By Shayley Blair

Award-winning Australian writer, director and producer Platon Theodoris celebrates the release of his two astonishing feature films, Alvin’s Harmonious World of Opposites (2015), and The Lonely Spirits Variety Hour (2022), to digital and disc this month. Both films have already garnered accolades, due to the notably unique nature of Theodoris’ expression, and the way they entice the viewer to examine existential meaning through rides within a storm-struck playground of the imagination.

“Through filmmaking, I can better understand and make sense of things about this world we all inhabit,” Theodoris explains to FilmInk. “Often, this process of understanding isn’t a linear one and it’s never wholly strategic either… I’m attracted to stories that are a little bit offbeat or absurd, because this allows me to make sense of the whimsy of life and the fleetingness of life. For both Alvin’s Harmonious World of Opposites and Lonely Spirits Variety Hour, much of my creative process was actually me working through specific trauma and finding ways to transcend this by grounding it in interesting metaphor.”

Platon Theodoris

While his films may seem chaotic in structure, much of the detail is thoroughly planned, from writing to execution of scenes which are seemingly tricky to shoot. In Alvin’s Harmonious World of Opposites, the main character follows a traditional arc, from creepy behaviour exhibited when we are first introduced to them in their agoraphobic shell, to pursuing a better version of themselves. There are notable twists in Theodoris’s writing though. “I do enjoy subverting conventional story norms and viewers’ expectations,” he says. “I always push myself to go for the unexpected approach in storytelling – I never want the protagonist’s journey to feel like a cliché.”

In The Lonely Spirits Variety Hour, a parallel narrative divided between the past and present cleverly merges as one timeline. Although minor characters and dialogue may seem random, it all winds up as logically connected. “I’ve always been drawn to the magic and colour of films like The Wizard of Oz and the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” Theodoris replies when asked about his inspirations and influences. “Amazing sets, luscious production design, wonderfully surreal sequences with heightened joyful performances. But then, I discovered the early work of filmmakers like Hal Hartley and Jim Jarmusch, with their interesting, existential dialogue and fascinating performances. Some people might see my films as absurdist, surreal or avant garde. I can see there are aspects in the storytelling process which have these attributes, but I prefer the descriptor ‘heightened magical realism’ perhaps. The locations are real. We’ve built the sets with detailed production design and have avoided the use of visual FX. In this age of green screen studio films and visual FX, isn’t it refreshing to see films where everything is created in-camera? Some of my favourite films are Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho and Vitaly Kanevsky’s Freeze, Die, Come Alive.”

A scene from The Lonely Spirits Variety Hour.

The Lonely Spirits Variety Hour has won an assortment of awards, including Best Film at the 16th Sydney Underground Film Festival and Best Actor for Nitin Vengurlekar’s performance, at the 24th Festival des Antipodes in St Tropez. “The film was adapted from Nitin Vengurlekar’s original stage play The Lonely Spirits Variety Hour,” Theodoris explains. “It came completely out of the absurd and ridiculous, yet it was grounded in real life scenarios that I connected with. I remember how Nitin’s stage show just left me with big belly laughs! Here was this loveable and memorable character Neville Umbrellaman – I wanted to see him in a film. Thankfully, Nitin trusted me wholeheartedly with his material and allowed me free reign. I was trying to imagine the sort of narrative I could overlay – how to adapt and tackle it with a film in mind, trying to squeeze the gags into a coherent three-act structure. In the screenplay of The Lonely Spirits Variety Hour, I had to come to terms with the fleeting nature of life and the ridiculous nature of death. Right at the end of the initial writing process – what I thought was the final draft – I lost a dear friend in very tragic circumstances, and so then spent the next year-and-a-half re-writing the entire screenplay to make sense of this tragedy.”

Theodoris’ subversion of character types is reflected in the visual buffets served up in his set design, often featuring kitsch decor and objects. “Australiana, for me, is fascinating and kitsch, yet interesting and unique. I think it says a lot about who we are as a nation, our humour, our neurosis, our myth-building – and we don’t see it enough on the big screen. Every single prop detail in my films is critical to the world building. A lot of Australian-made films have become vessels for American culture, and I don’t like that. It actually offends me when I see films that have nothing visibly Australian culturally, or films where we hear no Aussie accents being celebrated as Australian cinema. I’m always trying to find a way to slot some obscure or weird Aussie reference into my films… that perhaps only Australians might find funny or understand. For me, a lot of those ‘big things’ in The Lonely Spirits Variety Hour were about that, this ridiculous Australian grandeur which isn’t celebrated. I was trying to weave that in, so people understood that The Lonely Spirits Variety Hour is a quintessential Australian film. It is set here. It is part of the landscape and fabric of this country, part of every Aussie’s family road trip.”

A scene from The Lonely Spirits Variety Hour.

On the positive side of completing the creative journey of each film, Theodoris says that “festival accolades really super charge the buzz around smaller films like mine. Both the Sydney Underground Film Festival and Revelation Perth Film Festival were also crucial in ensuring Alvin’s Harmonious World of Opposites found responsive and appreciative audiences. Screening internationally at Slamdance certainly shows you the path forward. Without this initial success I may not have gained the confidence to make The Lonely Spirits Variety Hour. It’s certainly pushed me to keep going! I’m currently in pre-production for my third and most ambitious project yet.”

Alvin’s Harmonious World of Opposites and The Lonely Spirits Variety Hour are available on digital and disc now.