A short film depicting the relationship between the star player and her captain in a provincial MÄori womenâs rugby team has been selected for the New Zealandâs Best Selection screenings at the NZ International Film Festival.
Nineteen year-old star first-five Phoenix, played by Ngawaea Taia, has a blooming romance with the teamâs captain Mel (Maria Walker).
That doesnât go down well with Rusty, the teamâs 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 playersâ story was inspired by a friend who went through something similar, while the Rusty character is based on his own uncle.
âI just wanted to make a kick-ass rugby film, that felt real and felt ârugbyâ, but had a different kind of heart to it.â
While we at GayNZ.com tend to highlight these things, Worrall says a âhoo-haâ isnât made of the relationship in the flick. âItâs not headlined. Itâs just part of the way womenâs rugby is for us here in the Bay. Itâs just an accepted part of it - itâs not the be all and end all.â
The filmmaker hopes heâs nailed an authentic, Kiwi, heartland kind of story. âCertainly 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 â and relate to it. Thatâs the kind of feedback Iâve had, that it feels real.â
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. âBut for me that character is not a bigot, as such, itâs really a way of him expressing his protectiveness for Phoenix âŚ but heâs fighting a losing battle. Heâs like an old mother hen as much as anything.â
Thatâs one place the filmâs name, Tits on a Bull, comes from â itâs about gender and role reversal. âAt one level the bull is Phoenix âŚ but another level this old mother hen character, this male Pakeha coach, is actually at heart a nurturing almost matriarchal character.â
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.
Ngawaea Taia, on the other hand, was plucked straight out of a Rotorua weekly touch rugby competition where she was spotted by Worrall â who plays in a team with his own kids. Heâd done a number of screen tests with young actresses, and none were quite right.
âI 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.â
Ultimately he asked her if she wanted to be in the film, and says she was perfect â and had the rugby skills to boot. âI love what Ngawaea has achieved as a young woman from down here with no experience in that world, and not being afraid of it. Itâs really cool.â
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 â another of the shorts selected for the New Zealand International Film Festivalâs New Zealandâs Best Selection is from that group.
âWeâve got a great supportive community down here. Thatâs the beauty of being in a small provincial city too, is that businesses and trusts will jump on board and help out, so weâre really fortunate.â
Tits on a Bull will be showcased in the New Zealandâs 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 womenâs rugby, and rural MÄori rugby communities. âBut beyond that, to get it into an A-list international film festival was great,â he says of its premiere in Finland. âThen to make the New Zealand International Film Festival, itâs been thrilling.â
Heâd like people to go away from the film feeling moved. âThat 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 theyâve got a bit of insight into womenâs rugby and MÄori womenâs rugby, then thatâs awesome as well.
The NZIFF will have another great lgbti-interest line-up this year. Weâll have details soon!