Barbara (Shane Tonks) as Moonshine in Moonshine, directed by Jake Neville. Image supplied.

VCA 2018 Graduate Film Series: Moonshine

The annual Victorian College of the Arts Film and Television Graduate Screenings showcase the talent of our Film & Television students. We caught up with filmmaker Jake Neville to talk about his film Moonshine, screening at ACMI on Sunday 9 and Saturday 15 December.

By Susanna Ling

Jake Neville, director Bachelor of Fine Arts (Film and Television)

Hi Jake, what’s Moonshine about?

Moonshine is a quirky, campy, genre-hopping short about an ageing shut-in drag queen, who is forced to confront his looming obsolescence when a young and starry-eyed queen is hired to breathe some life into a country town’s rickety bowls club. As Moonshine is forced to work with his youthful counterpart, envious and insidious thoughts begin to plague and rot the veteran’s mind. Soon, a rivalry becomes volatile, and Moonshine is forced to choose between reinvention and the history books.

Shane Tonks as Moonshine in Moonshine, directed by Jake Neville. Image supplied.
Barbra Quicksand (Shane Tonks) as Moonshine in Moonshine, directed by Jake Neville. Image supplied.

What inspired you to tell this story?

The primary inspiration comes from the toxicity found in drag culture right now. The advent of RuPaul’s Drag Race has seen drag being pushed into the mainstream, and the stakes of drag shifting from local gigs to international ones. As drag rapidly accumulates a wider audience and as the number of people doing drag increases, the history and purpose of drag as an expressive art form in an oppressive world is being forgotten.

This leaves a massive divide between generations, which has led to fans sending death threats, the verbal and physical abuse of drag queens, as well as queens doing the same to other queens. The project is extremely important to me as an active member of the queer community, as it captures a specific shift in time that must be addressed to educate a global community. Where we were once only facing a threat from outside our clubs, the threats today come from both inside and outside our walls.

What were some of the highlights or challenges in shooting the film?

One of my favourite highlights in producing the film came about in the casting process, which was extremely tricky. I thought hunting down drag queens who would perform for free would be tough enough, but finding a retired drag queen was even tougher. We started with trying to cast China Whyte. We called in as many up-and-coming queens in the area as we could and we put their acting, dancing, and lip-syncing skills to the test.

After we found our China (who came in full drag to their audition), we kept searching for a Moonshine, only to be offered the retired Barbra Quicksand (Shane Tonks) by our China. The two were actually very good friends, and I was able to simply sit down for a tea and chat with Barbra before I instantly knew she’d be perfect for the role.

Filmmaker Jake Neville. Image supplied.
Filmmaker Jake Neville. Image supplied.

What do you hope the audience will take away from seeing your film?

My hope for the film is that queer audiences are reminded of the history and purpose of drag, and are warned of the dangers of unchecked freedoms. For audiences with no connection to the drag scene, I hope that the role of a drag queen is demystified and that they are able to see real people behind the characters on stage and on screen. And for me, I hope to have captured an odd shift in generations faithfully.

What’s next for you?

As a recent graduate, my life is very up in the air. On one hand, I’m waiting and hoping for Moonshine to do well so that someone may pick me up, or will want to pick Moonshine up and expand upon it. On the other, I’m already in the process of crafting the scripts for two different web series – one not-so-distant future science fiction tale, and a campy horror anthology series based in Melbourne – as well as a feature length production I’m hoping to take back to my hometown of Cairns to shoot.

The cast and crew of Moonshine on set. Image supplied.
The cast and crew of Moonshine on set. Image supplied.

Banner image: Barbra Quicksand (Shane Tonks) as Moonshine in Moonshine, directed by Jake Neville. Image supplied.

The 50th Annual Film and Television Graduate Screenings will take place at ACMI, Melbourne, between 6–9 and 13–16 December. Moonshine will screen as part of Program G on Sunday 9 December, 7.30pm and Saturday 15 December, 5.00pm. Visit the ACMI website for program details and tickets