“Sideways, Wonder Boys, As Good As It Gets and Juno even,” answers Sydney filmmaker Heath Davis when we ask about the films that inspired him when writing his sophomore feature film, Book Week. “But I also watched Nobody’s Fool (1994) a lot. I still love that book [by Richard Russo] and movie [by Robert Benton] and the character Sully [played by Paul Newman in the film]. He’s a self-destructive, old, hopeless case but loveable. His crisis was very truthful for a Hollywood movie. I wanted to write a real depiction of an artist in the modern world here in Australia. The ones I know are poor and [their] lives are anything but glamorous.”
‘Self-destructive but loveable’ would certainly apply to Book Week’s protagonist, a cantankerous, hard-drinking and womanising high school teacher who really just wants to be a famous author.
Heath Davis is no stranger to high school teaching, having worked in education himself in between film gigs.
“‘Teaching is a good job to have whilst pursuing other avenues’. I remember on my first prac, my advisor told me that,” says Davis. “He was a long haired, Led Zeppelin t-shirt wearing music and drama teacher. He was in a band. They had a music video on Rage once. Talented too. That was funny and kind of demoralising. But I learned most teachers in the humanities and even science faculties had dreams and grand plans after their studies. Some have PHDs and are very intelligent and talented, sadly they couldn’t scratch out a living from it. So, after I had a movie fall over in Hollywood, I was back teaching in a Western Sydney public school and going through a crisis. It was painful personally but great fodder for writing a black comedy.”
Davis’s history as a filmmaker is a long one. We first met him back in 2003 when he was doing the festival circuit with his short film Spoon Man (co-directed by Daniel DiMarco). But it wasn’t until 2016’s Broke that Davis got the opportunity to make a feature film. Acclaimed for its performances and uncompromising depiction of problem gambling, Broke was made in in Queensland industrial town Gladstone, and with Book Week, Davis follows up with another film made within a community, this time the Blue Mountains, close to where Davis grew up in the Western suburbs of Sydney.
“After Broke I knew on our tiny budget, that love and favours from friends and neighbours was the only way to make it,” he acknowledges. “But I’d also written it in those actual locations and was adamant to film there for the sake of authenticity. Also, I really wanted to use the film as a vehicle to galvanise the local community. Unite them. And create something everyone can feel proud of and feel a part of. Out there, people think you need millions and millions to make a movie. That’s the view they’re sold from Hollywood. It’s not the case. And there’s lot of artists and talented folks who never get a look in. So, I wanted to use this as a showpiece. I think we did that. I just hope locals come out and support it. Hopefully it might kickstart a movement and get more local projects made.”
Finally, and most importantly, we ask Heath Davis what he dressed up as for his school’s Book Week when he was a kid. And the answer is typical of the independent, smart-arsey streak that runs through his veins, and his great new film, Book Week. “I had an A-Team Picture Book in Year 3 and got the A-Team showbag at the Easter Show that year and it came with a Mr. T mask. That was my favourite. I wore green overalls and black boots, way too big for me. I still recall arguing with my teacher because she said The A-Team was a TV show not a book. I proved her wrong. The year after I went as Han Solo. I think movies were in my blood at birth.”
Book Week is in cinemas October 25, 2018