Damian Hill and stepson Ty Perham in ‘West of Sunshine’.
The independent film sector in Australia is in shock following the news that gifted actor, writer and producer Damian Hill died in Melbourne on Saturday night.
The star of Jason Raftopoulos’ West of Sunshine and Paul Ireland’s Pawno, which he co-wrote, and a supporting actor in Heath Davis’ Broke, Hill was 42.
The cause of death was not immediately reported and may not be confirmed until the police file a report for the coroner.
Known to his friends as Dame, today he was due to start shooting M4M, an unlikely love story set against the background of drugs, racial intolerance and crime in Melbourne, which stars Hugo Weaving, directed by Ireland and co-written and produced by Hill and Ireland.
Ireland tells IF: “We are just regrouping and will keep going in his beautiful memory. He put three years of his gorgeous soul life into this and I am determined that, heartbreaking as it is, the world will see it.”
Hill would have played Angelo, a character described by the director as a fallen angel, in the film inspired by Shakespeare’s ‘Measure for Measure’, alongside Weaving, Mark Winter, Harrison Gilbertson, Megan Smart, John Brumpton, Mal Kennard, Doris Younane, Fayssal Bazzi, Josh McConville and Christie Whelan Browne.
Davis described his close friend as a brilliant and beautiful soul, observing: “I first met Damo when I was casting my movie Broke. He was just getting back into acting and screenwriting after a long time away.
“We had a small but pivotal role to cast and he just knocked it out of the park. He was casting his first film Pawno at the time. We got along so well and instantly became mates. He had time for everyone. That’s very rare in this industry and world.
“I was fortunate to work with him again on Locusts recently, which we are currently editing. I was loving the experience with him so much that mid-shoot I offered him the lead on my next film, which we were both really excited about.
“But our relationship was much more than just work. Damo was a soul brother and was always there to support me and encourage me. I’ve just become a father for the first time and he shared the most precious and insightful message. That sums up Daisy to a tee.”
Umbrella Entertainment MD Jeff Harrison, the distributor of M4M, spoke for many when he said: “An absolute tragedy.”
Steve Bastoni, who worked with Hill in Broke, said: “We have lost a real gem. He was a beautiful, sensitive soul, a great dad and mate. He had that rare screen presence, a combination of warmth and fragility reminiscent of a young Montgomery Cliff or James Dean.”
When M4M was announced, Hill told IF: “It is a love story in an urban setting that contains much fear and prejudice and is often misunderstood or misinterpreted.
“Paul and I wanted to create something ultimately beautifully born out of an environment that is sometimes maligned. With the abundance of negative media concerning gangs and drugs we felt it an opportune time to take a premise from Shakespeare and cement it in a modern Australia that is in the midst of social and political fear – with our own twists and takes.”
West of Sunshine is in the running for AACTA’s new award for best independent film budgeted below $2 million. Hill plays a working-class Melbourne man who is forced to care for his son (Tyler Perham, Hill’s real-life stepson) while he has less than a day to repay a $15,000 debt to a vicious loan shark.
Hill trained as an actor at the Victorian College of the Arts. After graduating he worked overseas before returning to form the Frank Theatre Company in Melbourne.
During the final year of his Masters of Screenwriting at VCA, he wrote Pawno, which he co-produced and starred in. The drama which followed the characters who work in and frequent a Footscray pawn shop was nominated for six AACTA Awards, won the grand jury prize at the Antipodean Film Festival in Saint Tropez, screened in numerous territories and was released in the UK by Ascendant Films.
He had a supporting role in Partho Sen-Gupta’s thriller Slam, which is yet to be released.
His screen credits also include The Death and Life of Otto Bloom, The Leftovers, Nowhere Boys, Fell, Neighbours, The Broken Shore and McLeod’s Daughters.
He is survived by his partner Beth, his sons Jordan, Ty and Jay and their daughter Frankie.