August 3, 2019
Damian Hill wasn’t there to see the film he co-wrote and was set to star in when it had its world premiere on Friday night, but his spirit loomed large over the event.
“This is Damian Hill’s film,” said Measure for Measure director and co-writer Paul Ireland. “It’s about that beautiful, beautiful prince that I miss every day.”
Prior to the screening, festival chair Claire Dobbin announced MIFF would grant a new prize, the Damian Hill Independent Film Award, to “honour and prolong the memory” of the father of two and stepfather of three, who was just 42 when he died.
The inaugural winner was A Family, a deadpan comedy set in Ukraine about a lonely man who hires strangers to play the roles of his family members.
Director Jayden Stevens said it was “a real honour” to receive an award that “champions independent filmmaking and the spirit” of the man it was named after.
Actor-writer-producer Hill died just two days before filming was due to start on this modern reworking of Shakespeare’s play, set in the Housing Commission flats of Prahran.
He was to play one of the leads, an ambitious loan shark and drug dealer called Angelo. Following his death, production was postponed a week and the role recast, with actor Mark Leonard Winter stepping in.
“It was difficult, difficult for everyone,” the actor said after the premiere at the Capitol. “I looked up to Damian a lot, he was a hero to me.
“I respected his work so much,” he added, tears catching. “It was daunting, because he had a unique quality that only he had. You can never fill those shoes.”
Hill’s brother Julian, Labor member for the federal seat of Bruce, said the event was “kind of happy and sad” for him and his late brother’s partner, Beth Macdonald. “Damian’s death is still pretty raw for us.”
Damian had never been interested in mainstream success, he said. “He shied away from it, pushed it away at times. He wanted to tell the stories of ordinary Australians, of working-class people – real stories, messy stories, uncomfortable stories, of forgiveness, reconciliation, redemption, stuffing-up. His films are beautiful.”
Hugo Weaving, who stuck with the low-budget but high-ambition film when it was rescheduled, plays the key role of Duke, an ageing patriarch who rules the flats from his penthouse apartment with a strong sense of what’s right, even if it’s not necessarily what’s legal.
“I think really this film is about judging people in a moral way rather than in a severe way,” he said.
“We judge others severely because we don’t know them, or whatever law we adhere to, that’s how we judge. But actually there’s another form of judgment, which is about doing what’s morallyright. And Duke, ultimately, does what’s morally right.”
As those who knew him would surely attest, he might just as easily have been speaking of Damian Hill.
Measure for Measure screens at MIFF on August 8 and 13. A Family screens on August 8, 13 and 15. Details: miff.com.au. The Age is a media partner of the festival.