Paul Cox talks about cancer and returning to the film industry

27 June, 2011 by Amanda Diaz

A filmmaker’s diary about his fight against liver cancer may not seem uplifting, but Paul Cox is convinced that his story is ultimately a positive one.

“It reads a bit like a thriller for a while,” he says. “I think it’s very optimistic – it’s also changed my life.”


Tales From the Cancer Ward is an account of everything from Cox’s diagnosis in early 2009 to life after receiving a liver transplant on Boxing Day of that same year.

Though it is a book that may lack mass-market appeal, the director – best known for works such as Vincent and Molokai: The Story of Father Damien – wanted other sufferers to be able to learn the truth of living with cancer.

Proceeds from sales are even going to the hospital where he was treated.

“I couldn’t find anything to read when it happened to me,” Cox says. “I trawled the bookshops and it was really hard to find anything that actually touched you, or was the reality of the moment.”

And it was a reality that was quite frightening. “You have horrendous hallucinations,” recalls Cox. “Dreams are very hard – after a few minutes they slip away. But you’re basically high all the time.”

Eighteen months later, Cox admits that it has been hard to adjust to normal life. He finds big crowds overwhelming.

But despite this, he is ready to return to the world of film.

His new documentary The Dinner Party focuses on a dinner party attended solely by people that have received liver transplants. Cox describes it as “a gathering of ghosts” and hopes that it will raise donor awareness.

“The people come from very different ways of life,” he says. “But they’ve all gone through absolute hell. For them, the most important thing now is to find kindness and gentleness and love.”

For Cox, making films has never been about money, although he says that he might well be one of the most commercial filmmakers in the country.

“Most of these films in the end – they usually return their money,” he says. “It might take a bit more time, but I don’t think many people can say that. “When you have talent and you give something – that’s really satisfying. If you develop that talent only to make money, that usually creates poverty of mind.”

Tales from the Cancer Ward is in bookshops now.

Paul Cox.