Michele Fantl has been producing acclaimed documentaries, telemovies and features since the 1990s, often through her production company MF Films. Along the way she has worked extensively with writer/directors Stewart Main (50 Ways of Saying Fabulous), Garth Maxwell (When Love Comes) and Fiona Samuel (Bliss).
The weather has been the worst on record since the 1930s. Our story has a drought subplot but the scenery is currently green and bucolic ... Michele Fantl from the set of film 50 Ways of Saying Fabulous, Onfilm, March 2004
Movie Vermilion follows composer Darcy (Jennifer Ward-Lealand) over a summer month, as her daughter prepares to marry. Darcy sees colours when she plays musical notes, but after seeing the colour vermilion she is prompted to secretly make her own plans. The exploration of motherhood, family and female friendship marks the feature debut of director Dorthe Scheffmann (Cannes-selected 1995 short film The Beach). The ensemble cast includes Theresa Healey, Goretti Chadwick (Game of Bros), and newcomer Emily Campbell. The production team were 85 per cent female.
Bliss is a portrait of the artist as a young woman. The award-winning telemovie follows Katherine Mansfield from boredom in Edwardian Wellington to liberation and love affairs in London, where she dares to dream of being a writer. Kate Elliott plays Mansfield as a spirited 19-year-old, hungry for experience. Bliss screened to acclaim in TV One's Sunday Theatre slot in August 2011. Listener reviewer Fiona Rae praised director Fiona Samuel's "excellent" script, and for allowing "her Mansfield to be witty, passionate and outspoken without belabouring the status of women in 1908".
Qantas-nominated 'dramedy' Rude Awakenings revolved around the conflict between two neighbouring families, living in the Auckland suburb of Ponsonby. Rush family matriarch Dimity (Danielle Cormack) has her eyes on climbing the property ladder, by acquiring the house next door (occupied by solo Dad Arthur and his teenage daughters). Created by Garth Maxwell (movie Jack Be Nimble), the 2007 series was produced by Michele Fantl for TV One. The Listener’s Diana Wichtel welcomed it as a rare contemporary satire on New Zealand television, but it only ran for a single season.
This Kiwi neighbours at war ‘dramedy’ pitted the Rush family — newly arrived in Ponsonby —against the Shorts, who are long-time renters next door. Arthur Short (Patrick Wilson) is a Kiwi battler solo Dad, with two teenage daughters; Dimity Rush (Danielle Cormack) the right wing HR manager whose partner is an anaesthetist, with two teen sons. In this first episode, Dimity aspires to climb the property ladder by scheming to get the Shorts’ house as an investment doer-upper. The satire of gentrification screened on TV One on Friday nights. The cast includes Rose McIvor (iZombie).
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.
This 2003 documentary follows seven weeks of a theatre-for-change course for troubled teens. As part of acclaimed programme Te Rākau Hua O Te Wao Tapu, 30 teens from South Auckland's Northern Residential Centre are guided by director Jim Moriarty to create songs and plays based on their own stories. The process, from performing haka to confronting their demons and each other, proves challenging. Some don't make it to the opening night, performing in front of family and the public. Stewart Main's documentary screened as part of TV3's Inside New Zealand.
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: from growing up fascinated by colour and the glamour of royalty in conservative Port Chevalier in the 1950s, to 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 mixture of documentary, (aptly) flowery home movie, and quiet reflection.
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.
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.
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".