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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

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Young people respond eagerly to Head On, sensing itís honesty; some people went up to director Ana Kokkinos after its Melbourne Film Festival Screening, and gave her a warm hug. Older Greeks find it tough and confronting Ė hard to take. And some find the frank sexual content quite a shock. But no-oneís bored: Andrew L. Urban talks to Kokkinos.

Controversy is bound to follow the opening of Head On, but after festival screenings in Cannes and now in Melbourne, Kokkinos is secure in her film.

"Iíve achieved everything I set out to."

"I feel very confident about the film," she says, "Iíve achieved everything I set out to. Some people have said the sex is too confronting, and thatís true, it is very confronting. But there is a tone in the film that I wanted to keep which is what I felt when I read the book. Ari is obsessed with the body. And he only trusts the intoxication of the moment. His sexual exploits and his drugs come from the characterÖhe challenges us with it.

"My responsibility was to represent him in a true way, not water down his character."

Kokkinos is also encouraged by the fact that "people feel itís uncompromising, and saying itís time to see something that is really about our cultural diversity and exploring that in a complex and honest way."

"His only mode of self expression is in excess"

Head On is the story of Ari (Alex Dimitriades), a young Greek man in Melbourne, in conflict with his background, his sexuality, unable to come to terms with his future, and unable to express the turmoil within his passionate heart, or his individual head. His only mode of self expression is in excess: excess in sex, in drugs, in anti-social and anti-authority behaviour, rejecting his parents but also rejecting his need of them. Just as he rejects the notion of getting a job. And he somehow has to survive himself.

In Cannes, people were still talking about the film five days after seeing it, and Southern Star, who handle international sales, had to put on extra screenings to satisfy demand. Despite its R rating, Head On was deemed commercially interesting.

Almost universally applauded by critics (so far), Kokkinos was intrigued by one comment in The Financial Review, where Peter Crayford felt that Ari (Alex Dimitriades) displayed "a detonating self pity. Pity is a quality together with terror, that the audience should feel for the characters, not the characters for themselves."

"What we have tried to do is capture his emotional journey"

"I donít agree that itís self pity," she says. "What you see is Ari struggling, and acknowledging his pain. I wouldnít describe it as self pity. Itís pain and the acknowledgment of that."

In an interview over a private buffet lunch in Melbourne, just after Kokkinos finished making Head On, she explained how the Ari character in Christos Tsiolkasí novel attracted her and her co-writers Andrew Bovell and Mira Robertson. "Ari was such a compelling character in the book that that was really the big thing that attracted us to it and wanting to tell his story. What we have tried to do is capture his emotional journey so in that sense we really wanted to dramatise his emotional journey - and I think that is what we have achieved."

And Robertson added: "Although I think weíve held very true to the spirit of the book and I think youíll be surprised at how true weíve held to that. The idea of turning it into a story of redemption was one that we did reject, because I donít think that would have been true to the spirit of the book."

"Again, itís telling something about us."

For her next film, Kokkinos will return to an idea she has been working on with Robertson, The Parakeets, which jane Scott, producer of Head On, may also produce. "Itís a drama and another Australian story, but very a different landscape and characters," she says. "Again, itís telling something about us."

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