Paul Cox, chairman of the jury of the competition section of the IFFK, talks about films and filmmaking
If Paul Cox has his way, then his next film is likely to be shot in Kerala with an Indian actor enacting a female lead. “I like the culture of Kerala and the way, people, at least some, are aware of their local architecture and heritage. Entrepreneur Baby Mathew has expressed interest in producing a film and so I might change the location of my script, which is almost complete and give it an Indian background,” says the Australian auteur who is in Kerala as chairman of the jury of the competition section of the 17th International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK).
Taking a short break at Somatheeram resort before the festival began on Friday, the legendary filmmaker was in a relaxed mood when MetroPlus met him for an interview.
Saying that West Bengal and Kerala have the most creative minds in India, he adds: “I will be watching some Indian and Malayalam movies during the screening for the jury but I am keen on watching as many current Malayalam movies as possible. I have been told that there is a lot of energy and enthusiasm among young directors and scenarists but that they lack direction.”
Known for his sublime themes and frames, many of which explore the struggle of ‘outsiders’ to survive in society, he says that his creativity has always been ignited by the ‘outsider’s’ perspective and endeavour to endure in a world that expects conformity. Whether it be the films on Van Gogh (Vincent) or Russian dancer Nijinsky (The Dairies of Vaslav Nijinsky) or his movies such as Kostas, Exile, Salvation, Cactus, Molokai: The Story of Father Damien and so on, his films take viewers through the turmoil of individuals who dare question norms and conventions of various kinds. His films dwell upon hope, love and the insurmountable spirit of mankind.
“If you look at Van Gogh or Nijinsky, both of them had about 10 years of creative life before one went insane and the other died. But both changed the course of the medium in which they worked – Gogh in art and Nijinsky in dance,” he points out.
The only time he loses his cool and dry sense of humour is when he touches upon the subject of American hegemony in cinema. “Many regional cinemas have been wiped out by American cinema. Look at Europe! Hollywood owns the theatres and flood those with their movies. Their productions try to make directors make their kind of films,” he fumes.
He says that he has been lucky to succeed and thrive as an independent filmmaker in spite of the difficulties he has had to face.
Turning a wee pensive and introspective he says that he learnt one of the most valuable lessons in life after he was diagnosed with cancer of the liver. “I understood that when a person died, all that he left behind was his body of work and the love he has given to people.”
He recalls that he was on the verge of death and thought that he was having his last supper on a Christmas three years ago when a phone call gave him the gift of life with the offer of a liver from an organ donor. “As I was surfacing through a haze of pain, grief, and drugs. I had all kinds of hallucinations! But I knew that I was being given a second lease of life through a miracle of science. I also met my wife Rosie, who also had a liver transplant.”
Miracle of science
On Borrowed Time is a film on his wait for a transplant. Paul is making a film on organ transplantation – Force Of Destiny. In addition, to throw light on the importance of organ donation, he made a documentary The Dinner Party, filmed in December 2010, which featured eight organ recipients and their experience of waiting for a reprieve in the form of an organ from a dead person. “It was made in our living room and it was an intensely emotional experience for many of them. We have been told that the film has had a lot of hits on YouTube.”
It has been given to the American Cancer Society to raise awareness on organ transplantation. “Free,” he says with a sardonic smile.
Paul says his brush with death has taught him that it is important to reach out to people and learn to value every moment we live. Like many of his protagonists Paul Cox has reached that state of grace and bliss that comes through experience and turmoil.
(Innocence (2000), Salvation (2008), A Woman’s Tale (1991), My First Wife (1984) and Man of Flowers (1983), all made by Cox, will be screened for the IFFK)
Generosity of Innocence
Innocence, perceived to be the inspiration for Blessy’s award-winning film Pranayam, is one of the biggest commercial hits of the Australian filmmaker. “It was about romance and love between old people. It was a difficult film to get off the ground and I would like to meet the director and ask him how he managed to do it,” says Paul with a smile.
Emphasising that he did not have a problem if the film was inspired by his work, he says that he plans to take a photograph with the director to put the controversy to rest. He adds that when he fell ill he found that several distributors and exhibitors owed him substantial amounts of money which were never given to him. “In the United States, if they felt it was a copy, they would have sued the director of the movie but I would be honoured if he was inspired by my film.”