Remarkable alumna Davida Allen delights audience with storied career

Eminent contemporary artist and Griffith University alumna Davida Allen delighted the audience at a special screening of her acclaimed 1999 film Feeling Sexy at Griffith Film School.

Held to coincide with Griffith University Art Museum’s current exhibition Davida Allen: In the Moment, the night included a Q&A with Allen and the film’s producerGlenys Rowe where the two shared anecdotes about their careers and the film’s production.

Allen, who wrote and directed the film, spoke about what attracted her to adapting her art practice to encompass the cinematic, as well as her short novelClose to the Bone : The Autobiography of Vicki Myers, on which the film is loosely based.

“I’d been directing my children and husband for years” she said. “The book was published to a specialised audience, but I wanted to bring the story to the ordinary person. It was greed for an audience really.”

Rowe, a former General Manager of SBS Independent, spoke about meeting Allen for the first time over a spontaneous lunch at the artist’s home. “On the wall in Davida’s house was a painting of three little girls in a happy beach scene, with huge filthy black writing in the sand saying ‘WHAT IF THERE’S A SHARK'” she said. “When I saw that saw that painting with the image counterpointed with what I read as sound, I knew that Davida could make a film because that was a complete scene.”

Seeing the film 20 years on was an extraordinary experience for both Allen and Rowe, made even more fascinating by its recent remastering from celluloid to digital.

“It’s weird because the film doesn’t seem that old” said Allen. “At the time I was quite vulnerable because it was my specific point of view, so it’s good to see it holds up well as a story now.”

Many of the film’s original crew were present for the trip down memory lane, including the now internationally-renowned cinematographer Gary Phillips. Allen said that having so many faces from the set in the audience was like being surrounded by family after such a close personal experience.

“Being surrounded by all these people there to help you with your vision, to do everything for you but do it even better than you can do yourself…it’s like heroin in your veins seeing it brought to life” she said. “I’m too old to make another film now, but that feeling is like an addiction.”

In 1986 Allen won the Archibald Prize with a candid portrait of her father-in-law, and in 2010 won the Tattersall’s Club Landscape Art Prize. She was awarded a Doctor of the University, GriffithUniversity, in 2004 in recognition of her long association with Queensland College of Art – first as a student under Roy Churcher, then a teacher in the mid 1990s.

Davida Allen: In the Momentat Griffith University Art Museum is the first survey of Allen’s practice in over 30 years, and includes seminal works from her career such as theDeath of My Fatherseries andSam Neill Suite, as well as her Archibald Prize-winning paintingMy father-in-law hosing his celtis trees1986. The exhibition runs until 30 June 2018.

Photograph: Thomas Oliver