Stewart Main is a director noted for his strong sense of visual style, and commitment to themes of individuality and sexuality. Alongside his own projects (including 2005 feature 50 Ways of Saying Fabulous), a fruitful partnership with Peter Wells has produced several noted dramatic and documentary films, including colonial-set bodice-ripper Desperate Remedies.
Making films has taught me that truth comes in all shapes and sizes. Stewart Main
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 the acclaimed Te Rākau Hua O Te Wao Tapu programme, 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 the opening night, performing in front of family and the public. Directed by Stewart Main, the documentary screened as part of TV3's Inside New Zealand.
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.
Director Stewart Main talked to artist Pat Hanly about life as painter and activist for 1998 documentary Pacific Ikon, from which this excerpt is taken. Interviewed at his Mt Eden home, Hanly discusses his painting career and inspirations — both political and personal. Also interviewed are his wife Gil, who supported him personally and financially, and children Ben, Tamsin and Amber. Like his work, Hanly is ebullient, energetic and articulate, At one point he says: "We are awaiting death with interested anticipation. Some of my best friends are dead." Hanley died in September 2004.
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".
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.
This impressionistic 1989 short film, directed by Mark Summerville, imagines gay tribal life on a fantasy South Pacific Island. Shot by Mairi Gunn, the film ripples with watery blues; a stormy Maggie Rankin soundtrack and whispered narration (from Ivan Davis) backgrounds images of marine sirens, coral crowns, apples, tapa, and entwined seaweed. In the middle of it all — a game of underwater hockey... The short film crossed the seas to gay film festivals in San Francisco, Vancouver and Hamburg, and toured with a British Film Institute selection of shorts.
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.
The Mighty Civic offered a delirious and colourful celebration of Auckland's grandest old movie palace, made at a time when the building's future was under threat. The film uses a mixture of stylised sequences, archive footage, personal memories and poetic narration to evoke the spirit of the theatre in its heyday. Director Peter Wells' film galvanised public support, and ultimately the building was saved and refurbished, to remain the crown jewel of Queen Street's cinema district. This clip features the first 10 minutes of the hour long film. Costa Botes writes about the film here.
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.
"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.
"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.
Kingpin was the second of a trilogy of films from Mike Walker about troubled New Zealand youth (the others were Kingi's Story and TV movie Mark II) Filmed at, and inspired by residents of Kohitere Boys Training Centre in Levin, the bros-in-borstal tale follows a group of teens who are wards of the state. Kingpin focuses on the bond between Riki (Mitchell Manuel) and Willie (Fafua 'Junior' Amiga), who along with the other kids are terrorised by Karl (Nicholas Rogers), the Kingpin of the title. It was directed by Walker, who co-wrote the script with Manuel.
Just after midnight on November 18, 1982, Neil Roberts, a 22-year old anarchist, exploded a bag of gelignite outside the Whanganui police computer centre, killing himself instantly. In this short film, director William Keddell uses a fictional character — Eric, a young man awoken in bed at the exact moment of detonation — to take a psychological road-trip exploring the events leading up to what is arguably NZ’s most famous case of homegrown political terrorism. Real-life friends and associates of Roberts make cameo appearances in supporting roles.
Pre-dating Peter Jackson's arrival (Bad Taste) by three years, New Zealand's first horror movie sees Michael Hurst making his movie debut as he fights mutants (including Bruno Lawrence) on Waiheke Island. Hurst's character is out to avenge the mad scientist who forced him to kill his parents. A grand prize-winner at a French fantasy festival (with cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky on the jury), David Blyth's splatterfest marked the first of many horrors funded by the NZ Film Commission. It was also the first local showcase of the smoothly-flowing Steadicam camera.
Toss is an 11-year old girl living on a remote hill country farm. While out with her father herding sheep, he falls and is killed. Ethan, a bearded stranger appears, carrying his body, and plants himself on the farm. Toss fears he’s Lucifer and is confused when he and her mother become lovers. It is through Ethan, however, that Toss comes to terms with her father’s death and the first stirrings of womanhood. Vincent Ward’s debut feature was the first NZ film selected for competition at Cannes; LA Times’ critic Kevin Thomas lauded it as “a work of awesome beauty”.
Constance centres on a young woman who attempts to escape the staid world of 40s Auckland, by embracing glamour and passion. After meeting a photographer, her aspirations of stardom are brutally fractured. Directed by Bruce Morrison, the movie echoes the style of Hollywood melodrama, while simultaneously critiquing the dream. Donogh Rees was widely praised in the title role as a protagonist who lives in a fantasy world, with one review describing her as “New Zealand’s answer to Meryl Streep”. New York's Time Out called the film "lush and exhilarating".
Smash Palace is a Kiwi cinema classic and launched Roger Donaldson's American career. Al Shaw (a brilliant, brooding Bruno Lawrence) is a racing car driver who now runs a wrecker's yard in the shadow of Mount Ruapehu. His French wife Jacqui is unhappy there and leaves him, taking up with Al's best mate. When she restricts Al's access to his young daughter, his frustration explodes and he goes bush with the girl, desperate not to lose her too. "There's no road back" runs the tagline. New Yorker critic Pauline Kael called the film "amazingly accomplished".
Three friends cruise inner-city Auckland in a 1946 Ford pickup, as they cope with the changing dynamic of their friendship and encroaching demands of the adult world. In the tradition of American Graffiti it captures the hope promised by a night on the town and a reality that struggles to meet expectations — punctuated by hoons, officious cops and dodgy tow truck operators. Queen Street is a fascinating look at Kiwi car and street culture in the pre-boyracer era, and a snapshot of a downtown that has changed markedly since 1981 when the film screened on TV.
Smith (Sam Neill, in his breakthrough screen role) is devastated when his wife runs off with his best friend Bullen (Ian Mune). Smith escapes to the Coromandel. Meanwhile, the government enlists an anti-terrorist force to crack down on its opponents. Bullen, now a guerrilla, asks Smith to join the revolution. Directed by Roger Donaldson, this adaptation of CK Stead's novel Smith's Dream heralded a new wave of Kiwi cinema; it was one of the only local films of the 1970s to win a big local audience. This excerpt includes a much talked about scene: a baton charge by government forces.