Before she began filming Head On, director Ana Kokkinos delved into queer movie classics and gay porn for inspiration.
The result was a film whose explicit depiction of anonymous gay sex remains a rarity in mainstream Australian cinema, seven years after its release.
But Kokkinos insists Head On -“ a gritty snapshot of 24 hours in the life of 19-year-old Greek-Australian Ari -“ is no gay movie.
I never saw the film as a gay film when it came out, and I still don’t believe that, and yet the film doesn’t shy away from its sexual themes for a second, Kokkinos told Sydney Star Observer in the lead-up to the movie’s release as a special edition on DVD this week.
The main character actually rejects the notion that he’s gay on all kinds of levels, and yet what we see in the film is that he’s constantly seeking to engage with men, sexually, and doing it in a visceral manner, she said.
I think what the film’s trying to say and what Ari himself in the film is trying to say is: -˜Don’t categorise me.’
It was that tantalising paradox -“ of a young man torn over his sexuality while juggling the expectations of Greek culture in modern-day Australia -“ that drew Kokkinos to Head On in the first place.
I was interested in the way in which his ethnicity and his sexuality and his youth all collided to speak about the notion of belonging, the notion of acceptance and non-acceptance, Kokkinos said.
In examining the cultural forces jostling Ari, as played by Alex Dimitriades, Kokkinos channelled her own experiences as a Greek-Australian.
But accurately conveying Ari’s sexuality took Kokkinos into less familiar terrain, as she watched gay porn and queer film classics from the likes of Gregg Araki and Rainer Fassbinder for insights.
There were days when I thought: -˜My God. I’ve never been into a male toilet, how am I going to do this?’ Kokkinos said of trying to convey Ari’s sexual experiences in Head On.
But I also found that once I got into the truthfulness of what that was about, it was a great way to expand my own knowledge about those things. I found it an exhilarating experience as a woman to actually explore gay male sexuality in that way.
Now working on her second full-length feature film, The Book Of Revelation, Kokkinos looks back on Head On as a chronicle of one moment in time that retains relevance today.
In terms of that kind of battle to find oneself, I guess, within all of those different constraints, it was very relevant then but I think it still has a lot to say about cross-cultural issues today, she said.
The issue that it raises about a young man kind of not really fitting in and trying to find a place in the world I think remains just as true today for a lot of young people as it did then.
Head On: Special Edition is available on DVD through 20th Century Fox.