Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, January 14, 1999

Actor David Wenham paused between lines
while portraying Father Damien in a movie filmed
on Molokai last year. Production has been halted
because of a legal dispute.

Damien film
made in Hawaii
is halted in court

The director fights a producer's
changes, holding up a film
release planned early this year

By Mary Adamski


Production work on the Father Damien movie filmed here last summer was halted by a Belgian judge this week in a dispute between the director and producer.

The feature film on the life of Father Damien DeVeuster, the missionary priest who ministered to leprosy patients at Kalaupapa and died of the disease in 1889, was slated for release early this year.

Dutch-Australian director Paul Cox took the case to a Brussels court because his edited version of the film was being changed by ERA Films of Brussels without consultation with him.

"The judge closed the lab. No one is allowed to touch the negative," Cox said last night from his home in Holland. "It halts the film until we come to a solution."

"The court has upheld that I have moral rights to this film. I gave my blood, sweat and hopes to it."

Cox said the ruling has implications throughout the film industry worldwide. "It's quite a big thing, a great victory for the arts. It sets a precedent. Now at least directors or any artists cannot be just buffed around by people who hold the purse strings.

"Artists must be allowed to express themselves; they cannot always be put in place by the money people. That is what this case is all about," Cox said.

Cox said he delivered his director's cut of the film to ERA Films at the end of October. "I cannot go into the technicalities. After I did my cut of the film with great strain and difficulty, a new cut was done by the producer. I was not allowed to talk to the new editor.

"I know it cannot be entirely dictated by me because of too many obligations to the world of commerce. But it must still have integrity.

"Very simply I want to see before they freeze the film what has been done."

Cox said his attorneys are preparing a meeting with the producers.

The artistic dispute does not change the content, he said. "Damien comes over like a great hero. I think in end it may be a fine film."

Producer Tharssi Vanhuysse could not be reached for comment.

Richard Marks, operator of Damien Tours at Kalaupapa, said a cameraman from the Belgian company was just in the Molokai settlement last week to film some finishing scenic shots.

Marks said residents, many of whom worked in the film as extras, were aware of friction between Cox and Vanhuysse during the two months of filming. At one point in the summer, work was halted for four days because of a disagreement. Things cooled down and filming resumed when Vanhuysse left the islands for a trip back to Belgium.

Australian actor David Wenham played the title role in the movie. Several top actors, including Peter O'Toole, Sam Neill, Derek Jacobi and Leo McKern, played lesser roles.

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