The Movie Waffler Interview - RURANGI Director Max Currie | The Movie Waffler

Interview - RURANGI Director Max Currie

We spoke to the director of the acclaimed New Zealand drama.

Interview by Benjamin Poole

Caz (Elz Carrad), who has been living in Auckland and working as an activist for sexual rights, arrives in the small dairy farming community of Rūrangi, New Zealand, seeking to rebuild relationships with his friends and estranged father. Following a decade of no contact, even after the death of his mother, at first they do not recognise him and struggle to accept him back into the fold of the small, close-knit community.10 years is a long time, and a lot has changed. Returning was never going to be easy but eventually, as wounds begin to heal and old flames rekindle, his loved ones start to understand his decision to leave.

Winner of the Frameline Audience Award, Max Currie’s critically acclaimed film is a powerful and authentic story interweaving themes of environmentalism, identity, and the strength of finding acceptance.

We spoke with Currie about his drama.

Rūrangi explores issues which are very pressing. I was wondering what sort of research you did when developing the character of Caz?

I imagine when the cis directors of old were venturing into the trans world to tell stories - they did research.  But Rūrangi is written by a trans activist, and Elz Carrad, who plays Caz, is trans. So it was more a case of collaborating with my incredible team, listening to them and trusting their experience - than researching, which is a bit outside-in. There was an intense period of about six weeks where I drove to Cole's flat every week day (with an office chair in the back of my car). We went through every line, every beat, of every scene, and I asked him about what he was trying to say with it and why.

Elz Carrad really inhabits the character. Is the similarity between the names of the actors and the characters deliberate?

Just one of many, magical coincidences - much like the cat that appears from nowhere in a scene.  The name 'Caz' is the name writer Cole Meyers used a lot for characters when he'd play video games.

How far did Elz’s own experiences inform the character?

Elz's experiences hugely informed the character. In fact, we rewrote parts of the character for Elz - for example, the fact that Caz is Māori. Elz also comes from a very small, remote rural town. There's some big differences, too. Caz is gay but Elz is straight and married with kids. He's also never set foot in trans activist circles.

Rūrangi is one of several films I have reviewed over the last 12 months which feature trans characters and which base plots around their specific experiences. I feel that these films are hugely important for the culture, in the sense that they create both empathy and understanding for the trans community. I’m interested, however, in your take on why it has taken cinema so long to sympathetically explore the transgender experience. As welcome as this new ‘canon’ is, why is it only happening now?

It's a direct result of trans people being more visible, more empowered, more supported, feeling safer, connecting with role models - and being trusted with more opportunity. Rūrangi was written by, co-produced by, crewed by and stars trans and non binary talent. We also ran a director internship program. I think the change also comes from producers like Craig Gainsborough, who is passionate about challenging the traditional production model.... there's also, invitably, commercial factors, and we need to thank the streamers here. The streamers have allowed niche content to find large, dedicated audiences on a global scale - so there's more commercial justification behind giving trans people and trans stories funding.

The industry is changing daily, and apparently nobody knows anything, etc. I note that Rūrangi was originally conceived as a television mini-series. In this era where TV, film, social media etc is considered ‘content’, where do you see the difference between TV and film?

I increasingly see films as stories that deliver beautiful, satisfying, transformative endings in one sitting. Although TV series do end, they're more about stories, characters and provocations that deliver ongoing story.  A great ending is magic.

Were there any adaptions made to the storytelling?
We created a non-linear narrative for the feature that serves the film well, constructed around that moment when Caz's father answers the phone and says "Who is this?". The rest of the film is an answer to that question, right down to the last words spoken.

What did you find were the major challenges to making an independent film?

Keeping everyone's faith and belief in what we're making alive and buoyed up even when you're a year in and everyone's over it!

If there is one message you would want audiences to take away from the film what would it be, and how does the film convey this message?

Yes. It's that healing is possible. Part of conveying this is allowing the audience to hurt with the characters' hurts first, then make it seem impossible to find healing - and then deliver it.

If you could programme Rūrangi in a triple bill with two other movies what films would they be and where would Rūrangi fall in the line-up?

I'm all about contrast between courses. Start with Besson's The Fifth Element to get everyone pumped, then switch to something hypnotically unsettling like Glazer's Under the Skin, then finish with the fiercely warm and gentle Rūrangi, so everyone gets a big hug at the end.

Rūrangi is in UK/ROI cinemas from February 25th.