastrophe. It’s tempting to consider it a cathartic story, vaguely autobiographical, but Allen dismisses that.

She is, however, a most unlikely film director. Allen the mum and Allen the Archibald Award winning painter, totally void of film experience. It isn’t easy, making the switch from canvas to screen.

“On the one hand,” she says during a break, “I want to do it on my own. . . that’s the ego. But I wouldn’t be able to do it without him,” she says motioning towards Chris Noonan, who is head-first into a script the Coen brothers sent him to read. (The script is the Coens’ adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel, Cuba Libre, which they will not direct. Noonan may not, either…)

Noonan, who directed Babe, is acting as executive producer on Feeling Sexy, his wife Glenys Rowe being the producer. Rowe has been working on this film for a decade with Allen, shoring up her confidence.
“It was Glenys who kept saying ‘she can swim,’ says Allen in a metaphor she has built about filmmaking and swimming. (“I talk in metaphors, except our first AD, Carolina [Haggstrom] has banned Davida’s metaphors!”) “I wouldn’t be here without Chris, knowing I won’t drown. . . I sometimes feel I’m gasping but he’s a life saver…It also allows you to try and swim. He’s my floaties….but kids are arrogant and once you’re thrown in, you think you can do it without the floaties…”

“I come from the opposite; fuck the audience. . .” Davida Allen

Allen, always seemingly high on energy, brings the freshness of a total novice to the filmmaking process, a sensibility somewhat at variance to traditional filmmaking, as she recognises.

“The thing about Chris is he comes from the audience point of view….his whole movie language is to keep the audience hungry. I come from the opposite; fuck the audience. . .I present it how I see it and that’s it. That works in art galleries, but film is completely different.” She’s learning.

“He’s always saying, Davida, where’s the audience? Which I can’t stand!”

You get the impression that Davida Allen’s filmmaking experience is a bit like your first ride on a roller coaster: thrilling yet terrifying all at once. She has endless parise for everyone working with her, and singles out cameraman Gary Phillips, “the most patient man on earth. Gary’s sense of humour is amazing and he’s got a vision.”

Allen has been known to arrive on set in a T shirt she hand painted the night before, with relevant notes on the previous day’s shooting. Like “Thanks for saving my arse”; or “Davida – do more shots” She will also scream out asking for Chris Noonan to come and help, and then she’ll announce, “This is a Chris shot….” In all, not your typical set.

“Not one person has farted and we’ve been in the same room for weeks,” Davida Allen

Above all, Allen is relieved that everyone seems to be nurturing and caring, all anxious to make it work. “Not one person has farted and we’ve been in the same room for weeks,” she says slipping uncontrollably back into forbidden metaphor. “There’s a genuine camaraderie which is a spiritual lift.”

Susie Porter is her usual effervescent, impish self, enjoying the fun of working with Davida. “And this gets away from being typecast as a sex kitten. . . she’s kooky, bright, energetic and complex. It’s good because you can see the good and bad sides and never apologise. Davida really knows the characters, so it gets really complex. That makes it easy – all the characters jump off the page.”

Porter bites into a passionfruit and it explodes over her face; she sucks it dry.

A Macho Sex King. “How else do you lure Jack Thompson to do a cameo?”

“And Davida is SO funny! She’s also very understanding; she’s like a mum, keeps bringing pastries to rehearsal.”

Angella, the second AD comes and calls her for a shot; time to perve on the Speedo bulge again.

“How else do you lure Jack Thompson to do a cameo?” Chris Noonan

At the back of the terrace around the pool, young Tamblyn Lord is watching the action, his presence not required for the cameras. He has come down to talk about his character, Greg. “He’s Vicky’s earthing, and her audience. Davida and I were saying Vicky was a performer for Greg and he got off on that. Whenever in doubt or trouble, she goes to him, often in a confrontational way. He’s more conservative and idealistic. She’s the one that brings sport and vitality into the marriage. It’s been a real challenge,” he admits. “He has an interesting journey, because you don’t see what depth Greg has until Vicky confesses she’s had an affair. It’s hard to play conservative characters, without making it a cliché. I didn’t want to make him a dull, nice guy.”

But Allen, (“humbled in front of Susie, her performance goes far beyond what I thought! I never imagined her in FIVE dimensions!”) says Tamblyn has nailed the character when he asked “Does every scene have to be a moment?”

Also in the cast is Jack Thompson, who plays a cameo as a leering, lascivious character, described in the script as Macho Sex King. “How else do you lure Jack Thompson to do a cameo?” asks Chris Noonan.

“Ya a filmmaker? I wanna make a movie.” Davida Allen

Allen, who drives 45 minutes each way from home to set and looks after two of her four children while shooting the film, is gradually adapting to filmmaking. But the first day was “the worst day of my 46 years of life,” she says. “I never want to go there again.” Allen had never been on a film set until then, and she confesses to knowing nothing about the process. But by the fourth day, she had decided that she could “bloody well do this” and began storyboarding, in her unique style. Every day she hands cameraman Phillips the drawings for the day’s shoot. He’s the only one that can decipher her “autistic, flat drawings,” she says, and he translates them.

Producer Glenys Rowe met Davida Allen 10 years ago, going to a cricket match with her brother in law. “I heard this gravelly voice say, ‘Ya a filmmaker? I wanna make a movie.’” That was Allen announcing her intent, and 10 years later, with Rowe’s support, she is doing it. Her major aim, says Rowe, was to make a titillating film.

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Feeling Sexy is a low budget romantic comedy financed by the Australian Film Commission, the NSW Film & TV Office, SBS Independent, the Pacific Film & Television Commission and the Premium Movie Partnership.
Australian distribution & international sales: Beyond Films

Davida Allen, on set with Jack Thompson

Davida Allen

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