Christmess – An interview with writer director Heath Davis

Christmess – An interview with writer director Heath Davis
Image: Steve Le Marquand in CHRISTMESS. Image: SIE Kitts Photography

Christmas movies are usually a dime a dozen but one which stands out this year is Aussie offering Christmess, a relatable drama which should touch the hearts of all audiences.

It’s the story of an actor called Chris ( Steve Le Marquand) who has fallen on hard times. He comes out of rehab and moves into a halfway house with his sponsor Nick (Darren Gilshenan) and fellow addict, Joy (Hannah Joy). It’s Christmas and they all help each other to stay sober during the  festive season.

Darren Gilshenan, Hannah Joy and Steve Le Marquand (seated) in CHRISTMESS. Image: promotional

But Steve sees his estranged daughter, Noelle (Nicole Pastor) — whom he hasn’t seen in over two decades — in the mall with his grand child. His mission is to seek forgiveness and have her spend Christmas Day with him. An easy task – or is it?

Heath Davis who wrote, produced, and directed the movie, explained that this project only transpired because a previous bigger budget movie with a British star was torpedoed by Covid.

“I didn’t know what to do and a lot of people said, ‘you should think about doing a Christmas movie.’ So I sat down and watched all the Christmas movies I could and I did not connect to any of them. I wanted to tell a real Christmas story if I made one, about the real anxieties and stresses on mental health and alcohol abuse.”

Hannah Joy. Image: supplied

Predominantly filmed in Campbelltown in outer Western Sydney, Christmess explores many social issues. Alcohol and substance abuse, mental health issues, homelessness, and broken homes. “We filmed in a housing commission and I always say that it’s a compassion movie about people helping each other getting through the tough times.”

Davis added that he didn’t want to make the movie in a doom and gloom fashion, but with a lot of heart and humour; a really emotionally honest movie which embraces the true meaning of Christmas, that is, looking out for one another and human connection.

Steve Le Marquand. Image: Acast

Actor Steve Le Marquand who plays the role of Chris has appeared in all of Davis’ movies and he was the first choice for this role. “He was up for it. I told him I wanted to build it around him. Steve says so much without saying things, there’s a lot going on behind the eyes and his face and he is one of those great Australian actors,” said Davis.

When asked to describe the character Chris, Davis paused momentarily. “He’s identifiable. He’s just a flawed three dimensional human being who has an addiction which has overcome his personal life and career. He’s an anti-hero, but he tries to be a better person. His intentions are noble and the people around him see the goodness in him.”

Singer Hannah Joy from Aria winning Sydney alternative indie rock band, Middle Kids, plays the role of Joy — and what a performance she delivers. Who would have thought this was her first acting gig!

“Hannah came to mind for the role, as I’m a huge fan of the band. If you listen to their songs a lot of the lyrics are about her relationship with alcohol and she’s very open about her problem. She read the script and connected with it. It was a creative risk but she was a natural.”

The movie recently screened at the Austin Film Festival in Texas where it was well received. “From famous people, filmmakers, actors, and regular Joes the reaction was amazing. People were hugging me, there were tears, and it’s also happening here.”

Davis believes this movie is suitable for all audiences. “We’ve seen people from all walks of life coming to screenings and they all seem to get something out of it. Everybody can connect to one of these characters in some shape or form.”

In Cinemas November 30

 

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