A Polish-born, English-trained Australian writer-director, Ben Lewin impressed the world with his creative gifts. Using crutches after contracting polio as a child, Lewin overcame his physical challenges and built an international screen career, winning Australian Writers' Guild Awards for "The Dunera Boys" (BBC, 1985) and "The Favour, the Watch and the Very Big Fish" (1991), as well as an Australian Film Institute (AFI) award for "Plead Guilty, Get a Bond" (1990) and two AFI nominations for "Georgia" (1988). After making the leap to Hollywood by lensing installments of "Ally McBeal" (Fox, 1997-2002) and "Touched by an Angel" (CBS, 1994-2003), Lewin scored his biggest American film success when he wrote, produced and directed "The Sessions" (2012), the based-on-real-life story of a paralyzed man (John Hawkes) who hires a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt). Hilarious, heartbreaking and honest, the Sundance Film Festival award-winning film showcased Lewin's unique strengths and was tapped to be a major awards contender. Gifted with a deep compassion and quirky sense of humor to match his filmmaking prowess, Ben Lewin was able to tell powerful stories that reflected the human condition, regardless of country or culture.
Born in 1946 in Poland, Ben Lewin was only a small child when he and his family immigrated to Australia. Although a childhood bout with polio would necessitate his lifelong use of crutches, Lewin was blessed with a vibrant creativity and intelligence that manifested in a passion for photography, writing and the study and practice of the law. Ever the adventurous spirit, Lewin decided to abandon his law career to take advantage of a scholarship to England's National Film School, where he made the fateful decision to devote his life to the entertainment industry. Making a major splash by writing and directing "The Case of Cruelty to Prawns," an especially memorable installment of "ITV Playhouse" (ITV, 1967-1983), Lewin developed a reputation in both the United Kingdom and Australia, and he performed double duty for "Destination Australia: The Migrant Experience Since 1788" (1984).
A highly respected chronicler of Australian history and stories, Lewin's string of successes continued when he wrote and directed the WWII deportation drama "The Dunera Boys" (BBC, 1985), the Judy Davis-starring thriller "Georgia" (1988), and the quirky Bob Hoskins, Jeff Goldblum and Natasha Richardson farce "The Favour, the Watch and the Very Big Fish" (1991). Winning Australian Writers' Guild Awards for "Dunera" and "The Favour.," he won a Best Screenplay Award from the Australian Film Institute for his dramedy depicting the clash between Australian and Aboriginal law in "Plead Guilty, Get a Bond" (1990). After writing and directing "Paperback Romance" (1994) and several installments of the Aussie series "SeaChange" (ABC, 1998-2000), Lewin stuck his foot in the American door when he helmed episodes of "Ally McBeal" (Fox, 1997-2002) and "Touched by an Angel" (CBS, 1994-2003).
Although he had already built an impressive international career, Lewin earned even more global notice when he wrote, produced and directed the drama "The Sessions" (2012), based on the autobiographical essay "On Seeing a Sex Surrogate" by the late writer Mark O'Brien, who had been the subject of the Oscar-winning documentary short "Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien" (1996). Telling the story of a paralyzed man (John Hawkes) who hires a professional sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) to help him lose his virginity, "The Sessions" spoke to Lewin's strength - the ability to place unexpected characters in seemingly bizarre situations and still find universal truths within them. Rapturously received by many critics, the film won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival and gained enormous buzz that many believed would lead to additional honors.
By Jonathan Riggs
Director (Feature Film)
Cast (Feature Film)
Writer (Feature Film)
Editing (Feature Film)
Joined the BBC as a director on the Nationwide program
Breakthrough project as a writer and director, "The Case of Cruelty to Prawns," a comedy-drama for "ITV Playhouse"; won Best Television Film Award at the Melbourne Film Festival
Helmed much-honored and multi-award winning "The Dunera Boys," starring Bob Hoskins
Directed award-winning "Matter of Convenience," about marriages of convenience
Helmed the murder mystery feature "Georgia," starring Judy Davis; won eight Australian Film Institute nominations
Wrote the screenplay for "Plead Guilty, Get a Bond," about a tribal aboriginal woman and her conflict with the Australian legal system
Wrote and directed the messianic farce "The Favor, the Watch and the Very Big Fish," starring Bob Hoskins, Jeff Goldblum, and Natasha Richardson
Helmed the comedy "Paperback Romance," a crazy love story about disabilities starring Anthony LaPaglia and Gia Carrides
Directed two episodes of popular Australian drama series "SeaChange"
Directed the season's highest-rated episode of Fox's "Ally McBeal" (titled "Let¿s Dance")
Helmed the film "Hollywood Gold," a personal documentary of his misadventures in the Beverly Hills jewelry trade during Oscar time
Returned to feature writing and directing with drama "The Sessions"; also produced