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Footy Legends is an upbeat story from a downbeat suburb in Western Sydney, where believing in yourself is a big call, but Khoa Do and his brother Anh turn their own footy fantasies into screen reality. The two filmmakers, along with Angus Sampson from the cast, tell Andrew L. Urban what it meant to make the film.

It’s the big day (July 25, 2006), the world premiere – or Grand Final as its director Khoa Do calls it - of Footy Legends in Sydney, and Do is doing last minute interviews with the media before a change of clothes and heading for the red carpet at the George Street Cinemas. That’s one of the things that strikes him: “it’s been a long journey from a small theatre class in Cabramatta to the red carpet in the middle of the city …” Among the special guests tonight would be Do’s grandma, who doesn’t speak enough English to understand the film. “But it’ll be interesting to see what she makes of it .. I’ll ask her afterwards,” he says.

Luc Vu (Anh Do) is a Vietnamese-Australian living in Yagoona, way out in Sydney’s Western suburbs. Unable to find a job after being made redundant from the factory that closed, Luc does the best he can to look after his 11 year old sister Anne (Lisa Saggers), who is his responsibility since their mother died. When welfare officer Alison (Claudia Karvan) tells him that Anne will be put into a foster home unless he gets a stable job, Luc convinces his high school mates to enter The Holden Cup, a rugby league competition with a first prize of a new Holden Ute, representing ‘the great Australian dream’. But Luc struggles to live up to the expectations of his elderly Vietnam War veteran Grandad (Dao Minh Sinh) who only believes in success.

"warmhearted performances"

The warmhearted performances – not least young Lisa Saggers as the 11 year old whose future is at stake – and a multi-racial cast who seem to have been plucked out the actual suburb of Yagoona, makes for an endearing work.

Grandma Do will have been one of two dozen family members coming to swell their chests with pride at the achievements of Khoa Do and his brother Anh, who co-wrote the screenplay. Anh also stars in the film, playing the fantasy he’s always had: to be a rugby league player. Both boys had dreamt of playing pro league, and the film dovetails into their dreams, expressing a fundamental message that Khoa Do hopes will reach a wide audience. “I want to be able to make films that say something … to make a difference in people’s lives. Lots of films do that,” he says, thinking of a few at random, like Bowling for Columbine, The Pianist and Brokeback Mountain.

Footy Legends is less ambitious than those, perhaps, but beneath the surface, it has a message from Do: “if you embrace what is unique or special about yourself, you can do anything.” One can imagine this was the message he took to the at-risk kids in Sydney’s west back in 1998 when he worked as a volunteer with Open Family Australia. “We live in interesting times – and we should all try to make a difference,” he adds, smiling, but profoundly serious.

Making a film involving games of rugby league was challenging, but smooth, he says. “You can’t fake it so we were lucky that apart from a few bruises, we did not have any serious injuries. We also had great support from the whole community. For instance, we budget for 28 extras for the stadium scenes, but Penrith Panther supporters came and we had 400!”

With Khoa Do, what you see is what you get: an instantly likeable young guy, who has accumulated accolades in his 27 years that other folk may take a lifetime to achieve, ranging from community recognition (eg Young Australian of the Year in 2005) to his nomination for the inaugural Best Direction in a First Feature film ASDA Award in 2004. His family fled Vietnam in a boat when he was 2, arriving in Australia as refugees via Malaysia a little later.

He grew up in Sydney’s West (Footy Legends is set in Yagoona, his real stomping ground) and started Uni on course for a law degree. “When my brother and I left Uni,” he recalls, “friends would ring my mum and be concerned; ‘what are they doing, they should finish uni..’ Now they ring mum and ask her for advice on how to bring up their children.”

"Khoa and Anh wrote the screenplay ping pong style"

Khoa and Anh wrote the screenplay ping pong style. “I wrote the first draft with my wife (Suzanne),” says Anh, “then I gave it to Khoa for a few weeks, then he’d give it back with changes and so on. It went back and forth, so we acted like default editors. I have a tendency to sneak gags in … so if some were dodgy, they’d get cut out,” he says good naturedly.

Working together as brothers and as rugby team mates helped a great deal, both in capturing the reality of the setting, and in the production process as actor and director. “Khoa might say to me, ‘hey, you remember that time when in that so and so game when you dropped the ball near the touchline ..’ and we’d use things like that to motivate my performance.”

For Angus Sampson who plays the chubby and nerdy Lloydy, working with the Dos on Footy Legends was a special experience on several levels. “These guys saw in me a quality … that I find difficult to articulate (Anh Do says it’s his vulnerability that engages audiences and makes him likeable). Anh had seen me in a film I made after I stopped playing rugby, Dags, playing a character that was overweight. The character had been trying to make up for lack of self esteem by eating …

“So during this phone call from Anh about playing Lloydy (based on real mate of Anh’s) I started to put on weight. He asked if I felt OK putting on, say 7 kilos. Then as the call went on, he’d say, ‘so you’d be prepared to put on 10 kilos, say?’ By the end it was 15 kilos and I thought I better hang up before I get diabetes.”

He ended up gaining 12 kilos. “The tangible weight matches the emotional weight the character carries around,” he says. But for Sampson the experience also allowed him to return to his roots from Melbourne, and to fall in love with Sydney again. “Meeting the cast, this great cross section of the community, with all different races, religions and attitudes … what an absolute privilege it was for me. It’ll be a bonus if the film resonates with audiences…”

Published August 3, 2006

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Khoa Do with cinematographer Martin McGrath on set


Khoa’s brother Anh (Luc Vu) in a scene with Lisa Saggers (Anne)

Khoa Do:
1998/99 –
Volunteer with Open Family Australia (Cabramatta) assisting at-risk youths;

2001 –
Young Vietnamese Australian of the Year (for services in drama and work with youths in Sydney’s south west);

2002 –
Bankstown Young Citizen of the Year;

2003 –
The Centenary Medal; and Yalumba Independent Spirit Award for debut feature, The Finished People;

2004 –
Nominated for inaugural Best Direction in a First Feature film ASDA Award;

2005 –
Young Australian of the Year – “leadership, compassion, a will to inspire and inform Australians on issues that affect our communities.”


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