Gillian Armstrong & Paul Cox
Chair: Liz Porter
passion / noun
2. strong amorous feeling or desire; love; ardour.
The weather gods continue to kiss the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival with soothing breezes and seductive sunshine. Such amorous love was extended to two icons of Australian screen in a packed, standing room only affair on the process of film-making both in Australia and overseas.
Gillian Armstrong – too young to be a dame, too smart to be a princess but containing an air of the sublime, and Paul Cox – who I do not want to call dishevelled, or rumpled, but who one instantly takes a shine to because he exudes the warmth of your favourite grandfather, had me at hello.
Though not to put too a finer point on things – this was not a celebration of method, but more a sharing or cleansing of horror stories all things Hollywood. L.A. was not directly slagged – rather, as Cox so eloquently put it, ‘We used to be called human beings. Now we are called consumers. I am not a consumer.’ You do the maths.
The stories Cox and Armstrong do wish to tell on film are human stories – of love and loss, sorrow and hope. Such themes describe their trials and tribulations railing against the system. Cox recounted his experiences making Molokai – The Story of Father Damien – a harrowing tale of a priest’s efforts to better the lives of an island leper colony.
Cox wanted to employ local lepers – the studio wanted to fly in extras because the local lepers looked too much like lepers (what the?) – then, he was told there were too many lepers in the film. He was fired twice, but his integrity remained intact. His proudest moments were watching the producers leaving the island, for their own safety.
Sticking to the script – it wasn’t too long until chair Liz Porter posed the perennial question: ‘What’s wrong with the Australian film industry?’ Cue collective sigh. Armstrong stated the obvious – ‘financiers play it safe’. You would too, if it were your money. Though she did continue to add that her breakthrough film My Brilliant Career, was not safe. That’s why it worked. The answer is right in front of your nose if you’re brave enough to see it.
Big budgets equal less control. More money equals smaller story. Or so a cynic could think. It’s easier to focus on stories of hope – someone else can do the sums.
Paul Steiner is a Southern Cross University media student