Philippa Hawker, film writer for The Australian

“…To interview her there in that environment felt like a dream. I had to pinch myself.” Philippa Hawker, film writer for The Australian talks to Mikaela Turner about her expansive film writing career.
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“…To interview her there in that environment felt like a dream. I had to pinch myself.” Philippa Hawker, film writer for The Australian talks to Mikaela Turner about her expansive film writing career.

Q: Why Journalism?

A: I did a Literature degree and didn’t quite know what to do after that but I was always interested in Film and I ended up graduating doing odd jobs then getting a job as the film reviewer for The Melbourne Times. Around me people were applying for cadetships and I thought “well okay, I can do that”. I loved writing but I think I was a bit naive about exactly what it would mean. I wasn’t super well prepared for being a journalist, but I kind of really threw myself into the idea of doing it. So yeah, it was a combination of things but an interest in writing and in the arts in general, loving publications and wanting to be a part of that. I did work on the university newspaper and ran for editor but the guy I ran with, we lost our bid[…] yet we both ended up working at the The Age.

 Q: What is the best thing about your job?

 A: I think one of the things that is really fantastic about being a journalist is the opportunity to meet and talk to people. Sometimes they’re quite famous people, sometimes they’re just people who are interesting for reasons that aren’t particularly widely known… it’s getting to talk to people directly for a period of time that’s just amazing.

The other thing that is important to me about journalism is that it’s not like you ever master it. Every time you do something, even though you’ve acquired certain knowledge and you might know about a certain field or are an experienced interviewer, it doesn’t really matter. You’re always starting afresh in some way.

Q: What is it about film particularly that drew you to film reviewing?

A: It’s just a medium that I’ve loved since I was a child. I just feel it’s still the most dynamic, immersive, collaborative and fascinating medium. I love it aesthetically, politically and in every way. I still feel like every time I sit down to watch a film, there is always a sense of excitement.

Q: Do you have a favourite film or director?

 A: I love French cinema. I love Claire Denis, she is my favourite contemporary. I think she is just amazing. Of recent films, I thought Moonlight was just wonderful. It’s a film that sets a standard for me in every possible way. It’s beautiful and its thoughtful and its immersive. Every aspect of the filmmaking is so effortlessly but carefully there.

When I was at school, our English teacher showed us a half hour film called La Jetée. It’s a French film that is almost entirely done in stills. It was the moment where I thought “oh my God, you know, movies.” I was probably only 11 or 12. I didn’t see La Jetée again for probably 15 years, but I remembered it so clearly. That’s the one.

Q: Are there any moments of your career that are particularly memorable?

A: Honestly, it’s almost impossible to come up with a single one. What I love about my job is how many great moments and opportunities and surprises and challenges it has given me.

But if I had to think of a single interview, the one that immediately springs to mind is Agnès Varda, the great French filmmaker. I went to speak to her in her home and office at the rue Daguerre, in Paris, where she has lived and worked since the 1950s. One of her cats came and sat on my lap as we talked. I admire her so much, and to interview to her there, in that environment felt like a dream. I had to pinch myself.

 One of the most memorable was Boy George. That was when he was here in the 80s during the height of his fame. That was when I became aware of what an extraordinary, sort of weird thing celebrity was. The hotel was just surrounded by people who were screaming for him, and they were kind of like “oh my God, you’ve spoken to him, can I touch you?”.

Q: Was there ever a time where you made a bit of a blunder?

 A: A couple of times I’ve made blunders with recording devices. On one occasion I noticed about 15 minutes in and we had to start over again. Another time, I had to do the whole interview again. It was a film writer called B. Ruby Rich, she was prepared to do it again, it was much better the second time actually. That was really good fortune.

I interviewed Ray Manzarek from The Doors and that was a bit of a funny one because sometimes people just like to have arguments. He took exception to a word I used which was “dispassionate”. He kind of said “how could you possibly use that word?” but in the end I realised, “oh, he is just a confrontational person” and he was saying “that was so great”.

But, basically I live in fear of recording devices.