28 May 2014

Loading Docs: Living like Kings

7:34 am on 28 May 2014

Loading Docs is a launching pad for New Zealand short documentaries which has just released 10 new films. We’ll be featuring each of the films and profiling the directors behind them.


Cowboy is a homeless man who, since the Christchurch earthquakes in 2011, has been living in abandoned homes across the city, eating abandoned food and drinking abandoned wine.

Filmmaker Zoe McIntosh heard about people like Cowboy finding opportunities among the devastation and knew she wanted to make a film about it. “I love that kind of rags to riches story,” she says.

When McIntosh returned to Christchurch to investigate, she started hanging out at the City Mission, hoping to meet homeless people who were making the best of a bad situation, living among the rubble instead of on the streets. She soon met Cowboy, who boasted he was “living like a king”. McIntosh and her cameraman started hanging out with Cowboy and his friends, sharing drinks and conversation, spending time gaining their trust before they even shot a frame. “It was a lot of hanging out, drinking beer,” McIntosh says. “They all eat from skips, so there was a lot of bonding eating from skip bins.”

It’s a tricky film because on one level it’s a gorgeous, tiny celebration. There’s a good moment of reversals. But the flipside is, they are occupying people’s loved homes.

Not just interested in the sensationalism of homeless people finding shelter in others’ misfortune, she was interested in how radical events like the earthquakes change things at all levels of society. One of the subjects of the film told McIntosh that after the earthquakes, the rules changed. “Suddenly I can walk into bars with bare feet,” he told her. “I can ride my horse down the road”. Another man told McIntosh, “It’s like f@#king Christmas to us. Suddenly we’re getting to taste your world and we’re f@#king loving it.”

McIntosh admired the resilience of the homeless people she met in Christchurch. “They live in the moment and they make the most of those opportunities,” she says. But McIntosh is all too aware that depicting people benefitting from the misfortune of others is problematic. “It’s a tricky film because on one level it’s a gorgeous, tiny celebration. There’s a good moment of reversals. But the flipside is, they are occupying people’s loved homes,” she says. “It’s deeply devastating for a lot of people.”

McIntosh started making films while studying Fine Arts at Ilam. When writing a script, she started researching a character by talking to a local prostitute who took her into the underground of the city. McIntosh decided to make a documentary about this woman, a prostitute who was married and had a child to her pimp. “All my previous ideas about sex and marriage were challenged and I thought that was a cool feeling,” she said. “I’m a curious person and it’s a good way to get into worlds but also just totally flip your perspective and understanding of things.”

She’s received critical acclaim for a number of her previous films. Her feature-length documentary Lost in Wonderland, about eccentric lawyer Rob Moodie, won Best Popular Documentary at the Qantas Film and Television Awards 2010; her short-film Day Trip, about a gang member who took a day off, won the People’s Choice Award at Montreal International film festival 2011; and her television advertisement for YWCA won Best Non-European at the Cannes Lions advertising awards 2013.

Her latest feature, The Dead Ponies Gang (currently in 30 cinemas around New Zealand) is the semi-fictional story of Clint and Dwayne, two best friends in rural West Auckland, trying to raise money to buy Dwayne a new set of teeth. “The core guts of the film is definitely all true, but there are embellishments,” says McIntosh.  “It’s a cliche, but reality is so much stranger than fiction. And I love throwing myself into that. Gleaming ideas and combining drama and fiction. I think it’s an interesting space to be in.”

This content is brought to you with funding support from New Zealand on Air.