The Coming-of-Age Collection

Coming of Age as a Country  

Kia Ora tātou te whānau! Ko Thomasin McKenzie a hau.

I am a New Zealand-born actor, I am 18 years old and right now I am staying in New York City, shooting a film here. It is called Lost Girls and it is unusual for me because it is not a coming-of-age story! Until now most of the work I have done has been in the coming-of-age genre, I guess because I have been growing up myself.

New Zealand is so good at making unique coming-of-age dramas on television and film (and the internet too! — I'm proud to have acted in Bright Summer Night, The Candle Wasters’ web series based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream.) 

New Zealand was one of the last places on earth to be peopled. And our filmmaking storytelling culture is pretty young, so maybe that means that we are still coming of age as a country. 

Growing up, of course I saw Whale Rider and Alex, two of my favourite films in this genre, with inspirational lead roles played by Keisha Castle-Hughes and Lauren Jackson. Amanda Alison, the creator of web series Lucy Lewis Can't Lose, gave me a copy of the book Alex by Tessa Duder as we finished the shoot. I read it voraciously, as well as the other three books in the quartet. Alex’s struggle between staying at home and adventuring overseas to follow her passion really chimed with me, and helped me to crystallise my own ambitions.

I have not seen The God Boy, the oldest title in this coming-of-age collection, although my mum is in it as one of the schoolchildren. And now that I have seen this list from NZ On Screen, there are films I want to see, homegrown stories and films which will inspire me like The Scarecrow directed by Sam Pillsbury.

What do all these films have in common? They are all drawn from classic New Zealand novels — by Witi Ihimaera, Tessa Duder, Ian Cross and Ronald Hugh Morrieson. A coming-of-age film I am proud to have been in is The Changeover, from the classic book by Margaret Mahy. The film is co-directed by my parents and features another inspiring central performance from my friend, newcomer teen actor Erana James.

But other than book adaptations, I feel proud that these New Zealand films have made a splash in other ways. Back in 2005 Kiwi filmmaker Stewart Main directed 50 Ways of Saying Fabulous, a coming-of-age film celebrating diverse sexuality. And Taika Waititi’s Boy and Hunt for the Wilderpeople launched the careers of James Rolleston and Julian Dennison, by telling stories from our home place, making no concessions in language or location. That would have been unimaginable in 1976 when Jamie Higgins starred in The God Boy

It is thanks to NZ On Screen that I can even go back in time and watch these gems of our screen history. Happy 10th birthday NZ On Screen!

Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie has acted in movie Leave No Trace, TV's Shortland Street and web series Lucy Lewis Can't Lose and Bright Summer Night