Among the bountiful crop of our most talented young actors, Sara West has forged a strong career across short film, TV and feature film, attracting AACTA and Logie nominations for her work (for Don’t Tell and as Liza Minnelli in Peter Allen: Not The Boy Next Door respectively).
Sara is also a writer and director, and has made a number of wonderful short films including River Water (2013) for which she received the Best Emerging Filmmaker Award at the South Australian Screen Awards. Sara wrote shorts Teenage Filth (2012) and Split Me (2016) and in 2017 directed two shorts which she also wrote – Mutt and Disco Dykes for SBS and Create NSW.
Tell us a little about your film at SBS On Demand.
Disco Dykes was supported by SBS and Create NSW through the GEFF Fund which is the Generator Emerging Filmmakers Fund. Each year they theme the applications and we applied when the theme was LGBTQI+. My girlfriend at the time and myself had actually, up until that point, kept our relationship a secret. We thought what better way to ‘come out’ than to make an LGBTQI+ themed film that celebrated our off-centre sense of humour. I wrote and directed the film and she acted in it, so when we told our producer, who was a close friend of both of ours, she was completely shocked. It was really great to be public with our relationship and be actively celebrating this through the process of making Disco Dykes.
Disco Dykes had a little festival run and screened at the St Kilda Film Fest before going national at SBS on Demand. It’s been really great to have the film play on SBS and be able to reach so many people in the comfort of their own home.
Watch Disco Dykes now at SBS On Demand.
What are you currently working on?
Create NSW was generous enough to support two new projects of mine after the Disco Dykes collaboration. I’m in the early development phase of two completely different TV series, both of which I have been able to hold writers’ rooms for with some of Australia’s best writers.
Fishbone is a 6 x 30-minute comedy series about a group of women who want to join the men’s fishing competition and Another Sky is a psychological thriller about a cult of women who believe the earth outside their commune is inhabitable. I’m also working on a feature film called The Fannypacks which is best described as a cross between Napoleon Dynamite and Spring Breakers. Each project is so vastly different so when I get stuck or sick of one, I can pick up the other and clear my head a little.
How are you coping with self-isolation?
I’ve been teaching myself Photoshop and watching lots of random ‘how to’ videos online. I’ve realised in isolation that I’m quite the introvert normally, so actually I’m not doing too badly having to isolate. For me it’s just a matter of keeping busy and feeling like I’m still able to learn and develop interests I have, be it writing, gardening, designing… eating etc. I wish I was more interested in working out but no matter how many days, weeks, months this goes on for, I just don’t see it happening. So trying not to beat myself up about that is important too.
What are your 5 favourite films at SBS On Demand?
1. The Breaker Upperers
Director: Jackie Van Beek
Cast: Jackie Van Beek, Madeleine Sami
Country: New Zealand
I saw the trailer for this film and knew I would love it. It was actually recommended to me while I was chatting to Create NSW about the development of my slate and I found so much comfort in knowing this film being recommended to me really meant that the conversations I was having about my style and voice were really being understood.
I saw it in a festival run and so there was a Q&A with writers/directors Madeleine Sami and Jackie Van Beek afterwards, and everything they talked about resonated so much with me. They persisted with the film for so many years and it went through rewrite after rewrite, but they said they were never worried it wouldn’t happen because they just knew they’d make it. I think that’s something really important to hold onto as a creator, especially in this time – there’s so many ways this industry can evolve and whether or not you have the support of government or larger backings, it’s entirely possible to make what you want and get the core of your story heard.
I seem to gravitate to comedies with a seemingly odd premise that has all the courage of its convictions but is ultimately full of heart and for me, a story of female friendship that overcomes absurd circumstance is such a great starting point for a good film. I was really inspired by this film and pull a lot of motivation for my own feature from it – if my film can be half as funny, I’ll be onto a good thing.
Watch The Breaker Upperers now at SBS On Demand.
2. Black Snake Moan
Director: Craig Brewer
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Christina Ricci, Justin Timberlake
I’m a sucker for anything set in the American South – that gooey backwater and those long southern drawls. I think I also just gravitate to a lot of films that I’d love to be cast in. I don’t remember when I first saw this film but it’s one of the few I still have on DVD, just in case it goes out of circulation. Films I do like I watch over and over, and this one is no exception.
I like small, kind of insular stories that have some heightened realism to them. The blues music that runs in the veins of this film really pushes it along and is really one of the only films where I notice the music as a driving force in the film. I’m a really visual person so have to really focus to hear music and can’t often identify or remember anything distinct in a score. But the music in this film is front and centre. I think I also really love this film because you grow up watching Christina Ricci in Casper and The Addams Family and then suddenly, she’s running around half naked screaming her lungs out chained up to a heater. It’s not a horror – that makes it sound gory. It’s for her own good haha. Also, Justin Timberlake is in this film and he’s actually really good.
Watch Black Snake Moan now at SBS On Demand.
3. Mean Creek
Director: Jacob Estes
Cast: Rory Culkin, Ryan Kelley, Josh Peck
I first saw this when I was at university, and having grown up in the Riverland of South Australia, I remember responding to the film really strongly. Naturally I’m drawn to drama and the story of this small-town group of friends going on a fishing trip was something I could instantly relate to. Obviously, there’s hidden motives among the group for the trip and that’s less relatable, but something about the scale of this film also made me feel like I could achieve something like it.
The first film I made was a 40-minute ‘short’ called River Water. I was bald at the time, having shaved my head for a play I acted in for Belvoir Theatre Company, which basically meant that I was unemployable, as an actor, until my hair grew back. I had an amazing group of people come to the river with me in Adelaide and over two weeks we shot this film that I wrote and directed. I was completely out of my depth and we made things up as we went along, but I think it’s the short I’m most proud of still.
Mean Creek also reminded me of Stand By Me where the adventure starts out as this kind of innocent coming of age and then you drop into the story and the decisions the characters are making, and suddenly adolescence doesn’t seem as polarising as ‘grown-ups’ make it out to be. I like films that acknowledge that in a way – I just wish there were more girls in them haha!
Watch Mean Creek now at SBS On Demand.
4. The Tree of Life
Director: Terrence Malick
Cast: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain
Now – I both love and hate this film. You have to be in the mood for it. Mostly I’m in the mood for it and if you haven’t seen it you should watch it at least once. This film makes me think of my own immortality like nothing I’ve ever consumed before. The scale is so large and if you find the premise the first time you watch the film hold onto it with dear life because it can seemingly slip away from you in a single frame.
I saw this at the cinema with a friend who was so affected she cried for a while afterward until it was awkward. Other people were upset they’d lost their 20 bucks and sat in the dark for so long. I’ve never felt more insignificant than after watching this film, but I think that’s a pretty powerful thing. The scope of the film is so grand but still, for me, revolves around this one family. The life and death of everything, ever, encapsulated in the bubble of this one small-town family trying to make it by. It’s visually stunning on every level as well. I love Jessica Chastain – I love everything she’s ever done. So that may play a part also.
Watch The Tree of Life now at SBS On Demand.
5. Capernaum (Capharnaüm)
Director: Nadine Labaki
Cast: Boluwatife Treasure Bankole, Zain Al Rafeea, Yordanos Shiferaw
I can’t even with this film. There are so many stunning moments, each one crafted with such perfection. I saw this film by myself in a small cinema that was so packed with people at the beginning I thought I’d walked into the Avengers screening by mistake. The audience was so quiet the entire time and at the end everyone sat silently for ages. Not one person got up to rush out.
Every shot seems so seamless – I was so blown away by the performances in this film – Zain Al Rafeea will break your heart a thousand times over. To hold something so huge on your shoulders at such a young age was mind-blowing to me. And to have the kind of gravitas and hindsight to be able to draw from his own experience and communicate that through this film… I mean. I’ll never make a film as important as this one – I just won’t. I know that. So, finding the drive to create after seeing a film like this is quite hard for me. I’m glad this film exists and am so grateful to everyone involved for it being made. The end. Watch it.
Watch Capernaum now at SBS On Demand.