Monday, 9 July 2018

Vale Henion Han - Mike Rubbo remembers a film editor of distinction

"this for me is 
the classic Henion Han 
photo because it shows 
the pants he wore, day in 
and day out, the crotch 
as you see, below the knees. 
I think of them as his Tai Chi pants." (MR)
I picture Henion Han on Avoca Beach. He is not in the water. In fact, he is dressed in his usual black with his strange baggy trousers, the crotch below his knees, as he paces the beach, camera and tripod in hand. Indeed, I never saw Henion without those trousers. Henion in the water, is an image I just can't imagine. 
In my memory, the sun blazing the sea the deepest blue, perfect waves curling towards the shore, he's filming his beloved daughter, Lulu who has become a champion surfer, moving up through the ranks from just having fun, to winning competitions. 
Here's Henion with 
daughter, Lennan Han, 
and in front, Che Eis, 
Sane, his son. 
He was there for both
of them all the time. MR
He was devoted to his two kids, Lul and Che Eis Sane, would and did do everything for them. Our daughter, Ellen, Ellika Dattilo, was childhood friends with Lulu. 
Apparently, when he died of cancer on Tuesday morning, the 4th of July, or just before, Lulu was talking to him on the phone from New York while Che Eis Sane was beside him.
I owe Henion in a lot. He patiently performed the impossible, teaching me how to use Final Cut express and liberating me from having to depend on himself and others every time I needed some editing done.
But I was a very high maintenance student. I was forever ringing him at odd hours, he lived just around the corner at that time, and begging him to come over and solve some final cut problem. I fed him cups of coffee as he sorted out my confusion.
I also owe him because, in conversation one day, he remarked that it was curious that so many people were now living to be centenarians. That sparked a mutual idea, that we would do a film about this phenomenon.
It was going to be an essay film but when a young researcher I put on the job, found Olive Riley, then a hundred and four, and a standout character, we abandoned the essay and told the story of Olive going back to her native, Broken Hill, hunting memories, midst jokes and tears. Olive died at 108 not only celebrated in the film but as the world's oldest blogger. 
Henion edited All About Olive which I now regard as my most touching documentary. His quiet, poetic side is so evident, the way he bathed our story in Chopin's Nocturnes, for example, such a strange choice for the rough and ready Olive, but it works so well. 
Later today I'm going to hunt for footage of Henion I must have somewhere. I remember filming him beside our lake, giving a Tai Chi demonstration.
I'm not sure why we were doing it but he was so fluid, so precise, so able to remember the hundreds of moves, that the sequence is precious. With our lake in the background, his intense concentration, lost in the ritual, makes beautiful material if I can find it. It was never posted, never shared. 
We met in a curious way. Henion and his wife Lee, had settled in Australia from South Africa, she South African, and he of Chinese descent. Somehow they found themselves in Avoca Beach. 
One day in the local butcher shop, Henion looked up at the paintings, portraits of the locals which were hanging over the meat, the name striking a bell. Or, perhaps it wasn't the signature but rather that he asked Robbie the butcher about the artist exhibiting in this strange gallery.
Being told it was Mike Rubbo he said to Lee, " how curious that this painter has the same name is that documentary filmmaker we studied in Chicago. What are the chances of that do you think, given it's such an unusual name?" They had both been to film school in Chicago and had seen my films in class. 
When it became clear that I might be that same person, given what Robbie knew about me, local filming etc, Henion got my address, came to visit, starting a wonderful friendship. We collaborated not only on movies for TV, but also did lots of shooting on the Avoca Beach Theatre issue.
You can hear his voice interviewing people outside the famous theatre in the mid-2000s about why they love the little single screen, and why they would hate to see it turned into a multiplex, a tragedy still to happen.
As people in the film world, we both agreed that the theatre occupied and catered to a small and highly successful niche market, and to go multiscreen would be throwing that away. 
We loved talking about politics. Both of us would shake our heads at the madness in the world, at the machinations of the hidden elites which we agreed were pulling the strings. 
this is in March this 
year as Henion Han, 
already battling the 
disease, gets the 
Golden Horn award 
for editing the 
documentary The Giant 
is Falling. MR
Then the work dried up here and Henion, having divorced, went back to South Africa to work on various projects. Most recently he won the Golden Horn for is editing of a documentary called The Giant is Falling. You can see him getting his prize in this photo collection. 
He must have been already sick with cancer but was fighting it bravely and often looked pretty happy. 
He'd teamed up, after his bitter divorce, with a wonderful woman from the film world over there, Robyn Aronstam,  now head of the film school in Johannesburg. They were very happy together.
Henion Han and Robyn Aronstam  
so happy together. I guess this 
is in South Africa. MR
Some weeks ago. he came back to enjoy the superb treatment one gets at the Gosford Hospital. We know it's good because they've saved my life and Katya, who works there almost daily as an interpreter, is in awe at the staff's caring attitude and expertise. 
They had put him on intensive treatment and he was optimistic. He came round a few days ago and, although he looked thin, he was in every way the old Henion, joking enthusiastic about life, concerned for his kids.
He'd passed on to us an amazing French political thriller series called, The Bureau, knowing I would love it. Somehow I couldn't watch it via his hard drive gift, but found it on SBS online and was about halfway through the day he came, eager to talk to him about how compelling it was, in its understated style. We loved the continuous menace but absence of violence on the screen.
Now, it's so strange that Henion is gone, so quickly, so absolutely, and yet I am still watching his gift, into the third season of The Bureau, and thinking of him as prompts occur in the story.
For all three of us, myself, Katya, and Ellen, who was in tears on the phone with the news, a big hole has opened up in our lives, our fragile, you never know what's coming next, lives.
On the right is a young Henion as I never knew him. someone else will know where this was taken. 
I am intrigued to see that he is yet to discover his low-slung pants, his signature dress in later life. MR


  1. that pic was taken on the set of 'cluck' an art film that henion played a role in - i think his only film performance - circa 1980 when he was teaching at wits university and first made his indelible mark on fellow south african creatives

    1. i believe the jeans were just for the shoot!


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