Rene Naufahu’s The Last Saint has its world premiere in Auckland on Thursday evening, a special Q&A screening on Sunday and opens next week after a long and difficult journey to the screen.
It is, as producer Matt Horrocks describes it, “a rebel film”. Despite having been awarded a couple of rounds of development funding from the NZFC, he described as the film that had “been told to go fuck itself more than any other”.
So, it’s been an uphill struggle, which in some ways is surprising. Rene Naufahu is a well-known name, albeit not as a writer-director; what Winston Peters might call “race-based” stories often perform strongly here; some also play on the international festival circuit to critical acclaim. The Last Saint delivers many of the elements of memorable titles: violent characters, naked flesh, dysfunctional families … all wrapped around a story a story about P in a film that looks more like an American film than a local one.
Much of that is down to gaffer and cinematographer Grant McKinnon (Orphans & Kingdoms, 3 Mile Limit, The Orator), recently awarded the inaugural Allen Guilford Cinematography Award from the NZCS at this year’s NZIFF for his work on Hamish Bennett’s short Ross & Beth. Despite the strong nature of the story material, there’s a romanticism in the visual approach. The ironic juxtaposition of strong material with romantic imagery is also repeated by the score.
After being turned down for production funding, Horrocks and Naufahu decided to make the film anyway. Their production vehicle, The Reservoir, will also distribute. Last year they raised $105,000 and shot the film in one block during October and November.
Since then, there’s been a PledgeMe campaign which added $10,950 (against a $10,000 target) to help it along through post.
It was “finished” the morning of the media screening in Auckland less than two weeks ago, where it screened off a BluRay disc because there were “still a couple of tweaks” to be made before the DCP was produced.
“We haven’t tested it, but we think it will play,” Horrocks said during his introduction.
The Last Saint has had at least three 4* reviews out of that media screening (here from the Sunday Star Times’Sarah Watts, here from Keeping Up, and herefrom Motion Picture) and from early looks shown to one or two journalists much earlier in the post-production process. The Herald’s Dominic Corry called it “a searing local thriller which dunks us into a … turf war between Samoan and Tongan drug dealers and the realities of P-addiction”.
It would be unfair to compare the finished result with whatever material the NZFC declined to offer production funding back in 2012 but, regardless of the rights or wrongs of the decision-making process, The Last Saint a film that makes you glad there are people who don’t take no for an answer.
The Last Saint is a pretty awesome achievement. While one shouldn’t box this up as a Pasifika film because it stands up perfectly well on its own legs, it’s probably worth noting that there aren’t too many Pasifika voices driving feature productions, which makes The Last Saint a welcome addition to that rather small canon. We hear a good number of Pasifika voices in “our” music, and there’s a good selection of them in the Last Saint sound track – along with some drive your nanna crazy techno which offers Naufahu’s brother Joe a scene-stealing entry into the story.
The Last Saint premieres at the Civic Thursday 21 August. It goes on release, opening on 19 screens, on Thursday 28 August. Check Flicks for listing times.
Just to round off an arduous journey to the screen, The Last SaintOnce Were Warriors, a film a number of critics have cited when describing The Last Saint, received a R13 rating for its theatrical release and a RP16 sticker on VHS.