The best comedy is truthful and has a dark edge to it. With her short film Chicken, Alana Hicks embraced both.
When we ask Hicks whether she’s been to Flickerfest before, her response is very much in tune with her storytelling voice.
“For sure I’ve gone before! I’m a big sucker for watching things outside because of a nostalgia for drive ins. I have also seen the sessions indoors, because good films can be enjoyed both indoors or outdoors. Whether you play it inside or outside, it’s basically the same… Unless it’s raining, in which case it is better inside.
“It’s an honour to have our Australian premiere at Flickerfest.”
At the Flickerfest launch, you said that you were almost ready to give up on this fickle filmmaking game, can you tell us why?
I always wrote to feel connected to something or someone, and after writing and making content most of my life, I wasn’t quite sure who I was connecting to anymore. At a certain point, you have to switch your brain to the less creative, more commercial stage of being a writer/director and finding your audience.
This film was made possible through the Talent Camp initiative and at the time of getting into Talent Camp I had set myself the challenge of submitting to at least two writing competitions, initiatives, funding opportunities or jobs every month. After about a year of this concerted campaign of trying, while working and studying, I eventually got the opportunity which led to Chicken. I’m saying we could all write our own personal thesis on rejection, but eventually something happens.
Is the story in Chicken biographical, and if so, can you expand and tell us how much?
Yes, the story is autobiographical. It was just my mother and I living in a very white suburb in Sydney. We left behind my father and older siblings in PNG after an incident involving a machete wielding gang. I felt very protective of her and still do. She was constantly being spivved, a multi-level marketers dream, because she was and still is, so trusting. She was overcharged royally for a chicken and some rice at the local shops. And I really did have to go back there and get the money back, I would’ve been 13 or so. The shop attendant was less sneaky and more careless. I got a beautiful note from my mentor Leah Purcell to raise the stakes. In my writing I like to reflect the most mundane in life, but Leah showed me how the mundane can still be dramatic.
Has your mum seen it?
She loved it, but my mum has a habit of talking through films, theatre, any performance really. During the cast and crew screening, I tried to tell her to shush and just watch, but she was laughing and retelling the story while watching it. Regardless, she was very moved. For Pacific Islanders, storytelling is life. The preservation of culture depends on an oral tradition, so to capture this little part of our history, I think made her feel proud.
Is the film some sort of sweet revenge for what happened?
Ha. I never considered it a form of revenge. It’s probably fruitless to try to avenge ignorance, impossible even. I like the idea of showing what it’s like to be a mixed-race migrant kid balancing two cultures.
Do you enjoy writing and directing short form content? What can you point to that’s restrictive, and what’s not in the format?
Short form content appeals to my most potent trait of laziness. I did write a play once that was 52 pages, 53 with the title page. There is a lovely succinctness about short films, similar to a short story, or a delicious red wine jus, boiled down to its most essential elements. Perhaps more than duration, I think platform dictates specific restrictions. For example, online sketches have to hook you in at the front, otherwise audiences will switch off – or scroll on. Short films have a different kind of payoff and audiences have different expectations.