Family life becomes drama

Family life becomes drama

Some people go to counselling to deal with a difficult childhood, while others turn to alcohol or drugs. But Tony Ayers bared his soul the only way he knew how – he wrote a script.

The award-winning writer and film director created The Home Song Stories – a film about the life of his eccentric and mentally unstable mother and her struggle to raise two young children in 1970s Australia.

The main events in the film are based on Ayers’s real life experiences, beginning with his mother falling in love with a Chinese cook, 20 years her junior, who was actually in love with Ayers’s 16-year-old sister.

“My mother gave my sister such a hard time that my sister tried to kill herself,” Ayers said.

“My mother felt so badly about it that she tried to kill herself too, and they ended up in the same hospital one floor apart.

“My mother told my sister the amazing story of her life while they were both in hospital.”

Using the notes his sister scribbled down, Ayers reconstructed the life of his mother, from the early days when she fell in love with her husband’s brother, to her time spent living in abject poverty on the streets of Shanghai.

The film, which has been selected for the Toronto Film Festival and the Berlin Film Festival, looks at the deterioration of the relationship between a young boy and his mother.

Rather than focus on his mother’s instability, however, Ayers paints her as a woman of great passion who was constrained by the limitations of time and place.

“Chinese women in those days were supposed to be meek China dolls,” he said, “whereas my mother was a fierce and passionate woman and was also a very sexual woman. She had desires at a time when women weren’t supposed to be sexual.”

While he remained emotionally detached throughout the filmmaking process, Ayers said the soul-searching took place while writing the script.

“You can’t use a film set as your psychiatrist’s lounge,” he said. “But one of the impulses to write the script was to process those emotions, to make sense of them and understand them.”

The Home Song Stories won the NSW Premier’s Literary Award for Scriptwriting and has been shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Awards.

Ayers’s past works have won numerous awards, including Best Gay and Lesbian Feature Film at the 2002 Berlin International Film Festival for Walking on Water, and Best Short Documentary at the Washington Gay and Lesbian Film Festival for China Dolls.

He has also edited two plays, Thieving Boy and Like Stars in My Hands, which were originally written by Timothy Conigrave.

The success of the stage adaptation of Conigrave’s memoir, Holding the Man, was “fantastic”, Ayers said.

“Tim was one of my best friends. I read the manuscript for Holding the Man two nights before he died,” he said.

“Tim was witty, prickly, and he was a star-fucker. He was charming and brutally honest, but at the same time he had an innocence to him.

“To have so profoundly loved and to have so profoundly lost at such a young age, gave him a wisdom that the rest of us aspire towards.”

The Home Song Stories opens in cinemas on 23 August.

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