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Bea Joblin and her Births, Deaths & Marriages

Births, Deaths and Marriages was a highlight of last year’s New Zealand International Film Festival for me, one of only two local features selected by the festival. It is a heart-warming, funny tale about an Irish family in the Hutt Valley, shot when Bea Joblin its writer/director/producer was 20.

Bea on set, centre, with Sophie at right
Bea describes Births, Deaths & Marriages as being ‘shot in 2014 for about $4000, in a state house in Upper Hutt…a fictional home video set in a family home where the camera is held by one of the characters as they record a weekend in their family’s life. The film is a celebration of working class women and the dirty, overcrowded chaos of life’. It was funded by the New Zealand Film Commission at post-production.
Births, Deaths & Marriages is about to be released into cinemas in New Zealand (see below). It’s also screening at festivals in Australia.

Bea and kōtiro Piata
@devt Why and when and how did you start to make films?
Bea Joblin I started making films when I was 10, my parents bought my grandma’s old camcorder off her when she was upgrading and gave it to me for my birthday. As an aside my grandma filming my whānau on her camera throughout my childhood was the inspiration for this film. I first entered the 48 hour film festival at 12 years old, and did that for three years then stopped altogether. I made my first actual webseries at 19, and haven’t stopped since then, although I have moved very slowly over the last few years finishing this project.
All in all since age 19 I’ve made three webseries [including The Hutt Valley Dream Project and CNT Live‘the show that talks about what matters to women, where the only thing missing is yoU!’] a short, a short doco and a feature, although I have co-directed, executive produced or co-written a few more. I haven’t owned a camera since my grandma’s one fell into disrepair, I have always borrowed other people’s. I’m not a videographer, I’m a writer and director, so access to a camera was always a secondary aspect to my desire to make film, it always started with a script for me!
@devt When did you realise that mainstream filmmaking didn’t show you stories about females and ‘others’? Was there a moment of revelation?
Bea It was a slow process throughout my teen years that began as a feeling I couldn’t describe…but somehow the media I watched never made me feel uplifted or empowered in my identity as a female. I had to imagine myself into the mind of the male protagonist to emotionally connect to the story, because all the females were one-dimensional and functional to his story, and there was no truth or relatability or resonance in their own experiences that I could relate to, or journey with. And now I’ve been taught how much worse that feeling would have been for POC or LGBTIQ young people, and still is. I couldn’t articulate why this lack of representation was problematic because those terms weren’t being used in that way yet! The feeling was always there but it didn’t become conscious as an issue until I had the feminist education to know I was allowed to feel it, and to want something more. My fire about authentic female representation grew from there. I try to stay aware of the fact that for LGBTIQ and POC people this lack of representation was even worse, and continues to be worse than it is for cis white women.
@devt Whose work influenced you at the beginning?
Bea Ruth Jones (and James Corden)’s Gavin and Stacey, and Green Wing (Victoria Wood), combining domesticity or at least professional banality with absurdity, that is, hyper-realism with the hyper-bizzareness of our emotional and relational realities.
@devt When and why did you decide to work low production values into your narratives?
Bea There was no other option. I felt, particularly as a female, I had to make things without formal support before I would be even considered by funding bodies. I had never seen a young woman with no track record yet get any support to establish her career. And you need some funding to make something with normal production values…Low production values as an intentional aesthetic choice gives you the ability to make work without waiting forever for cash!
@devt In her new book, The Wrong Kind of Women: Inside Our Revolution to Dismantle the Gods of Hollywood, Naomi McDougall-Jones notes that all of the women who’ve been nominated as Best Director at the Oscars come from filmmaking families. In New Zealand we have film/theatre ‘dynasties’ too. To name a few: the Mitas and the Murphys; the Grace whānau; Libby and Oriwa Hakaraia; three generations of Campions and Harcourts; Gaylene Preston and Chelsea Preston-Crayford; Elizabeth McRae, her daughter Katherine McRae and her grand-daughters Etta, Elsie and Sally Bollinger (etc). What has your family history meant for your own development?

Bea and her Mum, Geraldine
Bea Just my self-made Mum, Geraldine Brophy, who left school at 15 and never went to drama school. She made a brave choice to follow her vocation and paved the way for me. She began the dynasty! She has helped me a huge amount, I have privilege in this industry that comes from who she is. Her practical support (being in my stuff) and emotional support (telling me I can do it, as well as modelling the doing of it), has helped me immeasurably.
@devt Is feminism part of your family, too?
Bea Yes, mum definitely lives her life in radical opposition to power imbalances or oppression that she perceives. She modelled amazing feminist values, particularly body love, self belief, assertiveness, creative expression, balancing career and family. I am more of a garden variety intersectional feminist, or trying to be from within my white feminist bias….I’m trying to learn and listen!
Births Deaths and Marriages
@devt What gave you the idea for Births, Deaths & Marriages?
Bea My mum’s parents were working class Irish immigrants who moved to NZ in the 1970’s, so the cultural context is identical, but the relationships and characters in the film are very different, and come from my own head!
@devt I understand from your Radio NZ interview the other day that originally the Births, Deaths & Marriages script was 200 and something pages. With so much material, why did you decide to make it as a feature rather than a web series?
Bea I didn’t properly understand the difference between webseries and feature film processes when I started this, I just think I wanted to be as ambitious as possible and felt I had made two webseries already so in my wee 20 year old brain a feature was the obvious progression…hilarious! It’s been the most beautiful learning experience of sticking with something massive and seeing it through to the very end, and picking up so many new skills along the way.

Sophie Lloyd

@devt Sophie Lloyd was your co-producer and editor. It’s quite unusual for an editor to be a producer as well. How did you meet and decide to work on Births, Deaths & Marriages?

Bea Joblin

Bea We went to high school together but weren’t in the same circles…but at age 19 we reconnected over my first webseries (which she edited).
For Births, Deaths & Marriages, as I was a lone producer, I had no team with me, Sophie was the only other person in the process once the shoot finished, so she just became the co-producer. Because she put so much damn time and heart into the film, she became its other parent! We work well together, and know each other’s tricks, so I hope we work together again, once we take a breath from this process.
@devt You wanted to be independent of funding bodies, I think (see Bea’s interview with Louise Hutt, below). But then, Robin Murphy and Ness Simons became involved as executive producers. How did that happen and how did that change things?

L-R Ness Simons, Robin Murphy
Bea I didn’t want to be independent so much as knew my chances of support were very low, due to my lack of experience, my gender and the nature and content of my work not being the patriarchal norm. Once Ness and Robin came on we all fully committed to the cinema release pathway, which we knew required some support from a funding body, but NZFC gave us our funding a matter of weeks before we were due to screen at the NZIFF. It was John McKay from POW Post and Robin and Ness that actually took the financial risk on us, it was their commitment to start the process to get us ready for the NZIFF, and somehow raise the money later to pay for that, that was the actual investment. So even at the very end we didn’t have any actual funding bodies ‘involved’, as by the time NZFC gave us our post finishing grant the film was basically completely finished!
Robin and Ness have advocated for us hugely. As women their position in the industry has been hard won, and they’ve used it as soon as they could to start supporting others. I also know that they both regularly donate to Pledgeme and Boosted campaigns for work with female, queer or POC content, because they want to see people’s stories being told. I know there are a lot of rooms we just wouldn’t have got in to without Robin advocating for us. Their involvement changed the possibilities for the film.
@devt It took five years to finish Births, Deaths & MarriagesWhy did it take so long? I know you had a baby, which is probably one reason?
Bea Mainly the money needed for the sound design, and all the time I spent trying to get newbie sound people to do it for free…lots of foolhardy dead ends pursued by me! Then the amazing Gareth Ruck and I needed a long time in between him working and being an awesome dad, and me working and being pregnant/ having a new baby, to do a temp sound design on the whole thing, which took about a year. We needed that so that when we showed it to prospective producers, enough of the concept was coming through via sound design as well as picture that they could see what I was aiming for! Then once we showed it to Robin and Ness we had to re-edit the picture as they felt it could be a lot stronger, and I’m so happy we did as the film became a lot better! Then getting the money to do the sound for real. But yes having a baby slowed it down, and I did intentionally take a break to gift myself and Piata that sacred time without distraction.
In the first year or so after shooting my major mental health battles slowed it also, but a lot of it was down to the challenges of no budget filmmaking which require a lot of perseverance, waiting for the right people and timing, finding creative ways to do things, working around people’s 9–5 jobs, etc.
@devt I was blown away by your beautiful mihi at the NZFF. Te reo is an important part of your life, and Births, Deaths & Marriages is partly about the intersections between Māori tikanga and Irish ways of doing things?
Bea I do have a strong commitment to being an ally to Te Reo and to Kaupapa Tiriti ways to working, but I try to remain open to what that means and looks like as things evolve. I fear as a Pākeha working in these spaces that I will get confused about my role or fail to stay in my lane, which could mean me doing more harm than good!
I am trying to stay an active listener in the ever evolving indigenism movement, as well as in the bicultural and multicultural communities I have the privilege of being in, because I want to make sure I’m hearing the new thinking on how Pākeha can genuinely support decolonization, both at a political intellectual level, i.e. paying attention to indigenism as a movement, and also at a personal and community level, i.e. what are the real people that I know and work with saying is needed and most useful.
It’s not straight forward or static, walking the line of supporting diverse stories without speaking for people is complex, I believe, and requires deep listening to others and to yourself and your behavior.
More about practice
@devt Do you have favourite role?
Bea I love writing, it’s a simple, pure joy. Directing is much more complex and can be frenetic, but has an excitement too….its much more demanding for me. Producing is deeply scary, almost spiritual in the zen-like way you have to stay calmly committed across much greater expanses of time through extreme uncertainty. Its satisfying in a slow burn, more grounded way. Acting is the least loved child….I barely ever do it!
@devt Your work makes me laugh. It’s so clever and funny. And full of heart. I think it demonstrates profound confidence as well as a lot of hard work and practice. What influenced your capacity to be so funny and confident?

L-R Fran Olds (Hugh) and Ben Childs (Dean)
Bea A funny question…I don’t feel confident anymore in the way the 20 year old who made this film was confident…she had ignorance and naivety on her side, which I think are essential ingredients for achieving the impossible!
As for the humour in the film, I think we as people are so absurdly beautiful and I think most of how we have been taught to organize our relationships to each other is so counterproductive and ineffective…I analyze relationships between people a lot and see the tragicomedy of how we try and fail to love well…its just observing and reflecting that is makes the laughter happen.
Something I find so healing about writing, it’s a place where I’m the benevolent omniscient eye that can see how hard these ridiculous people are trying to relate, and all the challenges and obstacles or barriers to connections that each of them is working with. It feels good to take an objective compassionate eye to it all, and see lovingly where everyone is coming from. In real life you can’t do that so easily as you end up caught up in your own perspective!
I think the alternative style of the film is confident, both in the cinematography, the content, and the structure of the story. It’s a bold rejection of the status quo, but that comes naturally to me as my mum taught me to go against whatever the ‘rules’ were, whatever the institutions said was the ‘right’ way to create art. It’s all about resistance for us Irish catholic feminist witches!
@devt I’ll never forget seeing about 40 people walk on stage at the end of your NZFF screening and realising the extent of their commitment to a very young feature filmmaker, as unpaid workers. What do you think attracted them to the project? How did you learn to run a set the way you do?

Births, Deaths & Marriages premiere New Zealand International Film Festival 2019
Bea Love connected us and attracted them! They all know I respect them and will hold them in a space of aroha and care, because I make that clear from the start. Whether it’s my own mother, or someone like Ariadne Balthazar who came on the week before shooting to replace another actor, you engage with them in a manner which makes clear that you want them as people and as artists to have the most positive experience possible. Perhaps a lot of cast and crew are used to feeling that a director or producer wants them to carry out their vision, at any cost to them, whereas I wanted them to weave themselves into a collaborative vision with me, so I think in that sense there is more for them to gain.

L-R Ariadne Balthazar (Tam), Fran Olds (Hugh)
And perhaps less to lose...because particularly as a woman when I walk on to most film sets I think, ‘I wonder how much misogyny I’ll be fielding today? How many microaggressions?’ And same for men, particularly the more junior ones, having to put up with harsh treatment from older people who are trying to ‘harden them up’, which is unnecessary, and wrong. I think I made it clear that I didn’t give myself authority to decide that anyone else should be mistreated for any reason. I was going to do everything in my power to manage things as respectfully as possible.
@devt What’s it like to have Births, Deaths & Marriages being widely distributed here, accepted for more festivals and to be taken very seriously as a filmmaker?
Bea I am intentionally quite emotionally disconnected from it, so that I don’t take on the negative feedback, or feel hugely invested in people’s response. When creatives say they enjoy the process, not the accolades, it’s true. People can hate it, and love it, and not notice it, whatever, if you open yourself up to taking any of that on you’ll be emotionally and mentally affected by something that’s actually imperosnal and kind of incidental and also fleeting and fickle.
I weirdly don’t feel yet that I am being taken seriously as a filmmaker because I still see myself and my film as what I / it started as; a baby little renegade making a funny little film. Maybe once the release is done, and I’ve stopped working on the film for the first time in 6 years, I’ll reflect and realize I am a real filmmaker!
@devt Autonomy is important to you. But I think some of your views about funding etc have changed as a result of the Births, Deaths & Marriages experience. What will you do differently next time? Will there be a ‘next time’ soon?
Bea Autonomy doesn’t mean isolation, I know that I need people and that I couldn’t have done this without so many people, Sophie, Robin, Ness, Gareth, John, all the cast and crew, and friends like Anita Ross and Tess Jamieson-Karaha who just emotionally supported me not to give up!
But giving your fledging idea over to a funding institution who prioritise lots of things that aren’t artistic integrity or authentically diverse representation, that is still an uncomfortable idea. This film would never ever have been made if I had waited for a funding body to think it, or I, was a smart risk. So I didn’t have total autonomy here, I shared power with who I chose to share with, but not a funder. And next time, though I won’t do it again without money, I really hope that doesn’t equate to handing major creative control to whoever funds it.
….But for sure, next time will be different, I’m too old now to make things for no money!!!
As for next time…I’m making a music video with local musician and fellow mum Keely Turuwhenua, I want a small scale project next! Next feature film will be slow coming, as this one was, but that’s what I like! It gives me time to honour my role as mum and to work in an organic way. It’s you Marian who said to me first, women’s lives and therefore film careers are often cyclical, not linear, and that is more than ok.

Births, Deaths & Marriages social media

Births, Deaths & Marriages screenings

Tuesday 3 March
Lighthouse Petone Q&A with Bea and Sophie
Wednesday 4 March
Rialto Auckland Q&A with Bea and Sophie
Thursday 5 March
Lumiere Christchurch Q&A with Bea and Sophie
Thursday 5 March
Rialto Auckland
Lumiere Christchurch
Rialto Dunedin
Saturday 7 & Sunday 8 March
Lighthouse Cuba, Wellington
Thursday 12 March
Focal Point Fielding
Shoreline Cinema Waikanae (Q&A with Bea and Sophie 12 March)
The Gecko Motueka
Screening Room Masterton
Akaroa Cinema
Saturday 14 March
Len Lye Cinema New Plymouth
Thursday 19 March
Café Whakamax Whakatane
Thursday 26 March
Village Theatre Takaka

Bea’s filmmaking philosophy, in Louise Hutt’s Online Heroines (2016 ).


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