Rising filmmaker Claudia Bailey: “I find sex absolutely fascinating”

Claudia Bailey is a film graduate who recently won the Young Filmmaker of the Year Award at the Byron Bay International Film Festival. Their entry, a moving and vividly relatable short film called Appetite, follows a young woman as she navigates the shame of a one-night-stand that was less than magical.

Appetite was directed and written by Bailey themself, them co-produced by a few fellow Australian Film, Television, and Radio School students; producer Mariella S. Solano, production designer/editor Vanessa Bray, and cinematographer Julian Pertout.

We caught up with Bailey to find out more about the award-winning short film, where they intend to take their career next, and why working alongside their fellow AFTRS students was so rewarding.

Molly Moloney in ‘Appetite’

We speak to rising Australian filmmaker Claudia Bailey about their recent award-winning short film Appetite, the notions of sex and shame that stand at its core, and bike riding.

HAPPY: Hey Claudia, how are things? What are you up to at the moment?

CLAUDIA: Bike riding. I’m obsessed with it. I moved to Melbourne earlier this year and during isolation, spent hours riding down the empty Brunswick backstreets. It’s the closest thing to magic… to be honest, this year has been the first time in my life that I haven’t been working on a project. I think that 2020 has been a really life-changing year for everyone, in both devastating and beautiful ways. Personally, it has made me rethink what kind of person I want to be and how to make steps towards that. So yeah, a lot of staring at walls and figuring out who I am.

HAPPY: Congratulations on the win! Can you talk about the early stages of Appetite? Where and when did the idea begin to form?

CLAUDIA: Thank you very much. I started working on Appetite when I broke both of my legs and was stuck in Spanish hospital. I had nothing but time. I guess that isolation allowed for me to access that very secret, hidden corner inside my brain where shame lives and bring it forward (side note: Appetite is about shame after sex). It was a really interesting process to make a film about something that is very personal as I had to constantly toe the line between what will make it a better film versus how to honestly portray shame. Shame is an uncomfy, icky feeling that is hard to watch, especially on screen. So it was a very slow process working out how to best show it. But one day it just felt right in my gut and then it was chaos, like it always is making a short film on a tiny budget during the uni term. Luckily I had talented, hard-working friends who dedicated their time and beautiful minds and we somehow made it.

HAPPY: If someone were to take something away from the short, what would that be in your mind?

CLAUDIA: Shame happens all the time and it sucks. And worst of all, it’s very inaccessible to talk about because it’s so personal and rooted in a history of experience. So I’m not trying to offer a solution to shame. I know that some people will watch it and it’ll just be another short film. But I also know there will be people who get it. Get what it feels like to be embarrassed on your own behalf, to have slept with someone who forgot your name or didn’t respect you. Appetite is for those people, not to give an answer but to just hold some space and be a gentle reminder that shame is a human experience and thus, valid.

HAPPY: Your last short Cherry also dealt with sex, specifically virginity. Do you intend to continue exploring the topic with your work?

CLAUDIA: I find sex absolutely fascinating. Who doesn’t? But I don’t think it’s what I’ve been exploring bur rather, intimacy. The space between two people, whatever sits there. Because that is what it’s all about, right? People are all we got – yes I just quoted Fleabag. I’ve always been drawn to telling stories that feel true to me at the time. In 2017, it was virginity. In 2018, it was shame. In 2019, it was the complexities of friendship. So I cannot foresee what that will be in 40 years. But right now, I’m gravitating to stories of hope. The world is in a rather scary state, or at least that is how it feels as a young person. But what keeps me going, and what I think has always kept people going, is humanity. Someone smiling to you on the street, holding hands, a home-cooked meal, dancing. The good stuff.

HAPPY: Are there any other topics you’re also keen to explore down the road? Or more long-term goals as a creative?

CLAUDIA: Yes, I’m very passionate about LGBTQI+ representation or more, its lack thereof. We are massively influenced by what we are consuming and so, to have minimal three-dimensional queer characters in the mainstream is very harmful. My goal is to be a part of this movement in order to create action-based change within the industry. There are quotas and initiatives under way but there is always room for more to be done. Eventually, I want to be in the position to create an inclusive production company that prioritises queer storytelling and aims to elevate diverse real people and their stories. This is the big dream. Until then, I’ll keep bike riding.

HAPPY: Love The Friendly Friends [a band who appear in Appetite]! Are there any other local bands you’re really excited about at the moment?

CLAUDIA: Yeah, we love them. Something that is very important to me in telling Australian stories is also using local bands. We have such a pool of diverse and beautiful artists working so why not utilise that? In saying that, I’m a huge Julia Jacklin fan so it was an absolute dream to use one of her songs for my graduation film called Sunburn. I hope to keep incorporating Australian artists in all of the films I work on, and hopefully direct a few music videos (got a few cooking at the moment with local artists).

HAPPY: And are there any young filmmakers you’re loving?

CLAUDIA: Oh so many. Young voices are electric. I always make sure to check out the Australian short section at every film festival as it’s there that I have come across some of the most evocative, gorgeous work. Especially a lot of queer young filmmakers are paving the path; Tommy Hart, Laura Nagy, Abbie Pobjoy, to name a few.

HAPPY: You studied at AFTRS, could you tell us a little about the course?

CLAUDIA: Yes, so I did the three-year bachelor course and graduated last year. Something that I always tell people when they ask about AFTRS is that no matter how long you’re there or what you want to be; it will change your life. Every person I know came out of that course a different person. The course offers a really wide range of subjects that span every aspect of production, from directing to sound to editing. You get a taste for everything and then in third year you can specialise. It’s a great base to spring from. You gain an expansive understanding of not just production but the Australian film industry. It truly is invaluable.

HAPPY: What made you want to pursue some formal filmmaking education?

CLAUDIA: Since I was 14, I wanted to go to AFTRS. My dad would take me to the open day each year. I was absolutely enamoured. So I don’t think I ever truly investigated why I wanted to go there, just that I had to. I think pursuing a formal education is very beneficial, you gain a network but also it isn’t absolutely mandatory to succeed. It does give you a great stepping stone as there are so many opportunities that arise from it and people you meet. It’s only positives.

HAPPY: What’s one aspect of a course likes yours that people potentially wouldn’t be aware of?

CLAUDIA: The people. I’ve met some of the most intelligent, kind, warm people that have changed my life and inspired me. You are stuck with these people for three years so you can’t help but form some deep bonds. And the bonus is that you all want to work in the same industry, so not only have these gorgeous friendships but connections for your career. And you get to work with these people in projects for three years, so there is a history and understanding before you even graduate. That kind of connection with such a wide variety of people is next to nothing.

HAPPY: Thanks for the chat!

CLAUDIA: My absolute pleasure!


Find out more about Claudia Bailey on their website, and find out more about AFTRS at their Virtual Open Day on Saturday 8 August. Register here.