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Thursday 27 April 2017


NZ Film Fest preview: Tits on a Bull

Posted in: Movies
By Jacqui Stanford - 22nd June 2015

A short film depicting the relationship between the star player and her captain in a provincial Māori women’s rugby team has been selected for the New Zealand’s Best Selection screenings at the NZ International Film Festival.

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Nineteen year-old star first-five Phoenix, played by Ngawaea Taia, has a blooming romance with the team’s captain Mel (Maria Walker).

That doesn’t go down well with Rusty, the team’s 60-something coach (played by Roy Billing), who is longtime rugby mates with Phoenix and drives her to and from practice.

The film was shot in and around Rotorua and its local writer and director Tim Worrall tells GayNZ.com the players’ story was inspired by a friend who went through something similar, while the Rusty character is based on his own uncle.

“I just wanted to make a kick-ass rugby film, that felt real and felt ‘rugby’, but had a different kind of heart to it.”

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Filmmaker Tim Worrall says he just wanted to make "a kick-ass rugby film".
Worrall says Mel and Phoenix’s first connection and commitment to each other is through rugby. “It’s kind of the buzz of playing together and finding another player who can operate at the same level. That’s the kind of ‘first and foremost’ and then anything beyond that, their relationship becoming more than that or physical, or romantic, or whatever, extends from the sheer passion of playing sports together and finding an equal – that really tight bond on the field.”

While we at GayNZ.com tend to highlight these things, Worrall says a ‘hoo-ha’ isn’t made of the relationship in the flick. “It’s not headlined. It’s just part of the way women’s rugby is for us here in the Bay. It’s just an accepted part of it - it’s not the be all and end all.”

The filmmaker hopes he’s nailed an authentic, Kiwi, heartland kind of story. “Certainly the rugby women who I know, and have seen the film, including the ones who were the team in the film, really responded to it and really like it – and relate to it. That’s the kind of feedback I’ve had, that it feels real.”

He says it will be interesting to see how lesbian audiences respond to the coach Rusty, who uses quite derogatory and almost bigoted language when he clashes with his captain. “But for me that character is not a bigot, as such, it’s really a way of him expressing his protectiveness for Phoenix … but he’s fighting a losing battle. He’s like an old mother hen as much as anything.”

That’s one place the film’s name, Tits on a Bull, comes from – it’s about gender and role reversal. “At one level the bull is Phoenix … but another level this old mother hen character, this male Pakeha coach, is actually at heart a nurturing almost matriarchal character.”

Roy Billing, who plays Rusty, is no stranger to New Zealand and Australian audiences, after appearing on shows like Packed to the Rafters, Blue Heelers, Underbelly and Agent Anna.

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Maria Walker plays team captain Mel
Maria Walker, who is the team captain Mel, may also be familiar from her roles in Top of the Lake, Harry and The Dead Lands. She was suggested by a casting agent, who knew she was perfect. “I couldn’t have been happier with the way she committed to the role and the way that she carried it off with a real physicality – but also a sassiness and a strength and a beauty as well. There was no just playing to certain stereotypes.”

Ngawaea Taia, on the other hand, was plucked straight out of a Rotorua weekly touch rugby competition where she was spotted by Worrall – who plays in a team with his own kids. He’d done a number of screen tests with young actresses, and none were quite right.

“I started to keep an eye out on the fields and spotted this young woman who was obviously a great touch player, and looked exciting and thrilling in the way that she played. Then I noticed she was bossing the older men in her team around as well, and was also quick to smile.”

Ultimately he asked her if she wanted to be in the film, and says she was perfect – and had the rugby skills to boot. “I love what Ngawaea has achieved as a young woman from down here with no experience in that world, and not being afraid of it. It’s really cool.”

Worrall is of Ngai Tuhoe/Te Arawa descent and makes it clear he is passionate about making productions locally. There is no shortage of film and TV professionals locally and they have come together as a collective – another of the shorts selected for the New Zealand International Film Festival’s New Zealand’s Best Selection is from that group.

“We’ve got a great supportive community down here. That’s the beauty of being in a small provincial city too, is that businesses and trusts will jump on board and help out, so we’re really fortunate.”

Tits on a Bull will be showcased in the New Zealand’s Best selection at the NZIFF, among six shorts which were selected from 75 submissions. The overall winner will take out a $5,000 prize. The audience will also get to have its say in an audience award where the winning short will get 25 per cent of the box office take.

Worrall says being selected is a real buzz. He wanted the film to reach an initial core audience of those involved in women’s rugby, and rural Māori rugby communities. “But beyond that, to get it into an A-list international film festival was great,” he says of its premiere in Finland. “Then to make the New Zealand International Film Festival, it’s been thrilling.”

He’d like people to go away from the film feeling moved. “That would be great. If they go away with a sense of aroha for uncelebrated heroes, what I see the older coach character as, that would be cool. And if they’ve got a bit of insight into women’s rugby and Māori women’s rugby, then that’s awesome as well.

The NZIFF will have another great lgbti-interest line-up this year. We’ll have details soon!


Jacqui Stanford - 22nd June 2015

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