11 Jul 2018

Women behind the camera: 'There is a real push for it'

7:10 pm on 11 July 2018

Despite New Zealand's history of strong female directors and some "good, positive change", there still aren't a lot of women calling the shots behind the camera, says a Kiwi short film maker who has cleared the first hurdle on the road to the Oscars.

Film director Zoe Mcintosh on set

Film director Zoe Mcintosh on set Photo: Supplied

Zoe Mcintosh's film - The World In Your Window - has played at film festivals all over the world and picked up multiple awards, including the people's choice prize at the local Show me Shorts festival, the jury prize at the Clermont Ferrand film festival in France and the best international short film award at the Melbourne film festival.

The film, about a young boy and his grief-stricken father who live in a caravan park, also picked up the best international short film at the Flicker Festival in Sydney, an Oscar-accredited festival that has put the film on the shortlist for nominations.

Mcintosh is following in the footsteps of other female directors in the local film industry such as Gaylene Preston, Niki Caro and Jane Campion, but said there is still a lot of work to be done to get more women behind the camera.

"It's very tricky, I look at commercials and there are not many of us. Female commercial directors are pretty few and far between. And there's hardly any with kids."

Women make up 44 percent of all screen industry workers, which includes producing, contracting, broadcasting, distribution and exhibition.

But between 2011 and 2016, just 19 percent of feature film development applications that received funding specifically included a female director.

She said she had been called a "painful optimist", but did believe it was an exciting time to be a female director.

"There is definitely a lot of change, and good, positive change. There are a lot initiatives coming out. I've been so fortunate with the NZ Film Commission, mentor projects, a new fund supporting female directors and a women incubator programme that I've been a part of.

"There was a real push for it, and it was needed."

Repa, as played by Lena Regan in Zoe Mcintosh's film The World In Your Window.

Repa, as played by Lena Regan in Zoe Mcintosh's film The World In Your Window. Photo: Supplied

Along with a push for more gender representation from the Film Commission, she said the best sign of change was that people were more open-minded about the issue and acknowledging the gender gap in film making.

"Because you have to shift your perspective on things, but I feel like it's changing in a positive direction."

She said she had never personally felt that being a female director had been a setback for her career, and had been a "lovely asset" to her work.

"You can get manage to get a different kind of intimacy with talent, because they can soften to how women interview you."

'It is just endless, endless hard work'

A graduate of the Fine Arts degree at Canterbury University, Mcintosh's films have gravitated to the fringes of society, with work including the 2013 feature film The Deadly Ponies Gang and documentaries about men who order mail order brides, eccentric lawyer Rob Moodie and the homeless in quake-stricken Christchurch.

Her latest short film continues with this theme, set in a dilapidated trailer park where a young boy strives to help his father overcome his overwhelming grief, with the help of a transgender neighbour and her V8.

Using a largely amateur cast - including young lead actor David Lolofakangalo Rounds, who she met at her local boxing gym - Ms Mcintosh said she tried to capture how isolated some people come be, even though they were living in a place with a lot of others.

"It's all about the importance of connecting with people, and how small acts of kindness can be monumental."

Despite such universal themes, Ms Mcintosh said it could be "pretty hard" to get film projects off the ground. She also directs high-end commercials for corporate clients and said it was hard graft to build a career in film.

"I think there a lot of young people who come through and think 'I'm gonna be a director', but it is just endless, endless hard work and you have to just love it and be furiously curious, because there are so many setbacks and there is a lot of rejection."

David Lolofakangalo Rounds in The World In Your Window.

David Lolofakangalo Rounds in The World In Your Window. Photo: Supplied

Ms Mcintosh said she was still developing a couple of feature ideas.

She said the best way to build a career was to just "get out there and get stuck in". She said The Deadly Ponies Gang was made under this philosophy, and was made without seeking any development funding.

"It might not be the slickest beast, but I think there is heart to it."

Tech breakthroughs

Mcintosh said the technological advances of the past few decades had both advantages and disadvantages for making films in New Zealand.

She said the ongoing rise of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon were already creating great new opportunities for film makers to get their stories out there, but also made it more difficult to get films into cinemas.

"Film festivals are good and great, but it's bloody hard to go see your film in a cinema and pay good money for it these days because there is just an abundance of great stuff on your computer that you can watch at home."

Joe Folau in 'The World In Your Window'

Joe Folau in 'The World In Your Window' Photo: Supplied

The widespread use of digital cameras - with some feature films now being shot on smartphones - was also an exciting development, and she saw this by talking to kids at school and some tutoring work.

"These kids can pick up incredible cameras and make a great film without any budget. But I always tell them they've still got to learn the craft of storytelling.

"They need to get that story stuff nailed because that's really what defines the good ones and the bad ones. There are a lot of pretty pictures out there, but to make a good film is hard."

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