The Weekend Australian - Review - - Profile -

FIF­TEEN years ago, Julius Avery was teenage, tall, gifted, rest­less and in trou­ble at high school. His mother, Justine, said he could for­get about school if he wanted and of­fered to buy a farm so he could grow veg­eta­bles. But young Avery de­cided to fol­low in his artist mother’s foot­steps and go to art school. At 16 he left be­hind semi- ru­ral Mount He­lena, West­ern Aus­tralia, the youngest stu­dent to be ac­cepted into Perth’s Clare­mont School of Art.

Now 31, bearded and vol­u­ble, Avery is emerg­ing in­ter­na­tion­ally as a film­maker to watch. His stu­dent films have won a swag of awards and ear­lier this year he won the Cannes Spe­cial Jury Prize for his first ma­ture short film, the 13- minute Jer­rycan.

Avery is driven by his in­ter­est in Aus­tralian mas­culin­ity, par­tic­u­larly as it af­fects peo­ple liv­ing in places that are nei­ther here nor there: not the out­back, where board­ing school or work on the land are the op­tions for a white boy; not the city, with its many work and leisure op­por­tu­ni­ties; but towns such as the Mount He­lena of his child­hood that don’t have much to of­fer their youth, ex­plain­ing why Avery grabbed art school with both hands.

He says: ‘‘ My dad died when I was about five and my mum, she’s al­ways been there. She un­der­stood the stress; you feel a lot of stress buried down you as a kid and you need some­one be­hind you to say: ‘ Look, it’s fine, you’re fine.’ My grand­mother, Pat Chap­pell, was also a huge sup­porter. When it comes to my films, she said: ‘ Don’t let any­one tell you you can’t do it.’ ’’ She was a pho­tog­ra­pher and when she was work­ing she had four stu­dios.

‘‘ She was a very suc­cess­ful woman in Perth at a time when it was a very male- driven oc­cu­pa­tion. So she was al­ways ea­ger to en­sure that I kept that fire in my belly. They in­ter­viewed her on the news when I was in Cannes. She was wear­ing a pink sweater and said, ‘ I’m tick­led pink.’ ’’ He laughs af­fec­tion­ately.

Arriving in Perth as a 16- year- old art stu­dent, Avery homed in on photography. ‘‘ You could hire a video cam­era, and so I took that out ev­ery week and fol­lowed my friends around,’’ he says. ‘‘ I started re­al­is­ing that there was some­thing in this, that I could make sto­ries about my mates.’’ The more Avery hung around with the cam­era, the more every­one else for­got about it.

‘‘ That was my first di­rect­ing re­al­i­sa­tion, that when peo­ple be­come nat­u­ral in front of the cam­era they be­come so much more in­ter­est­ing.’’

Diploma un­der his arm, Avery went on to Perth’s Mur­doch Uni­ver­sity, where he strug­gled with the writ­ten sub­jects and, again, couldn’t keep away from the video equip­ment. ‘‘ I just made a com­plete nui­sance of my­self, do­ing as many things as I could on the side, shoot­ing doc­u­men­taries, ex­per­i­men­tal short films, mu­sic videos, any­thing,’’ he says. ‘‘ I re­alised that the best of the school was get­ting out there and just do­ing it and be­ing on set with real peo­ple.’’

His next move was east, to Mel­bourne’s Vic­to­rian Col­lege of the Arts, where in 2006 his grad­u­at­ing film, End of Town, was awarded the Mel­bourne In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val’s emerg­ing film­maker of the year award. Then came Cannes. Now in the process of mak­ing his first fea­ture, Avery is ‘‘ at the pointy end of film­mak­ing’’. His fea­ture is called End of Town and it reprises his favourite themes of iso­la­tion and dis­af­fected coun­try youth. It’s a wrong- side- of- the- tracks love story and drama set in a small town. In Cannes, he rel­ished the bold, bol­shie films he saw: ‘‘ I mean bold as in films that have some­thing to say about the world and say it in a very in- your­face way.

‘‘ End of Town has that, it’s talk­ing about kids in the bush, about racism, about all those danger­ous things that young kids get up to: drink­ing, tak­ing drugs, un­der­age sex, the whole lot. But I don’t want any­one draw­ing par­al­lels with Larry Clark,’’ he says firmly of the con­tentious US film­maker who made Kids and Ken Park.

‘‘ Clark works with kids, he does the sex, but this is more about the male ( sit­u­a­tion), about men and how they sort of go through life grow­ing up, the very ma­cho side of Aus­tralian men, which I don’t think is ex­plored enough.’’

When he was do­ing the ground­work for Jer­rycan, which had its Aus­tralian pre­miere at this year’s MIFF, Avery wanted to lo­cate a town and cast the lo­cal kids so they were comfortable with their sur­round­ings. Some­one sug­gested the Vic­to­rian town of Clunes. When he ar­rived, Avery met Dave, the lo­cal bi­cy­cle shop owner.

‘‘ Clunes is about 20 min­utes from Bal­larat, which is a life­time away for a kid, you know,’’ Avery says. ‘‘ He’d started up this lit­tle bike shop in the main street. The kids in the town didn’t have any bikes be­cause the ones they got at Christ­mas or birthdays got a punc­ture or the chain fell off, sim­ple things that needed fix­ing. So he knew all the kids in town, and he said to us: ‘ If you guys want kids, come back on Wed­nes­day and I’ll have them all here.’

‘‘ So we did, and there were 15 of the most rowdy, most ob­nox­ious lit­tle shits, but they were just right, just per­fect for this film, raw and rough and ready. The kids were all great, it was just a mat­ter of pick­ing the ones that were right for the roles. And when I saw them, they were so sim­i­lar to me.’’

This scene in Clunes re­minded Avery of his early years in Mount He­lena, hang­ing out at the milk bar with his mates. ‘‘ The prob­lem was there weren’t many kids, so some­times you’d hang out with your worst en­emy. One kid was a bit older and he was the bully. We used to fol­low him around and get up to mis­chief be­cause it was all about fly­ing un­der the radar in those days. You didn’t want to be out­side of the group and you’d do any­thing. Would you jump off a bridge if you were told to? You prob­a­bly would be­cause oth­er­wise you’d be called a pussy.’’

Jer­rycan ’ s reck­less young boys and cans of petrol make a com­bustible mix. Avery laughs: ‘‘ You do come away think­ing this is re­ally danger­ous, but it turns into some­thing with the same tone as ( the film) Stand By Me,’’ he says. ‘‘ There’s a lot of hu­mour and light­ness and a dark sub­ject mat­ter, but no one dies.’’

Avery is keen to point out his Cannes suc­cess rests with the young cast of Jer­rycan : ‘‘ Every­one con­cen­trates on the di­rec­tor, but I’d re­ally like to thank Clunes. Th­ese kids are the ones that made this film and without them it would be noth­ing. They’re so will­ing to give you ev­ery­thing and that’s why I like work­ing with them, they’re so open to new ideas. They are the he­roes.’’

Pic­ture: Richard Cisar- Wright

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