Alana Hicks - director of short film Chicken
Director Alana Hicks and still from 'Chicken' (2019)
Stories & Ideas

Wed 06 Mar 2024

Alana Hicks and 'Chicken' – New Voices in Australian Cinema

Australia Industry Short film
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Inspired by family stories, Alana Hick's award-winning short film was made possible by a dream team of creative collaborators.

Alana Hicks is a Papua New Guinean-born, Gadigal-based writer and director. Her short films have featured in festivals such as Flickerfest, BFI’s London Film Festival and SXSW, Sydney. She was the inaugural winner of the 2020 SBS Emerging Writers’ Competition and is currently working on her debut novel Home is a Foreign Country. Chicken won best director at 2020's Flickerfest in Sydney.

About Chicken: All Barbara wants to do is watch The Simpsons, but her recently migrated mum has just been overcharged at the local shops, and it’s up to Barbara to sort it out. As usual.

ACMI: How did the idea for Chicken come about?

Alana Hicks: It was a true story which happened to my mum and I not long after we arrived in Australia from PNG. In the oral storytelling tradition of Pasifika culture, mum loves to tell long and winding stories, many of which I could recite by heart. I have always documented our lives and experiences through poetry, journals and prose. We just tell the story of ourselves, to ourselves, so we remember who we are, and what we have survived. And this was one of those funny stories about the 'Time We Got The Second Chicken'. I have many other stories such as the 'Sausage Roll Incident'. And the one about 'Deirdre and the Council Pick Up', that's a good one.

Actors in a supermarket scene - Chicken (2019)

Still from Chicken (2019)

A: Tell us more about your filmmaking journey with Chicken.

AH: I had been shortlisted for FilmInk's 'Smart for a Girl: Roar' initiative back in 2017, at which point I had to write a short script. I wrote Chicken, but didn't make it through. However, another opportunity came up that required a short script, so I redrafted it and then sent it into the AFTRS' Talent Camp. This proves that even when you're rejected from something, the work is never wasted. The reason we keep trying is that at some point the timing is right and the best people are by your side for that leg of your journey.

When I applied for and undertook the Talent Camp program, I realised that the film school was not the big bad scary I thought it was. A year later I did a Graduate Diploma in Screenwriting. I met some lifelong collaborators and a teacher that has championed my work and career. In that same year I met Sleena Wilson and instantly knew she was a special kind of producer, one who cares deeply about the "why" of a project. I knew that I needed to ride Sleena's coattails, and fast! I was ambitious and Sleena was tenacious in the making of Chicken, pulling in some amazing crew, as well as friends to fill in the gaps.

Talent Camp challenged me to rise to the role of director; I don't even remember the conversation, it was just assumed. I had directed and acted in live theatre, edited and produced an online sketch comedy series, but still considered myself mostly a writer. I didn't realise these skills transferred to screen directing in a joyful and relevant way. I don't consider myself a control freak, but I know what's required to achieve a certain goal, and one of those things is amazing people. Mariah Alone had not acted on screen prior to Chicken, but was the perfect fit for Barbara, being of mixed-heritage and whip smart. And Wendy Mocke is an unstoppable creative force who has done so much for PNG creative visibility that I'm grateful she adopted the role of my mum so beautifully. It was shot by Campbell Brown and edited by Christine Cheung, who have gone from strength to strength in their respective careers. What a dream team! And of course with the support of the AFTRS staff, especially Gary Paramanathan and Christina Alvarez, it was a fantastic incubator for my first ever funded short.

Mother and daughter watching TV - Chicken (2019)

Still from Chicken (2019)

A: Who or what inspires you as a filmmaker?

AH: People who just bloody go for it. Everything in screen is difficult, so to have the willingness and vision to see anything through is astonishing to me. Writers who push the boundaries of conventional storytelling like Charlie Kaufman and legendary directors like Penny Chapman who had such a distinct voice, inspire me to cherish my own style and tone. As Roanna Gonsalves, writer and academic says, "Your difference is your gift." Writer Benjamin Law was a huge inspiration for the kind of migrant-com that I tend towards. There are too many inspirational people, everybody gives you something to take away and ponder. But ultimately, I wouldn't be where I am without my parents and friends.

A: What advice would you give to fellow emerging filmmakers?

AH: Oh look, take advice with extreme caution would be my first thought. But truly, being fully and authentically yourself is all you really need.

A: What are you watching or playing right now?

AH: I'm embarrassed to say in times of stress, I comfort watch my favourite comedies, so I've been watching Community, a show literally from 15 years ago. I like to imbibe the rhythm of the dialogue and consider the choices the director and actors are making. There is an embarrassment of wonderful content out there, just waiting for me to discover. Also, Deadloch. If you haven't seen it, stop reading this and go watch it. Go on. This can wait.

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