Paul Cox, Australian film-maker and frequent collaborator with David Wenham, dies age 76

Death of director lauded as the father of independent cinema in Australia announced by Australian Directors Guild

Paul Cox, Australian film-maker and frequent collaborator with David Wenham, dies age 76
David Wenham and the director Paul Cox in 2012. Wenham was attending the screening of The Dinner Party, a documentary Cox dedicated to donor awareness. Photograph: Julian Smith/AAP

The director lauded as the father of independent cinema in Australia, Paul Cox, has died aged 76.

The Australian Directors Guild announced the death of the Dutch-born filmmaker, author and photographer on Twitter on Sunday.

Cox’s body of work included Man of Flowers in 1983 and last year he released Force of Destiny, starring David Wenham, which was based on the director’s cancer battle before an eleventh-hour liver transplant in 2009 pulled him back from the brink of death.

Cox’s 1982 film, Lonely Hearts, which explored the life of a middle-aged man searching for love through a dating agency, won the AFI award for best film and was nominated in four other categories. Man of Flowers, which was cowritten by Bob Ellis, was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1984 Cannes film festival.

His following film, My First Wife, also cowritten with Ellis, was a portrait of the dissolution of a marriage and won John Hargreaves the best actor in a lead role AFI award in 1984 as well as best director for Cox.

In 1999 Cox collaborated with Wenham on Molokai: The Story of Father Damien, a 1999 biographical film of Father Damien, a Belgian priest working at the Kalaupapa leprosy settlement on the Hawaiian island of Molokai.

His 2000 film, Innocence, which starred Bud Tingwell and Julia Blake, was critically acclaimed for its poignant portrayal of two separated lovers who meet by chance again decades later and rekindle their romance. It won no fewer than 12 awards, mostly overseas, including the people’s choice award for best film at the Montreal and Toronto film festivals.

His 2015 film, Force of Destiny, starred Wenham and was an intimately personal drama inspired by Cox’s own experiences living with cancer.

Cox told Guardian Australia it was Christmas Day 2009 when he got the call that would buy him more time, just as he sat down for what he feared would be his last yuletide dinner.

“It saved my life for the time being,” he said. “But the cancer came back and went into my new liver. That really hurt me.”

Wenham previously praised the director of more than 20 feature films and 10 documentaries, which were more often than not focused on the themes of love and death.

“There is no one like Cox,” he said. “He is unique, and we need him, and people like him … he is completely an auteur, because everything you see on the screen, and hear, has got Paul’s fingerprints all over it.

The filmmaker’s Melbourne-based daughter, Kyra Cox, wrote on Twitter: “Goodbye my beautiful daddy. I love you with all my heart and am so very proud to be your daughter.”

Cox, who migrated to Australia from the Netherlands in the mid 1960s, told Guardian Australia in September 2015: “Film is the most powerful thing we have amongst us and it’s in the hands of maniacs … Look at all the commercial films that work. They only work because they’ve conditioned an audience to believe that Batman should be coming for dinner and all this amazing nonsense.”

The American film critic Roger Ebert described Cox as “one of the best directors of our time” and “one of the heroes of modern cinema”.

“He’s one of the warriors, an independent director who does nothing for hire, who makes only films close to his heart, whose humanism you could call spiritual,” Ebert wrote after the Cannes film festival in 2010.

Last year Cox told the Sydney Morning Herald he was hoping to organise funding to shoot a war movie, Inferno, which would star Jacqueline McKenzie as a woman confronted by terrorists while staying at a guesthouse in an anonymous country.

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