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New Zealand Update 1: Women Directors

Pietra Brettkelly Oasis image
I'm a sucker for What Happened Next. Everyone I interview or write about interests and excites me, and this John Psathas tweet inspired me to gather together updates about New Zealand women directors, which I've been collecting for a wee while.

Here they are, under links to the earlier posts. Some directors have nothing they want to share at the mo.
Dana Rotberg
1. Dana Rotberg and Medicine Woman
I imagine that eminent composer John Psathas' tweet refers to Medicine Woman, a South Pacific Pictures feature from the Witi Ihimaera novella, written and directed by Mexican filmmaker Dana Rotberg, who's been living in New Zealand for a while, with her daughter. Medicine Woman stars acclaimed singer and songwriter Whirimako Black in the lead role of Paraiti, a medicine woman – a giver of life – who is asked to hide a secret which may protect a position in society, but will destroy a life. Antonia Prebble (Outrageous Fortune, Spies & Lies, The Almighty Johnsons) stars as the wealthy Rebecca Vickers and Rachel House (Boy, Whale Rider) as Maraea, Mrs Vickers’ servant. Produced by John Barnett and Chris Hampson, Medicine Woman is funded by the NZ Film Commission and NZ On Air. It was filmed in the Urewera and Auckland over March and April and its New Zealand cinema release is set for 2013. And it's pretty special that John Psathas is on the team.

Dana is going to give a workshop called Getting To The Heart of the Story at Script to Screen's The Big Screen Symposium in Auckland, early September.

2. Rosemary Riddell and The Insatiable Moon: Feeling Joyous About Humanity
Rosemary Riddell
So much happened for The Insatiable Moon after I interviewed Rosemary Riddell about her first feature, two years ago.  Since the film was released in October 2010, Rosemary has travelled in both New Zealand and the United Kingdom supporting the production at various festivals and events, including The Imaginindia festival in Madrid.. She was particularly encouraged when Moon was nominated in four acting categories at the 2011 New Zealand Film Awards, and went on to pick up Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor. Rosemary's day job as that of a District Court Judge in New Zealand means that her passion for film directing needs to be carefully scheduled. She developed shingles on the last day of the Moon shoot – a physical reminder of the stress borne by directors! But together with screenwriter husband Mike, she's helping to develop a mid-budget feature called Oratorio, which she describes as “a celebration of mature love”. She hopes the production may shoot in 2013, and is looking forward to wearing her director’s hat again.

It looks like The Insatiable Moon is one of those films that will endure. This is what Sarah Watt, film writer for the Sunday Star Times wrote when she viewed it en route to Cannes:
...a shamefully belated introduction to Mike and Rosemary Riddell’s beautiful and touching The Insatiable Moon. It has taken me far too long to catch this locally-made and Ponsonby-based adaptation of Mike’s book, and while not all of the themes sat comfortably with me, I was frequently moved to tears. In daylight! In the aeroplane! The stewardesses feigned not to notice.

3. Pietra Brettkelly and Maori Boy Genius podcast 
Maori Boy Genius will screen at the NZFF. And - of course - Pietra is now on to her next project, Oasis, funded by a PUMA Award, for "international documentary filmmakers, whose creative storytelling highlights social justice, peace or environmental issues", a partnership between The Britdoc Foundation and PUMA.Creative. Here's the Oasis synopsis, from Pietra's PUMA page:
Amidst the bombing and destruction of Kabul is an oasis of calm. And roses. Where peals of female laughter mix with the whispers of gossip - and tears are shed as women talk about their lives. 
Oasis will be a feature-length documentary film on the lives of those touched by the eight-acre Women’s Garden in Kabul, Afghanistan. In 2011 the Thomson Reuters Foundation labelled Afghanistan “the most dangerous place in the world to be born a female”. Oasis will reveal a story of female empowerment, fraternity and survival despite hardship. 
The film will follow the garden’s life through the eyes of four women of varying ages and situations. Over the course of a year we will observe these women’s lives as they come to the garden, and see what the garden gives to them. 
Some 20 businesses surround the garden that during the Taliban era became a rubbish dump – now there’s a dressmaker, educational and health facilities, a park of fountains, gazebos and playgrounds, a fitness centre, kindergarten, restaurant, mosque. All managed by women for women. 
Twice weekly a taekwondo class meets at the fitness centre. Leila Hosseini, a bronze medalist at the first Islamic and Muslim Capitals' Women's Games in 2005, instructs the class made up mostly of teenage girls. 
Oasis will be filmed in four blocks in the quite distinct and very extreme seasons of Kabul – from minus 20c degrees in the Winter to plus 40 in the Summer.
Katja Adomeit is the Oasis producer. She worked for the Lars Von Trier production company Zentropa before starting her own production company and is also producing New Zealander Daniel Joseph Borgman's feature film The Weight of Elephants. (Maori Boy Genius editor Molly Stensgaard edits for Lars Von Trier, so it looks like the Danish/New Zealand connection is growing.) The other day when I asked Pietra for an update, she wrote:
I arrived into Kabul yesterday to begin the development and research phase of the project - and its beautiful and sunny!
Maori Boy Genius 
Nina Fowler Lumiere interview (at the Berlinale– editor Molly Stensgaard says: 'the whole film is haka')

4. V48 Hours Women podcast
I interviewed three women directors who participate regularly in the 48 Hours Competition, and Gaylene Preston, who provides an award for the Best Female Film Director.

Ruth Korver didn't make a film in 48 Hours this year, because she was producing How To Meet Girls From a Distance, the Make My Movie low-budget feature-with-a-deadline. Instead, with three friends - Vanessa Patea, Joelle Gragilla and Dylan Jennings - Ruth blogged the entire 48 hour weekend in Wellington and made thirty-three videos at around forty-two minutes in the one weekend. She had a great time. And How To Meet Girls From a Distance got into this year's New Zealand International Film Festival (NZFF), opening any moment.

Ruth (with red bag) during How To Meet Girls From a Distance

48 Hours Wellington blog
How To Meet Girls From A Distance website

Laurie Wright directed Kids These Days by team Gin Joints (Crime), one of thirteen national finalists in the 48 Hours. Is it the first time a woman-directed film has reached the final? I think it may be. Here's an interview with her, from Ruth (and mates)' blog.

Laurie's been taking a break after working on The Hobbit and has her fingers crossed for her Fresh Shorts application.

Fran Jago won the Wellington heat of the national Gaylene Preston Best Female Director award, with team Loaded Gunn’s Refraction (Fantasy Adventure). She’s now working on how to get a few films done this year before 48 Hours next year. Here's a photo of her receiving her Best Female Film Director (Wellington) certificate, also from Ruth & co's blog.

And here's the link to last year's 48 Hours post, where Fran talks about All-Girl Teams. This year there was no 'All-Girl' award, or 'All-Women' or 'All-Lady' award. Not surprising, given some of the conversations at the time.

Fran Jago & her Wellington Best Female Film Director award
Gaylene Preston  executive produced Paora Te Oti Takarangi Joseph's Tatarakihi:The Children of Parihaka, to screen in the NZFF. Parihaka, in the North Island, was the centre of a resistance movement led by prophets Te Whiti-o-Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi, who were committed to non-violent action in order to resist the invasion of their land and to protect Maori independence. In 1880 the Parihaka people erected barricades across roads, pulled survey pegs and escorted road builders and surveyors out of the district, in actions that inspired the Native Minister John Bryce to describe Parihaka as 'that headquarters of fanaticism and disaffection'. Parliament passed legislation enabling the Government to hold the protesters indefinitely without trial and by September 1880 hundreds of men and youths had been exiled to South Island prisons.

This is what the NZFF catalogue says about Tatarakihi:
In 1881 the children of Parihaka greeted the government invaders with white feathers of peace. Tatarakihi tells the story of a ‘journey of memory’ taken by a group of Parihaka children who travel to the South Island 130 years later. They follow in the footsteps of their male ancestors who were transported south after the Taranaki land confiscations of the 1860s. Wellington War Memorial, Addington Jail and Ripapa Island in Lyttelton Harbour are key stations on the long bus journey to the caves at Andersons Bay in Dunedin where the Parihaka men were imprisoned. The prisoners were forced to labour on buildings, roads and embankments. These enduring expressions of Dunedin’s 19th-century prosperity were founded on something closely resembling slavery. Ensuring that the experience of the slaves endures as well, the passage of knowledge conveyed in and by Tatarakihi is both sombre and enriching. The film is narrated by the children and combines footage of their hikoi (some of it shot by the children themselves) with vivid archival photography.

5. Simone Horrocks and After The Waterfall

Simone with some of the Unforgettable Love team
After the Waterfall was the only woman-directed feature in the NZFF two years ago and received a group of nominations in the 2011 New Zealand Film Awards: Simone for Outstanding Feature Film Debut, for Best Editing in a Feature Film, for Images & Sound Best Sound in a Feature Film and for Best Lead Actor in a Feature Film (Antony Starr). Simone sent me this lovely email, and I hope to re-interview her soon.
Last year I went to China to direct Unforgettable Love, a Chinese film (in the Chinese language with Chinese cast and crew). I was approached by the producer following After the Waterfall’s premiere in Beijing, and I spent a year working with the writer and producer, including doing a production attachment in Beijing ... long story. I have however discovered there is something other than development hell, that is post-production hell, as our film has not yet been completed ... another long story but an amazing experience. 
Anyway, my post-After the Waterfall directorial journey, and the great wasteland that is distribution, has forced much soul searching. It took ten years to get ATW made, and as we all know the world of theatrical distribution (for films like mine) is in a state of collapse, so its life in the cinema was brief and despite some magic moments, I found this a very dispiriting experience. However ATW is reaching audiences worldwide thanks to our friend the bittorrent, and it has given me great pleasure when those audience members have searched for us online to give us feedback. ATW can also be seen on Air New Zealand, and is available in local libraries all over New Zealand which I think is wonderful (if you are reading this and it’s not in your local library let me know via our facebook page and I’ll see what I can do). Aside from some very fine American and British television, the internet ‘portal’ is now where all the energy and ideas are, and I can see that making films in the way we do is currently unsustainable, and despite cyclical attempts to force the film making process into low or no-budget models, I think it is an inherently expensive medium, and that there is a creative threshold below which you cannot go. In response to that, and what I perceive to be something of a dark ages for cinema in general, I am now back at university doing a four year degree in Speech and Language Therapy, in the hope that I won't be cleaning hotel rooms in my sixties. I have been thinking about where to put my creative energy, and I'm not seeing many women in their fifties and beyond directing films (with a few notable exceptions of course) however I see many women's faces on the backs of the jackets of the crime fiction books I read (which pretty much all I read apart from books on linguistics and communication disorders!) and this is also where I also I find tough, edgy stories that show the world from a woman's point of view, populated with truthful, intelligent female characters, and so I have decided to put my writing energy in that direction. 
I do still have several film projects which I have been developing, one has seed money from the NZFC, and is at first draft stage. It's a contemporary real world fantasy film based on a novel my brother Dylan Horrocks is writing. I have written the screenplay based on a brief pitch he gave me, it's the 'sister version' of the book, rather than an adaptation in the usual sense, as I have chosen not to read the book itself, and the film may end up being something completely different. Once his draft is finished we will swap versions and see where we have each taken it. I will continue to work on this project as a writer and producer. 
So as you can see, new directions for me. I think directors have to be responsive and I am responding to the realities of my times and situation. Life is short and I need a new challenge, and one that offers the possibility of a living wage and more day to day satisfaction. I have been very lucky to have had the opportunities and experiences that a life in the film industry has given me, and my only regret is that I love working with actors, and there is so much good acting talent in New Zealand, I would love to be creating opportunities for them.

Simone in rice field, China
I love this image of Simone. It personifies the way I think of New Zealand women directors. Packs on backs, out there in the world. And often in surprising ways!

6. Kathleen Gallagher and Earth Whisperers Papatuanuku
Kathleen Gallagher is a playwright and poet as well as a director. Since I wrote about her and Earth Whisperers Papatuanuku three years ago, she's made two more docos, Water Whisperers Tangaroa and Sky Whisperers Ranginui. Kathleen is one of those people who work away year after year within a strong community, building an impressive body of work. And I think she deserves a festival of her very own, with associated programmes. Especially right now, during raging debates about New Zealand water. You can read more about them here.


More Wellywood Woman posts about New Zealand Women Directors
Athina Tsoulis
Gaylene Preston and Briar March
Kate Clere McIntyre
Kate McDermott (writer) and Katie Wolfe
Kirstin Marcon
Leonie Reynolds
Merata Mita (1942-2010)
Ngahuia Wade
Roseanne Liang & co-writer Angeline Loo
Zia Mandviwalla

& of course there are others, including Alison Maclean, Jane Campion, Miro Bilbrough, Niki Caro, all working outside New Zealand...

Part 2 of this little series will update the New Zealand state film funding stats. Part 3 will update my Development Project: Kyna Morgan from HerFilm in the States is in town and I've been chatting with her, reading, thinking and doing stuff.