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Festival Gala

The Sessions

Confined to an iron lung, Mark (John Hawkes) seeks to lose his virginity and employs a sex surrogate to help him do this. A poignant story that transforms a potentially confronting subject into a warm, compelling film.

Even if a screening is sold out, tickets are often available 30 minutes before the start of the film at the box office at each venue.

The screening on Wed 17 Oct at 12:30 will have subtitles.

Image gallery

  • Director-Screenwriter Ben Lewin
  • Producer Judi Levine, Stephen Nemeth
  • With John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H Macy
  • USA 2012
  • 97 mins
  • UK distribution Twentieth Century Fox

Riveting performances from John Hawkes and Helen Hunt anchor this moving and unabashedly droll film about a 38-year-old man confined to an iron lung and his endeavours to lose his virginity. Paralysed after childhood polio, Mark (Hawkes) has lived life to the fullest, defying all medical expectations and maintaining a rich intellectual career as a poet and journalist. While his quick wit makes him an irrepressible flirt, his encounters with women are mostly confined to his caregivers, and physical intimacy continues to elude him. Frustrated and fearful, he raises the issue with his progressive priest (William H Macy) and ultimately engages a sex surrogate (Hunt) whose services will be limited to six sessions and are designed to assist disabled people transition to sexual activity. Based on the autobiographical writings of Mark O’Brien, who was also the subject of Jessica Yu’s Academy Award winning documentary Breathing Lessons, writer-director Ben Lewin’s superb script achieves a fine balance between the emotional poignancy of the story and the wry, self-deprecating humour of its lead character, transforming a potentially confronting subject into a warm, compelling and highly enjoyable film.
Clare Stewart

Director statement

One thing John Hawkes and I absolutely agreed on was that we didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for Mark. And my message to John was, ‘If I have a personal mission, it’s to stand up for the rights of disabled people to be arseholes – so you can bring that to the character.’
Ben Lewin

Director biography

Born in Poland in 1946, he migrated to Australia with his family in 1949. As a young man, he developed a passion for photography and creative writing, and also studied and practised law. He left his work as a criminal barrister when offered a scholarship to the National Film School in England, and subsequently joined BBC Television as a director on the Nationwide program, followed by other documentary and current affairs programs for Thames, Granada and Channel Four Television. His breakthrough project as a writer-director was The Case of Cruelty to Prawns, a comedy-drama that won the Best Television Film Award at the Melbourne Film Festival. Some of his notable credits include the murder-mystery feature Georgia, starring Judy Davis, which won eight Australian Film Institute nominations; the much-honoured The Dunera Boys, starring Bob Hoskins – the true story of 2,000 English Jews who were mistakenly suspected as Nazi spies and transported to Australia in 1940; the award-winning Matter of Convenience, a tele-movie about marriages of convenience; and Plead Guilty, Get a Bond, about a tribal aboriginal woman and her conflict with the Australian legal system. He is best known in the USA as a writer and director of comedy features, though more recently he brought his distinctive mix of the preposterous and the perceptive to Hollywood Gold, a personal documentary of his misadventures in the Beverley Hills jewelery trade at Oscar time. His TV work includes episodes of Ally McBeal and Touched By An Angel, as well several segments of the most popular drama series in Australia, Sea Change. After a long hiatus, he has seen The Sessions scooping both the Audience Award and a Special Jury Prize at Sundance in 2012.


1975 Welcome to Britain [doc]
1979 ITV Playhouse (ep The Case of Cruelty to Prawns only)
1984 Destination Australia: The Migrant Experience Since 1788 [TV doc]
1985 The Dunera Boys [TV]
1987 A Matter of Convenience [TV]
1988 Georgia
1991 The Favour, the Watch and the Very Big Fish
1994 Lucky Break [aka Paperback Romance]
2003 Hollywood Gold [doc]
2012 The Sessions