Philip brooks

documentary film maker 2.7.1953...6.1.2003


Story of  engagement spun on the outer edge of experience

                     “The freestore”  1974

Philip Brooks, an Australian expatriate documentary maker, has died at the age of 49.

    With his customary sense of style, he managed to do it in the south of Spain, within sight of the Atlantic Ocean.

   Brooks was the youngest of the four sons of a Quaker family who arrived in Tasmania in June 1953. When his father Kenneth worked in Ethiopia for UNESCO, Philip spent his 13th year at a school in Addis Ababa. His love for Africa dated from that time, as did, perhaps, his notorious inability to stay in one spot, and his reckless openness to everything foreign and new.

  He hit Melbourne in the early 1970s and gravitated to the big, complex groups that swirled around The Pram Factory Theatre, Digger magazine and the Freestore in Collingwood. He was a good looking mercurial young man, always with a pressing engagement elsewhere: one of those middle class extroverts who are born anarchists, strongly drawn to situations of potential violence and trouble, who cloke their urge in political rhetoric.

  When he got into a sticky situation in Pnom Penh in 1975, he kept going and landed in London at the peak of punk. He enrolled briefly at the London School of Economics, but moved to Paris, wher he was based for the rest of his life. He drove a taxi and began to turn himself into a roving freelance journalist, a job to which, with his charm and cheek, he was well suited.

   He said later that he had to leave Australia to live his homosexuality. In the 1980s, he skated on some very thin ice. Discovering he was HIV positive served perhaps as a reality check. when he finally found the work he loved-making and producing documentary films - he poured into it all his manic energy and drive, and took it to the outer edges of race, sexuality and the law, where he was happiest.

   Thirteen years ago he met, on a film set, an eminently sane young architect called Laurent Bocahut. together they established in Paris a film production company , Dominant 7, which soon became the source of a stream of works of considerable daring and freshness. many of these films; shot in South African Townships, dealt with the scourge of AIDS. Dominant 7 brought to light, in the film “Drowning By Bullets”, a murderous attack on algerian immigrtants by Parisian police that had been hushed up since 1961. They were interesred too, in quiet, delicate and individually moving tales such as the mixed-race story of Dona Hermelinda. In 1998, they made “Woubi Cheri”, a riotous tribute to the transvestites of Abidjan on the Ivory Coast.

   As his work patterns intensified, Philip’s visits to Australia became more frequent. In 1999, he came back to shoot his only personal documentary, “My Private Oz”, a relaxed and charming filmic reconnection with his old friends from the 1970s. Too late, we realised it was also a valedictory.

   Philip had a great gift for friendship. Through him passed countless social threads: their strength and variety, as evidenced by the messages of grief that flashed around the globe at tthe news of his death, astonished us.He was an infuriating, hysterical, wildly affectionate and deeply endearing little Eros figure, who would blast a path through one’s careful daily orderliness and be gone again in a shower of sparks, leaving wet towels on the bathroom floor and a mess in the kitchen, but also a breathless sense that one had just been spun around, reinvigorated and filled with fresh heart.

Helen Garner