This collection showcases Aotearoa Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender screen production. The journey to Shortland Street civil unions, rainbows in Parliament and the Big Gay Out is one of pride, but also one of secrets, shame and discrimination. As Peter Wells writes in his introduction, the titles are testament to a — joyful, defiant — struggle to "fight to exist".
This stylishly high camp melodrama from directors Stewart Main and Peter Wells won acclaim, after debuting at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival. In the imaginary 19th-century town of Hope, draper Dorothea Brooks (Jennifer Ward-Lealand) is desperate to save her sister from the clutches of opium, sex and the dastardly Fraser. She begs hunky migrant Lawrence Hayes to help; but complications ensue. Inspired partly by 1930s and 40s Hollywood melodramas, Desperate Remedies was sumptously shot by Leon Narbey (Whale Rider). Richard King writes about the film here.
On Valentine's Day 2006 Shortland Street featured its first civil union, between lesbians Jay Copeland (Jaime Passier-Armstong) and Maia Jeffries (Anna Jullienne). The ceremony was aptly flush with pink decor and took place in Parnell’s Rose Gardens. Alas it was picketed by Serenity Church protestors and the union later ended — after Jay had an affair … with a man! In 1994 Shortland Street had earlier broken mainstream ground for the LGBT community with a lesbian kiss, between Dr Meredith Fleming (Stephanie Wilkin) and nurse Annie Flynn (Rebecca Hobbs).
"I mean to say, shouldn't I be in love with a fella or something?" Mandy, a man who dresses as a woman, talks about his relationship with Jewel (Georgina Beyer), a transsexual. Jewel's Darl concentrates on the fine details of their relationship: tea and biscuits in bed, Jewel's belief in staying strong against other people's mockery, plus Mandy's memories of a troubled childhood and the day their romance began. The acclaimed drama was inspired by Anne Kennedy's first published short story, winner of the 1983 Katherine Mansfield Award.
Marching girls and boys, Camp Mother and Camp Leader and synchronised lawnmowers dance down Auckland’s Ponsonby Road in a celebration of gay pride. The theme of this edition of the (nearly) annual 90s street parade was Age of Aquarius, fitting given the heavy rain. The parade went ahead thanks to sponsorship from Metro magazine, after controversy when the City Promotions Committee declined the request for funding. The parade attracted 70 floats, and up to 200,000 spectators. Among those watching are Julian Clary and Shona Laing, who is one of the judges.
Luscious fruit, truckies, and Lucy Lawless feature in this Christine Parker short. Sal (Tania Simon) is gifted a peach and meets a saucy tow truck driver (Lawless) en route home to her toddler, and domestics with boyfriend Mog (Joel Tobeck). Mog’s truckie mates arrive for beers, including the nameless driver, whose presence (and peach-eating advice) stirs up desire. “Watch it rot, or taste it when it’s ripe.” A roster of leading NZ film talent worked with Parker on the film, and Lawless' turn hints at the cross-sexual appeal of her breakthrough role on Xena - Warrior Princess.
Part concept film, part biopic, part historical record and part comedy, Leanne Pooley’s documentary was made to mark the Topp Twins' 50th birthday. New Zealand's favourite comedic, country singing, dancing and yodeling lesbian twin sisters tell their personal story: from their 'coming out' to Jools' brush with breast cancer. The film features archive material, home movies and interviews with the Topps' alter egos. Alongside local box office success and dozens of international awards, Girls won the People’s Choice award for favourite documentary at the 2009 Toronto Film Festival.
Peter Wells and Stewart Main’s acclaimed drama screened in primetime and was ground-breaking in featuring AIDS. Wells' script is based on the death of one of his friends — one of the first New Zealanders to die from the disease — but the living are the focus, as Wells creates an intimate “strange and foreign land” occupied by those close to someone who is dying. Andy’s friends confront both their own mortality and the deadly new disease stalking their community, while his conservative family grapples with never having come to terms with his sexuality. The excerpt features the opening 10 minutes.
Georgina Beyer was the first transgendered person in the world to be elected to national office. This internationally lauded documentary, by Annie Goldson and Peter Wells, tells the story of Beyer's extraordinary and inspiring journey from sex worker to Member of Parliament for rural Wairarapa and handshakes with the Queen. Born George Bertrand, Georgina grew up on a Taranaki farm, before spreading her wings on the Auckland cabaret circuit. Subsequent events led her to the town of Carterton, where she became involved in local body, and then national, politics.
Queer Nation was a factual series made by, for and about lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) New Zealanders. Produced by Livingstone Productions with John A Givins at the helm, it screened on TVNZ for 11 seasons over nine years from 1996 till 2004 and was the world's longest running free-to-air TV programme made for the LGBT community. Long-serving presenters included original host (and future NZ On Screen ScreenTalk director) Andrew Whiteside, Libby Magee and Nettie Kinmott. Queer Nation won Best Factual Series at the NZ Television Awards 2003.
In more repressed times, Carmen was one of NZ's most colourful and controversial figures. Geoff Steven's doco traces the life story of the transgender icon who was born Trevor Rupe in Taumarunui in 1936 and went on to be a dancer, sex worker, madam, cafe owner — and one of the few non-MPs to appear before the Privileges Committee. Steven shines a light on a bygone era of gay culture but avoids the temptation to focus on the seedy — opting, instead, for extended fantasy sequences (featuring Neil Gudsell aka Mika) to illustrate key moments in Carmen's life.
They came, they battered, they bickered. Peter Hudson and David Halls were as famous for their on-screen spats as they were for their recipes. The couple ("are we gay - well we're certainly merry") turned cooking into comedy. Their self-titled show ran for a decade on New Zealand TV and it attracted a cult following when they moved the show to the UK. The duo won Entertainer of the Year at the 1981 Feltex Awards. Microwaves, little roasted nuts and great dollops of innuendo: the sometimes fusty genre of TV culinary demonstration would never be the same.
Lew Pryme's life was a wild ride that took in everything from rock and roll to rugby before it was cut short by AIDS in 1990 (he was 51). This moving documentary interviews an ailing Pryme reflecting on his journey and (still secret) sexuality; it follows him from Waitara to becoming one of the most popular hip-swinging music stars of the 60s. He went on to manage singers Mark Williams, Rob Guest and Tina Cross; and in the early 80s he became the first executive director of Auckland Rugby Union, introducing cheerleaders and 'pizazz' to Eden Park.
City Life screened from 1996 to 1998 and made a direct appeal to New Zealand's Gen X apartment-dwelling demographic. Following the lives of a tight-knit group of friends, and featuring racy shots of Auckland's K-Road and nightlife set to contemporary NZ pop music, City Life was NZ's answer to Melrose Place. In this excerpt from the first episode, the friends are thrown into conflict when one of their own (played by Kevin Smith) decides to marry outside the circle. Complications ensue when Smith shares a brief, but notorious, screen kiss with Charles Mesure.
When Love Comes features Rena Owen as a once were famous singing star who returns to NZ, in need of reinvention. Staying with a close gay friend (Simon Prast), she is reenergised after meeting a wastral songwriter (Dean O'Gorman) and two loved up young musos (Sophia Hawthorne and Nancy Brunning, the former in her big screen debut). Invited to a slew of North American festivals — including Sundance and Toronto — Garth Maxwell's sun and song-lashed tale won stateside praise for its "energetic direction" (The Hollywood Reporter) and impassioned performances.
Takatāpui was the world's first indigenous gay, lesbian and transgender series. Produced by Front of the Box Productions and screening on Māori Television for six series, the show was magazine-styled with a Māori queer focus (it was replaced by the Wero series). It was light entertainment but not afraid to delve into some hard-hitting issues affecting the takatāpui communities all over New Zealand. Presenters included transgender singer Ramon Te Wake, Taurewa Biddle (with his distinctive moko) and Tania Simon.
Tala Pasifika was a pioneering Pacific Island drama series; this award-winning episode is one of six films that screened on TV One in 1996. 'Talk of the Town' is an entertaining short drama about Cindy (Henry Ah-Foo Taripo), a fa'afafine who has grown up to become a cabaret performer. She breaks the fourth wall from her dressing room to tell her story, which begins in her youth when her father (Alvin Fitisemanu) is impressed by her culinary skills and assigns her to the role of family cook.
"I do hope your pimples don't let you down on the big night." 14-year old Steve is caught between creatures he does not fully understand: two parents with very different ideas about the suit he should wear to his first school dance. Meanwhile everywhere he seems to look, images of men are taking control of his imagination. In Stewart Main's comical coming of age story Steve escapes his parents' good wishes, to discover his true desires. They aren't quite what his no-nonsense father had in mind.
This TV documentary sees director Peter Wells look at his life “through pansy-tinted glasses”. Motivated by the anniversary of his brother’s 1989 death (from AIDS) Wells’ film charts his path to becoming a pioneering gay filmmaker and writer: including growing up in conservative Port Chevalier in the 50s and 60s, bathos, baking, and deciding to come out when he was drafted to fight in Vietnam. As befits an artist whose credits include Desperate Remedies, the treatment is distinctive: a mix of doco, (aptly) flowery home movie, and quiet reflection.
Set in Central Otago in the drought-parched summer of 1975, gay-themed feature film 50 Ways of Saying Fabulous follows a chubby 12-year-old named Billy (Andrew Paterson) as he embarks on a challenging journey of sexual discovery. Adapting Graeme Aitken's novel, writer/director Stewart Main (Desperate Remedies) depicts a boy escaping into fantasy from the drudgery of farming duties — and learning about himself, his sexuality, and dealing with change. 50 Ways won a Special Jury Award at Italy's Turin International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in 2005.
Richard Turner made Squeeze to break the "conspiracy of silence" about homosexuality. A pioneering early portrait of Auckland's LGBT scene, Squeeze centres on the relationship between a young man (Paul Eady) and the confident executive (Robert Shannon) who romances him, then mentions he has a fiancée. The film was discussed in Parliament after Patricia Bartlett campaigned against the possibility it might get NZ Film Commission funding (it didn't). Kevin Thomas in The LA Times praised Squeeze's integrity and the "steadfast compassion with which it views its hero".
Astronomy-obsessed worrier Richard meets part-Italian Johnny, a man whose idea of a holiday involves breaking into the nearest bach. Pitched at gay and straight alike, the pair's lighthearted but occasionally troubled romance featured extensive footage of central Auckland circa 1988 (courtesy of director Garth Maxwell’s own central Queen Street digs), plus images of space — for Richard a place of both beauty and potential disaster. Beyond Gravity won local theatrical screenings, and a scriptwriting award in France. This excerpt features the opening 10 minutes of the 48 minute film.
Australian diva Kylie Minogue is in New Zealand to promote her 1997 Impossible Princess album in this interview for the Queer Nation TV series. Filmed in an Auckland hotel room, Libby Magee asks the pint-sized gay icon why ‘the boys’ love her and whether she’s ever kissed a girl. Kylie talks about Royal Albert Hall collaborations with Nick Cave and Elton John, what it’s like to snog Jason Donovan, and needing to wear heels while performing at Sydney’s Mardi Gras: “Most of the Kylies here are about seven feet tall!”. Kylie finishes by coming out of the closet.
Crush is a tale of simmering sexuality set in Rotorua. Moral or sexual ambiguity pervades the narrative of conflicted desire. Its mix of blocked-up writer, spurting mud-pools, infatuated teen, eel farm, American femme fatale (Marcia Gay Harden), noir motels, limp pongas and wheelchairs, plays out in a symbolic NZ landscape not seen before (or since). Director Alison Maclean's debut feature (which she co-wrote with Anne Kennedy) played in competition at the Cannes Film Festival.
One of Them! was one of two dramas (alongside Niki Caro movie Memory and Desire) inspired by short stories collected in Peter Wells' 1991 book Dangerous Desires. It was made for TV One as a Montana Sunday drama. Set in Auckland, 1965, One of Them! follows Lemmy and Jamie, two teenage boys coming to terms with their sexuality. In the dark days before gay liberation, bullying and intimidation was rife, and while the boys flaunt their sissyness, their internalised homophobia wreaks havoc on their emotional lives — until they can admit to being "one of them".
After success with short films (This is Her, Redemption) director Katie Wolfe made the transition to longer length story-telling with this 2010 drama. With This is Her writer Kate McDermott she adapted the Witi Ihimaera novel about a 40-something man confronting his double life, and the impact that his coming out as gay has on his wife, kids, and whānau. A key change was turning the book’s Pākehā protagonist to a successful Māori businessman (Calvin Tuteao). It screened on TV One on 23 January 2010 and at festivals internationally (where it was entitled Kawa).
Haunting Douglas is a documentary portrait of dancer and choreographer Douglas Wright. It weaves interviews with footage of past theatrical performances and extracts from his autobiography; from drug addiction and illness, to determination and triumph on the New York stage with the Paul Taylor Dance Company. Leanne Pooley's documentary captures Wright's resilience: "I need to make things to feel that I can cope with whatever reality is. For me, dancing, performing for people, is the ultimate mystery and the ultimate joy." Wright passed away in November 2018.
This documentary traces the life of intersex activist Mani Mitchell. 'Intersexual' is a term to describe a person with atypical combinations of the biological features that usually distinguish males from females. Mitchell's harrowing but ultimately inspiring story is told via candid and articulate interviews, as Mitchell talks about being made a "hospital freak show tour" by doctors, and growing up secretly 'middlesex'. The Dominion Post's Jane Bowron called Mani's Story "one of the great survivor stories". It won the 2004 Qantas Media Award for Best Documentary.
In Boy, a college-aged rent boy exposes the truth about the death of a girl in a hit and run accident. Using typography that hovers on screen in place of dialogue, flares of bold colour, dioramic frames, and brutal portraiture reminiscent of Dianne Arbus, director Welby Ings creates a powerful, exquisite perspective on the silent claustrophobia and sexual violence of small town New Zealand. The film gained acclaim both at home and internationally. Accolades included Best Short Film at Cinequest in the United States.
In this short Peter Wells makes a personal "Postcard from New Zealand" for a series for Channel Four (UK). Looking for a "Kiwi Greek god" to showcase their "Gay Lynn" garden they enlist Richard, 3rd place getter in Mr Gay Auckland. While posing Richard tells them about his costume for the Sydney Mardi Gras. "Skirt in the shape of Rangitoto, a hat like Auckland's Harbour Bridge: Dame Edna would've loved it". Richard models the costume which also features budgie smugglers with 'NZ' sequined into them, a Southern Cross singlet, and ugg-glove sheep puppets.
Arts magazine series For Arts Sake screened on TV ONE for two hours on Sunday mornings for 22 weeks in 1996. This segment on dancer and choreographer Michael Parmenter features an in-depth interview with Parmenter (by series presenter Alison Parr) and excerpts from his dance works. Parmenter talks about his creative influences, his tough upbringing in conservative Invercargill, the tensions caused by being gay and in the Brethren Church when he was younger, and the impact of his illnesses (HIV and cancer) on his life and dance career.
Is it a boy? Is it a girl? What if it’s neither? This award-winning documentary explores the world of the intersexed (formerly known as hermaphrodites) — those born with any one of 30 conditions that make their gender ambiguous. Presenter Mani Bruce Mitchell — New Zealand’s first ‘out’ intersex person — and director Grant Lahood had to travel overseas to find interviewees who would talk freely. They discuss living in a society with a binary view of gender which, at best, has made them all but invisible; and, at worst, has subjected many to damaging “corrective” surgery.
On 1 July 2001, John Scott and his partner Greg Scrivener were killed in their home in Suva. John, from an old European-Fiji family was the Director-General of the Fiji Red Cross and worked as a go-between in the hostage crisis during the 2000 coup. The documentary traces the colourful story of the Scott family, the political crises that have marked Fiji's recent history, the killings and their aftermath, and the complex mix of tribal authority and democracy. It won best documentary and camera gongs at 2008 Qantas Film and Television Awards.
Mystery and menace abound in this debut film from Alison Maclean (Crush, The Rehearsal). Made when Maclean was an Elam art student, the experimental short plays with gender and racial stereotypes by constantly thwarting narrative expectations. What there is of a plot consists of a woman emerging from the sea and a 'centrepiece' pursuit leading to a confrontation between two characters: a man and a woman. Scripted, shot and edited by Maclean, it marked the beginning of a fertile collaboration between Maclean and producer Bridget Ikin.
Filmmaker Stewart Main traverses India seeking enlightenment. There he meets ex-pat Kiwis who seem to have found it, which only leaves him feeling trapped in a life of the senses. Especially when he falls for his Indian sound recordist, Sreenu. Or so he would have us think. Made for TVNZ's Work of Art documentary slot, Main's startling, provocative film explores the cracks between the divine and the sensual, documentary and fiction. Director Andrew Bancroft writes about the result in this backgrounder.
In the 1970s, New Zealand artist Allie Eagle identified herself as a lesbian separatist and radical feminist. Her often uncompromising work included pro-abortion painting This Woman Died I Care, which was inspired by a photograph of a woman who died from an illegal abortion. In the 1980s, Eagle became a christian. Made in 2004, Briar March's first, feature-length documentary sees Eagle reflecting on her past with a more moderate outlook — she now has mixed feelings about her earlier stance on abortion.