Not long after finishing her studies at the Australian Film Television and Radio School, Jocelyn Moorhouse was already earmarked as one of Australia’s most promising filmmakers. Her debut film Proof (1991) had earned rave reviews around the world – picking up a special honour at Cannes Film Festival along the way – and even managed to catch the attention of one Steven Spielberg.
He recruited her to helm his US drama How To Make An American Quilt in 1995 with Winona Ryder, Anne Bancroft and Ellen Burstyn which Moorhouse soon followed up with another American story, 1997’s A Thousand Acres, starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Jessica Lange and Colin Firth.
And then…. poof. Moorhouse seemingly disappeared, not just from Hollywood view but from filmmaking altogether, for the next two decades.
In reality, she had made the decision to step back and bunker down at home, working tirelessly not just to raise her family of four children – two of whom have special needs – but to produce and co-write her husband’s films too. (You might have heard of him – PJ Hogan, best known for My Best Friend’s Wedding, whom she met while studying at AFTRS.) That collaboration officially took flight with the first big hit he directed, and penned: Australian cult classic Muriel’s Wedding, which Moorhouse produced. She would go on to co-write 2002’s Unconditional Love with Hogan too, as well as producing his later flicks Peter Pan and Mental.
But Moorhouse never gave up on the dream of one day returning to her own director’s chair. It almost happened in 2005 with Eucalyptus (which was eventually aborted due to differences of opinion between her and Russell Crowe over script rewrites, according to rumours). So Moorhouse carried on raising her family, patiently waiting to see if the next big thing would eventually present itself to her.
Finally, it did, arriving in the form of Australian producer Sue Maslin (Japanese Story, Road to Nhill) who was determined to have Moorhouse tell the story of Rosalie Ham’s bestselling novel The Dressmaker on the big screen.
Having watched it several times now I can honestly say there is so much to love about this film – the fashion of the Fifties, Judy Davis’ amazing performance, Kate Winslet’s phenomenal Australian accent, the stellar supporting cast – and to say that Moorhouse is thrilled with her buzzing indie is an understatement. Co-written by herself and Hogan, The Dressmaker is definitely not what you think it’s going to be. Expect plenty of the whack the duo are renowned for, but with such a surprising wave of emotions.
And Jocelyn’s number one tip to aspiring filmmakers?
If you can write, that’s great. Write. Write yourself a script. Because not everybody can write and it’s hard to get your first movie going, especially if you have to adapt a book or rely on someone else coming up with a script. So if you can come up with it yourself, and you can be a writer/director, then use that skill. Use the skills you have.
I hope you enjoy this interview we did on the Gold Coast this month, where the film opened the 70th Australian International Movie Convention!
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