A celluloid eulogy to a master of our times

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Promo shot of Janine Hosking's latest film, The Eulogy. Source: Documentary Edge

IT was a former Australian prime minister’s words that first got Janine Hosking hooked on the idea of doing a documentary film on Geoffrey Tozer. At the time she had heard of the concert pianist, who died in 2009, only in passing but when a friend gave her an article about Tozer as well as a copy of Paul Keating’s eulogy to Tozer, Janine’s curiosity was piqued.

“It was definitely Keating’s words that inspired me to make the film,” says the 1997 Walkley award winner, of her documentary film The Eulogy which has now been nominated for an Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Award (AACTA) for Best Picture. “In fact, I was always very keen to structure the film around Keating’s eulogy to Tozer and once we presented the idea to Keating, he agreed to recreate his reading of the eulogy at St Patrick’s Cathedral.”

And how does she feel about her film now being nominated for an AACTA Best Picture award?

“It was a nice surprise and very unexpected as it’s a small film, with a modest budget, about a niche topic. The nominations are decided by the documentary branch of the industry, so it was very encouraging to have people you respect, voting for it to be considered,” she tells D*scribe.

Trailer for the film The Eulogy below (Source via MIFF):

Hosking says Keating was angry about the way Tozer had been treated by the arts community and that his enormous talent had been diluted by the ‘tall poppy’ syndrome. Rarely, she says, if ever, does a Prime Minister stand up for artists, and she found that interesting enough to want to explore further.

Hosking however realised the difficulties of making such a film. It was years since Tozer had died which meant relying on archive footage and the memories of others to bring him to life. Luckily for her, Tozer and his mother had been prolific letter and diary writers which helped Hosking piece his life together in his own words.

Recalling her experiences as a documentary filmmaker from the 90s up to now, Hosking says documentary is far more popular in cinemas than when she first started.  The structure of cinema documentaries has evolved, she says, to be more creative, involving animation, graphics etc. “(It’s) more like a fiction movie experience but with real people and real stories. I still think a brilliant feature documentary has the power to move people far more than a fiction film and feature documentaries have helped bring awareness to the biggest issues of our times.”

Janine Hosking, the woman behind many ground-breaking documentaries. Source: Rahul Wickrematunge

Hosking, who has more than 10 documentary films under her belt including Ganja Queen (2007) about the arrest, trial, and imprisonment of Schapelle Corby, says most of her films have been fulfilling experiences in different ways and for different reasons.

One of these, My Khmer Heart, was her first feature documentary as a result of which she developed an enduring friendship with its protagonist Geraldine Cox. 

“We met in a toilet in Canberra. She was crying and I gave her a tissue,” Hosking says. “She told me that Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen wanted to kick her out of Cambodia and shut down her orphanage. Immediately I saw a documentary unfold in my mind, scene by scene, right there in the toilet. She proved to be the most amazing person you could ever wish to follow around with a camera. Together we hatched a plan to win Hun Sen over, and as a result her former enemy ended up letting her stay in the country and even gave her land for her orphanage and a home to live in. She is now a very happy Cambodian citizen and helped thousands of Khmer children gain education, jobs and bright futures.”  

So, does she hope for a happy ending for The Eulogy, irrespective of whether it wins the plum award?

“Very few Australians understood or were aware of Tozer’s genius,” she says. “I hope The Eulogy will revive new interest in Tozer’s career. There are hundreds of beautiful pieces of music in his back catalogue that are just waiting for new listeners. He was one of the best in the world and he should be remembered as an important part of our arts history.”

Hosking talks about her film making process and upcoming works in in the video below. Source: Rahul Wickrematunge: 

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