- The following obituary appeared in The Age, Monday, February 4, 2008, p.12. As it doesn’t appear to be available online, I thought I’d publish it here.
Filmmaker with lens focused on injustice
Stuart Andrew Hill (Pip Starr)
20-12-1967 — 22-1-2008
Acclaimed documentary filmmaker Stuart Hill, professionally known as Pip Starr, has died suddenly at his home in Footscray. He was 40.
His films about the Jabiluka uranium blockade, refugees breaking out of Woomera Detention Centre, the plight of small coffee producers, and victims of rising sea levels due to global warming are just some of the subjects his films tackled with honesty, sensitivity and great skill.
Born in Mildura, Pip was the fourth child of Helen and John Hill, both teachers. He attended St Paul’s Primary School and Mildura High School, and when he was 15, his father died suddenly from a cerebral hemorrhage.
Pip trained as a nurse in Mildura for three years and then moved to Melbourne in 1988 to train as an actor at Victorian College of the Arts. But in the early 1990s, he decided he wanted to document injustice and make a difference to the world.
After volunteering in community television for several years, in 1995 he joined a colleague and set up Rockhopper Productions. His first big project was to film at the Jabiluka uranium blockade in Kakadu for six months in 1998, which resulted in a 60-minute film, Fight for Country, which eventually premiered in August 2001 to much acclaim.
That year he won the filmmaker award at the Wild Spaces Film Festival, and his film played a big part in forcing Rio Tinto to abandon plans to build the Jabiluka uranium mine. As well, the country of the Mirrar people was saved from destruction.
In 2002, Pip travelled to the Woomera detention centre to document a protest action. He captured dramatic images there under difficult conditions. Noted Australian documentary filmmaker David Bradbury said: “His footage of the break-out at Woomera refugee camp was the most dramatic and well-shot footage under pressure I ever saw in that shameful chapter of Australian history. It brought home to anyone who saw it the inhumanity of the HoWARd government’s policy on refugees and their imprisonment.”
From the footage Pip made the short film Through the Wire, which was honoured with a screening at the Human Rights Watch Festival in New York in 2004, and it later had a short cinema run in that city.
Also in 2002, Pip set off around the world to document poverty in the coffee industry. “Fair Trade” is a means of licensing growers so that they receive a fair price for their beans, and this minimises slavery and child labour. To highlight this Pip went to the US, Central and South America, Britain and South Africa. He was overseas for eight months and made a short film called The Okapa Connection, as a prelude to his main film, which has not yet been completed.
Pip’s most recent passion was climate change. He made several trips filming sea levels rising in the Carteret Islands, north-east of Bouganville in the South Pacific, and was in the process of producing The First Wave, a documentary about the upcoming evacuation of those islands by its peoples. On the day of his death he was due at Port Arthur in Tasmania to meet climate-change scientists, to film rising sea levels at the old penal settlement.
Pip was mugged and had his precious camera gear stolen while filming for his coffee film in Mexico City, and up to the time of his death he was regularly hospitalised for bouts of malaria that he contracted while filming in the Carterets.
Like many highly driven and talented people, Pip had many personal demons that he often found hard to control. He took an overdose of anaesthetic drugs and went peacefully to sleep.
He is survived by his partner Gurney, mother Helen, siblings Karen, Jennie and Martin, and nine nephews and nieces.
Jennie Hill is Pip Starr’s sister.
- See also : Pip Starr // Paddy McGuinness (January 27, 2008)