Grass-roots comedy film a group effort

MIKE MATHER
Last updated 16:50 25/07/2014
Tanya Horo

COROMANDEL GOLD: Tanya Horo plays a peace-loving hippie mother forced to make a stand in the film The Z-Nail Gang, a New Zealand-made comedy film being released on July 31.

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A movie inspired by the subversive tactics the communities of the Coromandel Peninsula employed to thwart the plans of gold mining companies in the 1980s is about to hit screens around the country.

And filming The Z-Nail Gang proved as much a grass-roots endeavour as the events its story is based on.

New Zealand cinema has a long tradition of telling tales with irreverent or anti-establishment themes and, producer Kylie DellaBarca Steel said, the intention was to produce a tale that could be compared with the likes of Goodbye Pork Pie and Came a Hot Friday.

"The initial seed to the project was planted with writer/director Anton Steel on a snowboarding trip with a close friend who grew up in the Coromandel," she said. "On the drive down to the mountain this friend regaled stories of Santa suited raids, prospectors and police halted by "Z-nailed" tyres and New Zealand flags planted in concrete in toilets."

Aside from the protesters' tongue-in-cheek approach, Steel was drawn to how many different factions of the community - the local iwi, hunters, hippies and retirees - were drawn together to protect their home and environment in what became a David versus Goliath-style battle with the Government of the day and multi-national companies.

"Mining is the antagonist that forces the community together, despite their differences," DellaBarca Steel said. "The film reflects people with passion - which is what New Zealanders are known for. When a challenge comes they rally together, and display a protective nature for their community and their environment."

The film was shot in and near Te Puke over the summer and the cast includes Underbelly star Erroll Shand; actress and musician Tanya Horo, who is perhaps best known as Miss Lucy in the long-running House of Travel advertisements; and Vanessa Rare, the star of the comedy Ruby and Rata.

Horo said working on the film was a collective and family-centric effort.

"The cast and crew all worked together. No one was more 'special' than anyone else. The community made this film. There would not be many films in the world where this kind of unity has happened.

"Everything on this film was donated, people donated their time, their helicopters, food, wardrobe, make up. We had some wonderful, well-known actors on this film and some incredibly talented crew who would normally charge a lot. Everyone did it for the love.

"Also the message is so poignant to New Zealand now and always, I believe."

Thematically The Z-Nail Gang has strong similarities to the beloved Australian film The Castle and the Robert Redford-directed cult comedy The Milagro Beanfield War, which tells the story of a small Mexican community's battle with large property developer over water rights.

"We always saw this story as a comedy, DellaBarca Steel said. "In New Zealand we love that cheeky, witty, non-PC stuff.

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"Mining is a serious issue and polarises people and nations, but at the heart of any battle there is still people. And humour is a vital element to get us through challenging situations. It's about being able to laugh and cry together and not taking ourselves too seriously.  Some people may think the comedy undermines a serious issue, but most of the funniest parts of the movie are true stories - it was the ironic and insubordinate acts that they initiated to fight back."

The film is set in the fictional coastal town of Te Maunga, where life moves at a leisurely pace for the residents. The idyllic lifestyle is rocked by the arrival of prospectors from the multi-national mining corporation Golia Minerals, who are questing for gold. The tightly-woven community is torn between those who welcome the promise of prosperity and those who oppose the mining of their sacred mountain.

Horo said playing the character of hippie activist Mareeka was "an honour".

"Mareeka is the voice of the community. She is a very strong woman, with a very gentle heart.

"There are many testing times her for, trying to do the right thing by her two boys, trying to encourage her procrastinating surfing husband to help, trying to keep things legal ... There are some wonderfully funny scenes for Mareeka and some incredibly sad ones. I enjoyed playing her and bringing her strength to life."

In her day job, DellaBarca Steel teaches Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) workshops around the country with short term seasonal migrants from the Pacific and she applied the theory of discovering and utilising the riches and talents already within the community to the concept of resourcing what should have been a multi-million dollar feature film.

"To our delight [the Te Puke] community embraced and owned this concept," she said.

"From food sponsorship and preparation to hero vehicles, to locations, props and resources to the hundreds of extras, our community came on board to see this project realised.

"For many people involved, in front of and behind the camera, it has been a life-changing event, and because of this we feel this film has been a success already, even before it has been released."

* The Z-Nail Gang will receive a special premiere screening in Te Puke on Thursday, July 31, before getting shown in cinemas elsewhere around the country.

- Waikato Times

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