Head On is an entry in Umbrella’s prestige sublabel of Sunburnt Screens, which brings notable and important Australian films to prestige home-video with the best visual quality available. This label includes well-known classics like Breaker Morant, but its true value is shining the light on other Australian films that might not be so well known by contemporary audiences — such as Head On, a uniquely Australian coming-of-age story from director Ana Kokkinos for which the continual cult following since its initial 1998 release makes sense.
The story focuses on 24 hours in the life of Ari (Alex Dimtriades), a 19-year-old gay Greek-Australian growing up in 1995 in Melbourne. He crashes from one part of his life to the next, torn between cultural norms from both his Australian cultural surroundings and Greek upbringing, neither approving of his sexuality and lifestyle. The film empathetically articulates the struggles of Ari’s life in a deeply understandable way, and the frenetic pacing and filming style match the messy chaos and conflict with which he contends. In the mid-1990s particularly, Head On spoke to a group of people who didn’t see themselves in cinema at large, much less Australian cinema.
As a Blu-ray package, Head On looks great, with the prestige look and feel of the rest of the Sunburnt Screens catalogue. The film transfer is of high quality, and while it doesn’t have the same level of clarity as, say, La Strada, it does still look great for what was essentially a low-budget film shot under pretty rough conditions in the ’90s. The extras are pretty extensive for an Australian film of this type, and a new commentary with Kokkinos will, I’m sure, be a welcome addition for Australian film buffs, Queer cinema buffs, and fans in general alike.
Notably, this release is not region-locked, which means cinephiles from all the world over can easily get their hands on and watch more Australian cinema. It’s great to see Umbrella spotlight films like this and bring Australian films to the global audience.