Blessed: counting their blessings

Miranda Otto and Ana KokkinosAna Kokkinos, Andrew Bovell and Al Clark’s previous film alienated audiences, but as they told Miguel Gonzalez, they were blessed by the experience and they’re back with a film that will touch many hearts.

Director Ana Kokkinos, writer Andrew Bovell and producer Al Clark’s previous work together, The Book of Revelation, didn’t precisely set the box office on fire when it was released in 2006. According to Clark, although it was “unlike anything ever made in Australia”, audiences felt alienated by its dark story of male rape. A tough lesson, but one that they clearly learned from.

“I had a great desire to reconnect with audiences, to give them a very truthful and emotional story,” admitted Kokkinos.

For eight years she had been working on an adaptation of the 1998 award winning play Who’s Afraid of the Working Class?, a collection of four separate but interwoven stories by Melbourne Workers’ Theatre writers Christos Tsiolkas, Patricia Cornelius, Melissa Reeves and Kokkino’s own long-time collaborator Andrew Bovell.

Eventually, Bovell and Kokkinos realised they had to reinvent the source material because their script wasn’t holding together. They decided that the story should not revolve around working-class issues – which are still present, in more subtle ways – but focus on the universal relationship between mothers and children.

“We had to fit the stories into something that spoke to me on a core level. There was a line in the Rhonda storyline, ‘[My children] are my blessings, and you’re not to touch them’. That moment brought me undone when I saw the play, so when we were struggling with the script, I knew that strong emotional response was the core idea we had to explore,” she explained.

Once the new angle was clear, they developed the structure in which the first half tells the stories over the course of a day and night, from the children’s perspective, and the second revisits the same day, now from the mothers’ point of view.


Kokkinos then called Clark and asked him if he’d like to read a draft of the project, now called Blessed.

“I have very primitive responses to screenwriting,” admitted Clark. “I either see and feel the film straight away, or I don’t. With Blessed I did; I found it extraordinarily vivid, and some images lingered with me as they must if you’re to embark on a project.”

Clark doesn’t like talking about money, but revealed Blessed had a “very modest” budget, financed “through the mysterious alchemy of putting the pieces together”. Some of those pieces were Screen Australia, Film Victoria, the MIFF Premiere Fund, Head Gear Films and Icon Film Distribution, but the final piece was his and Kokkino’s own money.

“It was a very difficult decision to make, we found ourselves in a position where the only way to make it was for Al and me to invest our fees in the film. We could have waited to see whether or not we’d procure further financing, but we would have risked losing the momentum of the film and watching it fall apart, recalled Kokkinos.

“If it’s financially successful, great, but we approached the making of the film as if we were kissing the money goodbye,” said the director.

“Nobody makes films to lose money, but equally, nobody is sure what is going to make money; otherwise, we’d have a whole generation of film millionaires and we certainly don’t,” added Clark.

While Kokkinos doesn’t regret her decision, she feels “deeply troubled” by it because if it becomes an industry precedent, “we’re in trouble”.

“It makes it very difficult to financially survive in this industry, and we need to make sure that filmmakers have the capacity to keep making films,” she said.

Based on their budget, Kokkinos and her DOP Geoff Burton had two options, Super 16 or digital, but after long discussions, they felt that digital “wasn’t quite right’ for this project. Blessed was shot with the new Kodak Vision 2 high speed stock, and according to Kokkinos, it was their choice of film over digital that gave it “a raw beauty”.


The film’s rawest beauty comes from its potent storylines of seven children wandering the streets of Melbourne, and the mothers that, despite their love, are losing or have already lost them.

Tanya (Deborra-Lee Furness) has wrongly accused her son of theft. Laurel (Monica Maughan) took a child that was not hers and has paid the consequences with his abandon. Gina (Victoria Haralabidou) is overprotective and focuses her attention on the son that she fears dead, forgetting her daughter needs her too. Bianca (Miranda Otto) doesn’t know when she lost the youth she’s desperately trying to hold on to. Rhonda’s (Frances O’Connor) self-destructive behaviour has made her children run away from her.

Kokkino’s desire to reconnect seems fulfilled because so far, screenings of Blessed have proved to be a powerful experience for the audience, many of whom emerge in tears.

Clark believes that for a film to overwhelm its audience so suddenly with a feeling is one of the greatest things cinema can do.

Blessed was also the second most popular title at the recent Brisbane International Film Festival. According to Kokkinos, there’s a hunger in the audience to connect with good films, and Blessed offers them a banquet.

“I find great truth and beauty in all the stories. The content and subject matter are much more immediate to people because it reflects something about life and there are many points of identification.

“It’s my most accessible film, but also my most mature as a filmmaker. The work feels very potent and substantial,” she said, almost like a proud mother.

Bankside is the film’s sales agent, and they will use the Toronto screening to launch it to the international market. Blessed will be released by Icon in Australia on September 10. ■


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