By Erin Free

“If you have a story inside that yearns to be told – set it free!” writer, actor, producer and director David Cook enthusiastically tells FilmInk. That’s exactly what the debut feature filmmaker did with his tough but tender boxing-film-with-a-difference Heart of the Man. After directing a couple of short films in 2018’s Perfect and Speak and producing the sci-fi thriller Dome House Six, David Cook started to burn with a desire to tell his own stories, and make his own mark. “It was a deep yearning inside that I had to explore. There was always a part of me that was drawn to boxing films and stories about overcoming adversity, so, I decided to write from the heart and bring to light some of my own experiences. So, the inspiration behind the film was to ‘live my truth’ and tell my own story. The driving force behind the film was to show others that they can do it too.”

In Heart of the Man, Cook plays Sammy Wundurra (David Cook), a towering one-time champ in the ring looking to relive his hard-punching past through his son, Chris (Parker Little), a gifted and promising boxer in his own right. Plagued by demons and haunted by his own role in the tragic death of his wife, Sammy is a violent, angry man, and he’s desperate to mould Chris in his own brutal image. Chris, however, has other – very different – ideas about who he is, and what role he will play in the world.

David Cook and Parker Little in Heart of the Man.

With its rich narrative and textured characters, Heart of the Man represented a major step upward for David Cook. “I’d produced around three hours of combined short form content, and I’d had years of acting and crew experience on small to large scale productions, so, I felt it was time to tackle long-form,” Cook tells FilmInk of making the leap to feature filmmaking. “It was definitely a huge jump, and the film was very tough to get off the ground. Thankfully, my team and I collectively owned all the gear we needed to shoot with, which helped alleviate a lot of the financial strain, and allowed us to produce the film on a shoe-string budget.”

While Cook’s efforts in mounting and crafting such an effective low budget production are impressive in themselves, the talented creative doubles down by taking on a major acting role as well, bringing a simmering intensity and imposing sense of authenticity to the role of Sammy Wundurra, a violent man desperately clinging to the past and trying to twist the present to his own ends and needs.

Cook (who has appeared as an actor in the likes of TV’s Harrow) looms large over the film, and even when he’s not on-screen you can still literally feel his presence. “This definitely was a lot to take on, but I enjoyed every moment of it,” Cook tells FilmInk of pulling double-duty on Heart of the Man. Whenever I write something, whether it’s short or feature length, there’s always a part of myself that comes through in the writing. I can only finish a script if the story comes from an honest place. So, when it came to acting in the film, I was deeply connected to the story, and it was only right that I played the role of Sammy.”

For a film all about personal struggle, Heart of the Man was certainly beset with its own complex set of obstacles, with the production halted for ten days by both the ravages of Covid, and the city-stopping madness of the floods that swept through Brisbane. “We had to shut down after only three days of filming,” Cook tells FilmInk. “It was very difficult but thankfully, as the writer of the film, I was able to make changes to the script, just so we could finish. Talent availability was compromised, which forced the changes. It hurt me to change the story, but I knew we had to get it done. ‘Well done is better than well said’ was my internal motto.”

Taking in the struggles of the Aboriginal and LGBTQIA+ community, Heart of the Man moves well outside of the ring when it comes to what is expected of a boxing movie. Cook’s aim was to connect with people through film, and maybe even stir some change in them. “I really hope the film can resonate with people at some level, even if it’s only one moment or one scene,” Cook explains to FilmInk. “If I can make a connection with one person and have them feel that they’re not alone in what they’re going through, then I’ve done my job as a storyteller.”

Heart of the Man screens at The Inner West Film Fest on Sunday, April 21 at 4:00pm at Palace Norton Street. Click here for all information and to buy tickets.

Heart of the Man also screens at The Gold Coast Film Festival on Friday 19 April and Monday 22 April. Click here for all information and to buy tickets.