Zoe McIntosh’s The Deadly Ponies Gang sits comfortably in the canon of NZ self-funded films, an entertaining story with engaging characters, plenty of heart, warmth, good humour and many other endearing qualities, and is about to unleash itself through a theatrical release.
The Deadly Ponies Gang treads familiar territory for McIntosh, both in the sense that she knows her themes well and that she’s ambitious for her characters.
McIntosh has a record of telling stories about those who live, in some way, on the fringes of society. When we spoke she was in Christchurch, about to start the second shoot day for her Loading Doc Living Like A King about the post-earthquake changes to the life of well-known Christchurch streetie Cowboy.
Her award-winning short film Day Trip cast ex-Mongrel Mob gang leader Tuhoe Isaac in a fictionalised version of his former self. Isaac won the short film Best Actor gong at the Qantas Awards for his performance. Before that film, cross-dressing lawyer Rob Moodie was the subject of McIntosh’s documentary Lost in Wonderland, also a Qantas award winner.
McIntosh’s King of Caravans premiered alongside The Deadly Ponies Gang at last year’s NZIFF. It’s the story of “a place of last resort for the down and out”, Whanganui’s Bignell Street Motel Caravan Park and its manager and “de facto social worker to the weird and wonderful itinerant inhabitants”, Peter.
So far, not many who would pass as the “normal” characters who populate films.
“They all have qualities I admire,” McIntosh explained. “They live differently to the majority of society, often have a mischievousness about them and are really brave.”
The DPG’s Clint Rarm and Dwayne Sisson are all of that as they stroll West Auckland’s byways with tongue in cheek and – if given half a chance – hoping to plant their tongues in someone else’s cheek.
McIntosh knew Rarm well before taking on the film. It was his plan – to help solve Dwayne’s dental problems – which inspired the film. Unlike some friendships, McIntosh’s and Rarm’s survived one making a film about the other. Rarm did some camera work on DPG and is presently with McIntosh in Christchurch shooting Living Like A King.
Shot on weekends over the best part of year in the best practice of making self-funded films (do real work, earn money, save it up, spend it on film), DPG then spent about four months in equally part-time post with producer and mentor Costa Botes taking on the editing duties.
In and amongst, McIntosh continued doing commercial work (through Thick as Thieves) although not all of was actually “commercial” in the sense of being paying work.
“I directed an ad for free and won,” was how McIntosh described the YWCA TVC, Demand Equal Pay. It was one of two Young Director Awards nominations McIntosh received at last year’s Cannes Lions, and the one that won her the award.
Demand Equal Pay
Reviewing DPG at last year’s NZIFF, TVNZ’s Darren Bevan observed, “there’s a warmth and humanity inThe Deadly Ponies Gang which is contagious and touching. Plus, it’s got teeth. Literally.”
The festival screenings, including some sold-out ones, plus positive reviews have all helped McIntosh give the film a longer life. It’s played overseas, was named a winner at the Houston Comedy Film Festival at the beginning of the year and has just been confirmed for New York’s Rooftop Film Festival.
The NZIFF appearances also make it easier for the film to get a post-festival self-distributed release – a path that’s been trodden with considerable in recent years by festival favourites How Far Is Heaven, Gardening With Soul, The Red House and Maori Boy Genius.
DPG’s MOA nomination has probably made little difference to its upcoming theatrical outing. It adds to credibility, which is something that DPG plays with, crossing back and forth between documentary and fictional material: “creative documentary” isn’t the right description, neither is “mockumentary”.
Whatever the term is, there are moments when one isn’t quite sure if one is watching something created or recreated, imaginary or real – a path also trodden by Alyx Duncan’s The Red House.
Deadly Ponies Gang trailer
Alongside the release for DPG and readying Living Like A King for its May premiere, McIntosh is also planning casting for short The World in Your Window.
“It’s funded!” McIntosh laughed. EPed by Michelle Turner and Nick Ward’s Short & Sharp pod, it might be one of the last of the Premiere Shorts following changes announced by Dave Gibson in the recent NZFC roadshow.
McIntosh hopes to shoot The World in Your Window in September.
The Deadly Ponies Gang goes out to 33 screens nationwide from 3 April. For Aucklanders, McIntosh will do an opening day Film Talk screening at Rialto, Newmarket. No word on whether she’ll try to sneak in a pony, but tickets are available here.