Q&A: Tony Ayres, writer and director of Home Song Stories

By Joanna Hunkin

Director Tony Ayres brings his life story to the big screen in The Home Song Stories. The movie tells the story of Rose, a glamorous Shanghai nightclub singer, and her struggle to survive in Australia with her two young children.

Q: I read an article written before you made the film that said you were going to a make a film loosely based on your childhood. In the end was it loosely based?

A: No it was pretty closely based. Those photos at the end are my real family.

Q: Was it a very cathartic process?

A: Curiously, I guess it's a story I've lived with all of my life I always felt it was a story I needed to tell. In terms of my own response to it, I think I learnt things about my mother through doing it. Really the story's about growing alienated from my mother because of her erratic behaviour. In the process of directing Joan and trying to create a character that she could play, I learnt a lot about my mother. In that way it was helpful for me but it wasn't really cathartic. Films are things you need therapy for after you've made.

Q: How did your family react to the film?

A: My family's just my sister and me, and her husband and her two children. I told my sister I was going to write this script about five years ago. Initially she was a little cautious, because it's really as much her story - if not more her story - as mine. She was worried about being exposed, but then she was very Chinese and said, well if you can make money out of it, it's okay. She was very generous in allowing me to tell her story. She was involved all the way along, she was a story consultant. Her memories were very different to mine, which was the most interesting part of the writing process. She remembered things completely differently to me.

Q: At the end of the film, the narrator says you never talk about your mother, instead you write about her in your work. Was this the first time you and your sister did talk about your mother?

A: Yeah, the film gave us a reason to talk about our mother. When all of those things happened, we didn't have language to talk about the trauma. We were always very close but we used to fight all the time. I left Perth when I was 17 so as adults, we never really got around to talking about things. Linda tried to talk about it a few times but I was quite resistant, I didn't quite know what to say.

Q: Having made the film, is it strange having complete strangers knowing your past and talking to you about it?

A: I think that's something you take on when you write something autobiographical. You have to be prepared to talk about those things. I don't think it's strange.

If anything it has opened up a dialogue with other people, for them to talk about their experiences and relationships with their mothers. People either sympathise with Rose, or they hate her, or they feel better about themselves as mothers. In our society, mothers are put on a pedestal - they have to be good mothers. And yet really if everyone was a good mother, how come we live in the kind of world that we live in.

That was always my tag line - 'For anyone who ever had a mother'.

* Home Song Stories is at the Auckland Film festival tomorrow at 10:30am as well at the NZ Film Festival screenings around the country.

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