Eva Collins : Photographs and Writing


[The Age]

‘All that you’re seeking is also seeking you’.
(‘Reflections’, by Paul Cox)

If you’re looking for fast car chases, bloody shootouts or special effects, you won’t find them in Paul Cox’s movies. What you will find however, will be tales of ordinary people often overlooked by society, grappling with feelings of vulnerability, looking for hope and love.

There are no overblown superheroes, plastic beauties or easy, predictable solutions.

Paul Cox was born in Holland in 1940. In 1963 he came to Australia and became a successful photographer. In the ‘70s he began making movies and since then has produced 21 feature films, 7 documentaries, 11 shorts.

He is one of Australia’s most prolific film makers who is internationally renowned. He has won many awards and his work has been praised more often overseas, than in Australia.

His latest film, ‘Human Touch’ will premier at the Melbourne International Film Festival.

He spoke to Eva Collins.

Where do you feel most at home?

I’ve always had a great affinity with India and Greece, but at the moment I feel very much at home in France. I am terribly European, but there are other deeper grounds that stir in my life.

I’m also in Australia as I have children and a crumbling company here

Do you have a sentiment for Holland, the place of your birth?

I appreciate Holland, but I’m only part Dutch. I’m also part French, Polish and German. However, I’ never march behind a flag, I’ve never been part of a nation and I don’t believe I should.

And religion?

I don’t believe in any religion. How can you say my God is better than yours?

I do not believe in any human endeavor that joins people up on some sort of mass hysteria to achieve a particular way of looking at the world. There is nothing more unforgiving and relentless than a religious mind.

In what direction would you like to see Australian films develop ?

The only direction to go is away from the American model. Film must have its own indigenous, authentic quality, it must capture its own reality and not copy another, such as the American one. It is the responsibility of independent film makers to provide an antidote to all this consumer rubbish. There are good films made in America, but not for export.

We are signing up a trade agreement with the US which will swamp our screens with their nonsense. This is imperialism in the most dreadful sense. It’s a world wide problem and it’s pathetic that we accept it. It affects our lives and the thoughts and dreams of our children.

Who do we celebrate in this society? It’s the shallow people, the Madonnas and the Michael Jacksons. Where are the Nijinskys? The great writers and painters? They should be the role models. We have idiots as role models for our children.

There is a passage in your book (‘Reflections’) which summarizes your attitude to films made in Hollywood. You refer to the “Silence of the Lambs’ which won the Academy Award for the best picture.

You say, “ That was indeed a grim moment for any thinking …film maker…Yes, the film was well made and well acted and well directed, but so was the Second World War.”

Yes, we should get rid of the violation of our body and soul as portrayed by those films. I’m a war child and I’ve seen so much violence, I don’t need to see it on the screen

Every civilization crumbles – we’re facing so much evil now, we’re on the brink again.

How film literate are we here in Australia?

Not much. I find that in Australia and in America people who work in the movies often don’t really know much about the history of the film or have much film appreciation [ as an art form]. They know the technical aspects; they know how to develop the story line to a climax, how to work on subplots, but this is mechanical nonsense. They lack any deeper connection to it. By contrast, in Europe, people working in film set know much about film. They know about Bunuel, Bergman, Kieslowski or Tarkovsky.

You’re a man who struggles against the odds. What helps you in this pursuit?

Certainly not Jesus!

I don’t work out of any ambition. If I were ambitious I wouldn’t be sitting here in my little office. It’s a compulsion that drives me. Life is a matter of fate, you don’t have that much choice I can not do something I don’t believe in, I won’t compromise.

I’m glad that people like Michael Moore are there – they provide a voice in the wilderness. Of course, they’re not always right, but at least they have the courage to expose the system.

I am very blessed with three wonderful children – they are good, solid, loving human beings. I’m proud of the fact that I brought up my daughter myself amid all the chaos of us traveling around the world making films, in spite of all the odds, she’s turned out to be a wonderful person. She’s my greatest achievement.

Are you paying tribute to ‘Unsung Heroes’?

We must cherish people’s individuality and their spirit. I think many people go mad because they are alone and they are sensitive. They need human warmth and there’s little of that to be found.

Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in a little cell in jail and yet he kept a human face. I think every politician should spend 27 years in jail before they are allowed to govern and then go back to jail for another 27 years.

For whom do you make your films?

I don’t make films for an audience, but for individual people. When I give a talk, I often point to everyone in the audience and say: “ I make films for you and you and you, but not for the lot of you, together you’re a pack of rats!”

Would you call yourself a humanist?

Anna Frank said on the last page of her diary, ‘I must keep believing that people are basically good, otherwise I cease to exist’. Yes, bravo. I believe that too, which makes me a humanist of sorts. I also believe very strongly in the enormous potential of each individual. I don’t believe in the potential of the masses. I believe the individual should be the outcome of a society and its civilization. Life is tough and painful. There is so much suffering and injustice in the world. How can you separate yourself from all that?


What is your latest film, ‘Human Touch’ about?

It’s a slightly erotic film about art and sex. There is a scene in the film of an ancient cave in France, where years of dripping water created a beautiful underground universe. According to some people I made this scene 30 seconds too long for the average viewer. But my answer is this: it took 110 million years to create this stunning place where you can see all the minarets, all the churches, all the synagogues, most extraordinary cathedrals built by nature, couldn’t you then give up 30 seconds of your busy city life to watch it? That is why I left it in. Once you’ve been in that ancient timeless cave, you don’t have anything to say. You’re just a humble drop of water.

People should listen to their hearts and to the wind, so they can be very rich when they die.

How do you work?

I’ve never asked anyone to help me. When I started making films I financed them myself. I made them for nothing. Often other people were paid, but not me because I give priority to get the film up and distributed . I’ve lived life on the edge for a long time, not knowing whether the distributors can be taken on their word. There are so many sharks out there. Even the films which are funded are still made on a tight budget. ‘Nijinsky’ for instance took 30 years to make. I got $1 million which is nothing for a film.

Both Van Gogh and Nijinsky were brilliant artists, ahead of their time, regarded by the world as mad. . Vincent Van Gogh was a forefather of Modern Art and Nijinsky of Modern Dance. ‘Nijinsky’ was the most difficult film I ever attempted. I spent a year in the cutting room working like a maniac, day and night, sometimes 20 hours non-stop, trying to put this film together. It takes a large degree of insanity to make these films. I’ve sat screaming there and went into a terrible depression when the film was finished. I wept every day for a year.

So, would you agree that there is a 3 point parallel at work here? The story of Van Gogh, Nijinsky and of Paul Cox painstakingly recreating their lives?

I associated very strongly with them, though I wouldn’t put myself into their class.

In the process of getting an important work of art out, you become consumed by it and you leave yourself open to be destroyed.

But, isn’t it wonderful that Van Gogh still delights us? This is immortality. Vincent was not only a great painter but also an incredible writer, a passionate loving man, downtrodden, alone, kicked out of the flock.

You work with a close knit group of actors and crew.

I love to be with people who are long standing friends. If they don’t have a part, I make it for them. I think loyalty is very important.

Did your earlier work a photographer influence you as a film maker?

I have a sense of composition and light, but photography has totally left me, which is quite bewildering as I was doing so well as a photographer. In those days I never went anywhere without the camera, now. I never take photographs.

How important is fashion to you?

I wear the same clothes every day – black jacket, shirt, pants, socks and sandals. I am comfortable in these clothes. If you can’t be accepted for who you are, there’s no point dolling up. This celebration of the exterior is not my thing.