Brisbane Calling

Louise Alston, director of All My Friends Are Leaving Brisbane, proves that sometimes it’s better to stay put.

Director Louise Alston may not be challenging generic conventions with her romantic comedy All My Friends Are Leaving Brisbane. However, unlike so many other recent Australian films, it’s not set in a bleak outer suburb or small town; nor is it an exploration of working-class masculinity. Although the film eventually received some post-production funding, it was not dependent on grants from funding bodies to get it made. Instead, All My Friends Are Leaving Brisbane is a fun, feel-good, low budget comedy set in the inner suburbs of Brisbane.

Charlotte Gregg (whose recent television work includes Out of the Blue and Home and Away) is Anthea, a 25-year-old lawyer who hates her job and is sick of the fact that everybody she knows is leaving Brisbane to go overseas to London. Her main confidant is Michael (Matt Zeremes from Burke & Wills) who contemptuously regards everybody who leaves as mere copycats. Anthea and Michael’s relationship is completely platonic and has always been that way, despite the fact that they’ve unsuccessfully hooked up with – or attempted to hook up with – every other person that they know in Brisbane. Their friendship becomes strained when an old flame of Anthea’s arrives back in town and Michael meets somebody new at his work. Maybe there’s some unresolved sexual tension that Anthea and Michael need to sort out?

Would Alston describe this film as a yuppie comedy since all the characters are young, affluent high achievers? “It certainly has yuppies in it although they are in yuppie denial!” says Alston, on the phone from Brisbane. “They don’t really accept that they are yuppies. They’re kind of whinging private school kids. But they are far more interesting than that. The film doesn’t really make that judgement – it’s a film about people and it’s a love story. Characters can come from anywhere. You can identify with Hamlet and he’s the Prince of Denmark!”

All My Friends Are Leaving Brisbane is receiving a national DVD release this month. “We didn’t really expect that,” says Alston, who isn’t particularly disappointed that the film isn’t hitting national cinemas first. “What we expected was to be doing this thing on video, finishing it on our home computer and then taking it around and showing it in pubs – like [self-distributing safari filmmaker] Alby Mangels! So it’s been great – a good surprise – from being able to shoot it on 16mm film to getting postproduction funding from the Australian Film Commission (now known as Screen Australia).” The film also had a successful theatrical release in Queensland. Alston explains, “It landed on the desk of the Greater Union bosses and they saw something in it. From the AFC funding we had enough money to pay for a 35mm print and in terms of the cinema screens that we were on, we did really well.”

Alston is currently deeply immersed in work for her next film, which she hopes to start shooting in January. She lives in Brisbane with her husband, the film’s writer Stephen Vagg, in the house that served as many of the locations for the film. Alston discovered All My Friends Are Leaving Brisbane when she’d just begun dating Vagg and saw a stage production of his script. Alston, an AFTRS graduate with television, short film and theatre experience, had wanted to make a low budget film so in 2002 decided that this was the script she would use. Vagg had originally written his script for film so the following year Alston and Vagg married and in 2006 the film was shot.

Alston jokes about her film being a ‘Brisploitation’ film, as she was so keen to make Brisbane, a city that rarely features on film, look its best. “The river is in it,” she says “and Storey Bridge is in it a lot. There’re a couple of scenes in Fortitude Valley and a lot of inner city architecture.” The film also boasts a terrific soundtrack (available for download at from Inertia) of local Brisbane garage bands and self-recorded girl singers – the two different styles of music that Alston feels currently define the Brisbane sound.

According to the film’s strong fan base on MySpace, people from Perth and Adelaide have also really embraced this film. Alston muses, “It’s that experience of growing up somewhere where you think maybe something better is happening somewhere else. It becomes the Australian condition I guess – tyranny of distance, cultural cringe.”

But with a world full of opportunities why does everybody always seem to want to go to London? Alston acknowledges that there are the good working visa opportunities in the UK for Australians but she also suspects that Australians tend to go to places where other Australians already are. “There are actually 400,000 Australians living in Britain and over half of those are in of London. That’s a whole city! There are no grandmas and there are no kids – it’s just a certain age group of Australians in their 20s and 30s who want to go over there to work and live. It’s a huge city within a city.”

Alston is yet to go overseas herself for the big working holiday experience. Does she perhaps, like her main character Anthea, feel that she’s been left behind? Alston has a simple and direct answer to that question to indicate that she no regrets in the slightest – “I hung around and made a movie instead.” Good answer.

Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 313, 2008

© Thomas Caldwell, 2008