“I could feel the fear and weight in her and the Samoan side of my family.” The directors of Shopping on the Dawn Raids and coming home.
Shopping’s cool writer-directors, Louis Sutherland and Mark Albiston, talk with Alexander Bisley about making their film. Photography by Daniel Rose.
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ALEXANDER BISLEY: Good to see the Dawn Raids sharply referenced on the big screen (and the clip from Patu also). Louis, tell me about a memory from the Dawn Raid period as a half-Samoan kid?
LOUIS SUTHERLAND: Personal memories are hearing about it as a child and not quite believing what I was hearing. My instant view of the police, politicians and all things palagi took a dive. My mother kept it under the radar, but I could feel the fear and weight in her and the Samoan side of my family. Kids pick up on stuff adults think they have cleverly hidden away. I used to have nightmares they’d take Mum away so it wasn’t too shit hot a time.
AB: What do you want audiences to take away from Shopping?
LS: If anything we’d love the audience to own Shopping as a part of their historical make-up that is from their culture, and therefore something we all can share. If not that, then at least that kiwi films can compete with what the rest the world has to offer, and films don’t have to have an imaginary race of people with large hairy feet, or dudes that wear spandex with special powers, or fast as cars even. Actually, we have a V8 Monaro in Shopping, so scratch that last one, you need fast cars.
AB: Of the cast, I was particularly impressed with Matthias Luafutu, who plays Red. How did his mahi with Te Rakau inform Shopping? What do you think of his work as Afa Sorrenson in Harry?
LS: We’ve long known Matthias is a very talented dude. I went to Toi Whakaari with him over ten years ago, which is also when Albie (Mark) met him. This was not long after Matthias spent time with Jim Moriarty’s troupe Te Rakau. Personally, we feel the skills Matthias has were there well before he got ‘taught’ to act by anyone. Really, the opportunity to perform was one of timing where someone like Jim came along and lead him in the right direction. Mathias did some solid work in Harry with his talented cuz Oscar, and to be honest he probably finds the hard guys easier to play than anything else. He’s seen a few, including in the mirror. His challenge now is to look beyond the known and into areas where he can really establish himself in New Zealand as an actor. You don’t want to become typecast and I can remember at Toi Whakaari he skillfully played everything from the mentally challenged to highly effeminate characters. Our bro has bandwidth to burn as an actor, and we hope he gets a chance from other directors to show it.
MARK ALBISTON: We have been enjoying watching Harry unfold on screen and watching our friend Matthias, he has a commanding presence on screen.
AB: Alastair Browning (Terry) has a flair for failing dads, as in Rain?
It’s acting, and Alistair is a gifted actor. I think he has a lovely balance a lot of other male actors lack. Mr Browning can play the lost, failed father as you say, but he plays it with large quantities of empathy. His work’s beautifully crafted, something we noticed that sets him apart from others, and why we loved him in the role of Terry.
AB: Tell me about an intense, biographical scene?
Anything with the mother figure of Theresa was hard. Maureen is such an amazing soul it felt like she was channelling Louis’s Mum sometimes. It was hard not to hug her a lot.
AB: Is blood thicker than water?
That’s a very subjective question mate, but from where us boys stand absolutely.
AB: I liked that scene, “What are you doing?” “Flying my fly.” Aim?
The aim of the fly my fly scene was to: 1) perform the beat of transition of the watch between brothers; 2) allow the repair of the brothers’ relationship as they’d been split for quite some part of the film. By making it comedic, and giving Solomon some humour, it made him cute—the audience can understand Willie forgiving him.
AB: Lumière’s Nelsonian photographer Daniel Rose was deeply impressed by the camera-work, was seduced by the texture and evocative aesthetic inherent in celluloid film (combined with the location, it captured the nostalgia of growing up in provincial New Zealand and created a strong sense of place). This (adopted) Wellingtonian adds that it captures the Kapiti Coast’s sea and sky. What idea were you going for with your visual weave?
Ginny Loane is an amazing cinematographer, and her talented eye captured the coast in the way that we remembered it. We always saw the coast as another character in the film. Paekakariki is amazing place with a dramatic cliff on one side, and the Pacific and Kapiti Island on the other.
Water was big element in the film and helped us to show the boys freedom, underwater they were free. The cliff bears down on the community like outside influences – the [Springbok] Tour, Dawn Raids, nuclear war, and everything else that we were having to think about in the eighties.
AB: Why use expensive 16mm film? Because you can’t recreate the accidents and imperfections of film in digital post?
16mm feels like we wanted our film to feel. It was the natural choice, as was the squarer format. Ginny Loane really wanted it to have a modest, honest looking frame. It complements the amazing work that our art department and wardrobe designers did on the film, the best compliment we’ve had on the aesthetic of the film is that ‘you could smell the rooms’. It’s pretty amazing when people can fall that far into the world of the film that it triggers those kinds of memories. 16mm is like bubble and squeak, it tastes good but you never quite know what it’s going to look like.
AB: I thought Grayson Gilmour’s score was effective. Why did you choose him? And the Clean’s ‘At the Bottom’?
Grayson is a real craftsman and artist. He can create stuff from thin air then refine. He also had the subtleties in his work that meant we could trust he wouldn’t try to steal the show, he has nuance. Originally we had New Order and Laurie Anderson mixed in the record store scene. The way the two tracks collided in Willie’s ears made an amazing track. Sadly they weren’t budgeted for, which kinda stiched us up, but then we went through a lot of old Kiwi tracks and found that Clean track and the Tall Dwarves. They also created another track, this one was really discordant, which suited the magnetism between two teen lovers in the scene.
AB: What did you think of Boy, which people are going to compare you guys to?
Boy proved that there was an audience for New Zealand films, it’s one of the most successful films of all time in New Zealand, foreign or domestic. It’s important for New Zealand films to do well at home. Taika has led the way in New Zealand making distinctively New Zealand films.
AB: What’s special about working with each other?
Someone described our collaboration as a working biculturalism, and that the government should use us as a model to build a functioning government off. We think they were taking the piss. Ideas can build fast when things are working well.
AB: Tell me about a formative filmic influence who still inspires you?
MA: We’re both fans of Francis Ford Coppola. We’re fans of film innovators like Steve McQueen, director of Shame, who turn filmmaking ideals on their head. They shot that film in four weeks, they traded a long production schedule for a long workshop period. The level of performance and assured photography was impressive. Conversely we also loved Beasts of the Southern Wild, which shot for seven weeks with an untrained cast who all lived with each other for preproduction and the shoot.
AB: Tell me about Cannes?
MA: Cannes is an incredible festival, we have been lucky enough to get there twice, and win a prize twice [for short films].
LS: I think Cannes really celebrates its creatives, the actors, writers and directors first. Once I, a kiwi lad from the coast, got in-front of Willem Dafoe in a photo shoot. I apologised and he laughed saying, “Sometimes it’s your turn to be in front, sometimes behind.” So very true, he’s a lovely guy.
AB: What makes it exciting to live and make film here in Wellington; what do you miss about living on the Kapiti Coast?
MA: Wellington City has all the best stuff about being in The City, without the traffic and masses of people. Great creative scene, and amazing movie theatres. But it always feels like coming home when you drive through Pukerua Bay, or even better over Paekakariki Hill to see Kapiti Island and the ocean, it’s a magic place.
LS: I love our Coast, I think most kiwis love theirs too. Hopefully they can see a little bit of ours in theirs. Actually, we’d be surprised if they didn’t.