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Walking on Water (2002)


Young gay man Gavin (David Bonney) is dying from an AIDS-related illness in his beachside Sydney house, cared for by his two best friends and housemates, Charlie (Vince Colosimo) and Anna (Maria Theodorakis). As his condition worsens, his mother (Judi Farr), brother (Nathaniel Dean) and sister-in-law (Anna Lise Phillips) come to stay. To meet Gavin’s wishes, friends and family euthanise him using outside help. Afterwards they all feel shell-shocked and gradually work through their grief and guilt in different, and often unexpected, ways.

Curator’s notes

It would be easy to characterise Walking on Water as a reaction to the wave of AIDS-related deaths that swept Australia during the late 1980s and 1990s. But this is decidedly not an ‘issue’ film. The filmmakers show no interest in exploring the ethics or illegality of euthanasia, and AIDS is never mentioned – indeed the fatal illness could just as easily have been cancer or another disease. Nor is the film interested in highlighting the suffering of its sick character, a subject more natural to a ‘disease of the week’ telemovie.

What the film does explore – and does so with great emotional authenticity – is how such a death affects those left behind: a far more complex and unpredictable affair than the depression or sadness that one might expect. It always empathises with its characters even when they’re behaving unreasonably, which is often. Small details carry major significance – for example the way everybody smokes (both cigarettes and marijuana) immediately after the death.

While the film doesn’t shy away from depicting aspects of gay lifestyles, it reflects the reality that contemporary gay men and women generally live in a straight society, and that friendship crosses the supposed boundaries of gender preference. Of the four mourners closest to the deceased, only one is gay – Charlie; also that of the three sex scenes, two are between heterosexual couples.

Walking on Water was released in Australian cinemas on 26 September 2002. The film was nominated for nine AFI Awards and won five, including Best Original Screenplay (Roger Monk), Editing (Reva Childs) and acting trophies for Theodorakis (Best Actress), Nathaniel Dean (Supporting Actor) and Judi Farr (Supporting Actress). It won the Teddy for best gay-themed film at the Berlin Film Festival. The screenplay was named the best of 2002 in the IF Awards and by the Film Critics’ Circle of Australia. The latter also named Theodorakis Best Actress.