Through the personal stories and experiences of three young men, Pocket Picking explores some of the ways young men in New South Wales Australia perceive gambling and the ways it is embedded in their lives.
Interview with Writer/Director/Producer Henry Simmons
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
I made this film to give voice to young male gamblers, a demographic deemed to be at highest risk of gambling harm. I think it’s overlooked that Australians gamble more than any other country in the world and I wanted to make a film with young Australian men close to gambling and re-present their understandings honestly. I made the film as a part of a year-long ethnographic research project for my MA in Visual and Media Anthropology from the Freie University Berlin. The curiosity for the project came from my closeness to gambling in Australia and my conflicting feelings about it – that it can be fun and exciting but that it can also be completely damaging to people’s lives.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
Firstly I tried not to be prejudiced, I wanted to use the film to see and show how gambling sits in our culture because in many other parts of the world it is heavily restricted or banned. I think audience will recognise the honesty and sincerity of the three guys in the film, who talk openly about sensitive and difficult topics, each of them sharing their own personal experiences and insights. I belong to the demographic that the film is about and I think this strengthened the trust between myself and the guys in the film and strengthened the film as a whole, I think audiences will appreciate this and hopefully it comes across in the film.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
Personal themes in stories about struggles with addiction and coming of age stories are shared by the subjects and are tied together by the film’s constant questioning of how much agency individuals have in the face of cultural and economic influences in the society in which they live.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
From the early research stages to the final stages of editing the film was in a constant state of flux, I wanted to allow it to shape itself as it proceeded. The film began as being quite focused on the significance of betting on mobile phones. It opened up in the end to also include some discussion about Electronic Gaming Machines or ‘pokies’ as myself and subjects in the film felt this was too important to exclude when describing the culture of gambling that exists in Australia, particularly in NSW where we’re from and the film is set.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
The feedback has been overwhelmingly encouraging. I’ve had people come to me with their own stories or the stories of loved ones and I’m glad that it has been the catalyst for some important discussions. I’ve been really pleased with how impressed people seem with the unique visual strategies and use of mixed media in the film so I guess that’s another reason people might enjoy watching.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
Several people have come to me and said ‘oh, I didn’t know that’ or ‘that shocked me’ about things in the film that I think people who are close to gambling just assume everyone knows. So I guess that has sometimes surprised me and serves a good lesson in paying attention to detail and not making assumptions about what the audience know.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
I hope that it brings more recognition to the message that gambling is a complex individual and social issue and that when given the opportunity, qualitative research and discussion with people who gamble or are close to gambling can offer powerful and useful insights and empirical understandings. This should be given much more attention in overall discussion about gambling in public, in academic research and in debates around gambling reform and the creation of policy.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
I would love for more opportunities to show and share the film whether digitally or on the festival circuit. I would love funding to do further work on the same or similar issues with a crew and support. The film is completely unfunded and all of the production roles were done by myself alone, this is something that I’m really proud of but it would be nice to work with a team and some funding!
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
I hope the film continues to start conversations about the culture of gambling in Australia and promotes discussion and sharing between individuals and their friends and families. I hope the film can be a catalyst for journalists, researchers, corporations and and governments to pay more attention to the lived experience and knowledge of people close to gambling when making decisions that could impact the lives of them or their loved ones.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
A large motivator for this film has been to analyse and understand what measures institutional beneficiaries of gambling in Australia, such as betting companies and Australian state and federal governments, have in place to protect the economic security and general well being of gamblers, particularly from the perspective of bettors themselves. Is there a duty of care in place? And if so, how far does it reach?
What other projects are the key creatives developing or working on now?
I’m currently thinking about the next big documentary project and am looking for a funded PhD that will allow me to continue to do practice-led research.
Interview: June 2018
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Young men and gambling in NSW, Australia.
Director: Henry Simmons
Producer: Henry Simmons
Writer: Henry Simmons
About the writer, director and producer: Henry Simmons, 27, is a filmmaker, interdisciplinary researcher and visual anthropologist from regional New South Wales, Australia. He is a recent graduate of the MA Visual and Media Anthropology program from the Freie University Berlin where he was able to hone his visual research skills and pursue his passions for documentary film formats and empirical research.
Looking for: sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists.
Where can I watch it next and in the coming month?
Melbourne Documentary Festival - Aussie shorts and sportie docs section, July 10th @ The Loop