An unwavering belief that things will work out is not easily maintained in these uncertain times, but it can prove powerful when it comes to making a film on a micro-budget, according to Darius Devas.
The Byron Bay filmmaker begun production on his second feature, Unravelling, in the Northern Rivers this week, more than a decade after making his directorial debut with 2009’s Further We Search.
Written by Devas, in collaboration with lead actors Cazz Bainbridge and Duncan Ragg, the film follows the path of a young couple shifting to the Byron region from the city to live the dream while enduring personal, creative, and psychological tests that begin to undermine the relationship. The cast also includes Christopher James Baker (Eden).
The self-funded production will take place across three weeks in the Byron Bay region, with arts-focused members club The Local Kollective hosting a launch night for the project last Thursday, during which the cast and creators were introduced to the local community. As of yet, no distributor has been lined up.
Devas, who is co-producing with Julie Green, said if there was a lesson that he took from his first foray into feature directing, it was the knowledge that films like this can be made.
“Essentially, I wanted to do my second one by the book and go through the screen funding process but I recognised that was going to take a lot longer,” he told IF.
“Having done it before, and having shot other projects since then, I have an understanding that things figure themselves out, even when it seems impossible.
“There have definitely been some hairy moments shooting through various lockdowns, along with a bunch of other things, but there has also been a calmness of, ‘We’ll figure it out and make it work’. So far so good.”
Since making his feature debut, Devas has spent time directing in the documentary space, with projects such as short-form doc series like Goa Hippy Tribe, which won the SXSW Interactive Award in 2012, and documentary shorts Speaking Through Colour and Spirit Walker – Clinton’s Walk for Justice.
He has also used his work further discussion on social issues, travelling around Australia to interview young people about mental health as part of 2019 documentary series, A Common Thread.
With Unravelling, Devas said he wanted to offer a similarly relatable snapshot of how relationships can affect individuals.
“The story is about that feeling that you’re the only one struggling in a relationship and that everyone else has got it right; that you and your partner are somehow not understanding how to do this relationship thing,” he said.
“I wanted to make a film that explored that with a real honesty and openness with the intention to make the audiences who may have been through very similar experiences feel less alone about their shortcomings.”
Devas has been able to draw on the experience of Kim Farrant in moving the project forward, having come under her mentorship as part of Screenworks and Australian Directors Guild’s Director Pathways Program.
Farrant is known for the 2015 mystery drama Strangerland, starring Nicole Kidman, Joseph Fiennes and Hugo Weaving, as well as 2019 psychological thriller Angel of Mine, starring Noomi Rapace, Yvonne Strahovski and Luke Evans.
Devas said Farrant had been an “incredible advocate” throughout the process.
“As soon I suggested I could shoot my film, she came back and said, “No, you will shoot your film’,” he said.
“Kim has really encouraged me to just do it and not let things get in my way.
“That and my own motivation have really driven getting to point where we were able to start production this week.
“She has also been instrumental in redefining my approach as a director, and how I need to bring myself and my own vulnerabilities to the process, especially when it comes to working with the actors.”
The production comes at a time of increased interest in the Byron Bay region, which forms the setting of controversial Netflix influencer series Byron Baes.
The announcement of the project followed a spike in celebrity activity within the area, driven primarily by high-profile residents, such as Zac Efron and Chris Hemsworth.
Devas was philosophical when asked about the impact of his hometown’s growing profile in the independent film sector,
“I don’t feel like that I’ve been cast aside but I think there is potentially an over-emphasis on what is happening on a larger scale,” he said.
“At the same time, this is understandable because it’s just happened so quickly and there is suddenly this machine moving through our region with huge Hollywood players and previously unfathomable sums of money being utilised to produce film and television projects.
“It has changed but I don’t necessarily think that [independent practitioners] are being cast aside; it’s just a different climate.”