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Rūrangi – The history-making NZIFF series championing trans storytelling

Rūrangi – The history-making NZIFF series championing trans storytelling

A new Kiwi series is making history as the first web series to be selected in the prestigious, Whānau Marama: New Zealand International Film Festival.

Rūrangi – The history-making NZIFF series championing trans storytelling

Rūrangi follows the story of transgender activist Caz Davis as he returns to the remote dairy community of Rūrangi, hoping to reconnect with his estranged father, who hasn’t hear from him since before Caz transitioned.

A timely, compelling and heartfelt look at Aotearoa through a trans lens, Rūrangi is an exploration of mental health, family tensions and the environmental impact in a rural setting.

We talk to the show’s breakout star Elz Carrad and writer Cole Meyers about the creation of the series and the importance of trans storytelling in 2020.

From left, actor Elz Carrad who plays lead Caz Davis and writer Cole Meyers.

Elz, how was this whole experience for you as a newcomer? What were some challenges for you and what did you enjoy most about the process?

Elz: It has been a roller coaster ride. Many highs and some major lows. The biggest challenge was figuring out how to manage all aspects of my life and maintain balance.

I don’t like to half pie things and I was so excited to start that I came into the role with full force, forgetting that, I also need to reserve energy where possible for my 9-5 storeman job and to also continue steering the ship at home for my family.

I am still trying to figure out my coping strategies so that I can bring a quality performance without burning out.

Building friendships has been the most enjoyable part of the whole experience, I’ve come out with some really great friends and learned a lot from the pros, they’ve all been so supportive and generous with their time and energy – I ask A LOT of questions.

How do the characters and storyline resonate with your own experiences?

Elz: When I read the script for the first time I didn’t have to think about how I was going to embody my character (Caz Davis), it was very obvious to me that this character was transgender, so the foundations were already set because I too am transgender/trans-masc.

Both Caz and I grew up in small rural towns, we both moved to Auckland. Moving to a city where we don’t know anybody was a chance to start new.

This meant being able to introduce ourselves to others using our preferred pronouns, change our names and finally be who we always were and shed the preconceived ideas of others.

What’s the significance of the rural setting?

Cole: There is a significant portion of trans people in Aotearoa and around the world who live in rural places, and their experiences can differ greatly from those who live in city environments – in everything from connection to community, access to healthcare, acceptance of friends and family, safety.

Many trans people do move from rural to urban centres for these reasons, but what happens to the things we leave behind? What are we made to compromise for those things?

It’s interesting to get to show that negotiation between being who we are and doing what we need to do to fully live that truth, and the often messy, painful relationship issues that can bring up. The idea of returning to the place that is home in the identity that is home.

The rural setting also very much allows for the focus on connection with land and with culture and environment, something that is a big feature of a number of the main characters’ journeys.

It also gives a great opportunity to showcase the beauty of Aotearoa to the world – not just of the scenery itself, but of the uniquely kiwi scenes – and characters.

Can you tell me about the theme of “love in many forms” and how it plays out in the story?

Cole: So many stories of trans people are around the lack of love – around rejection, pain, isolation.

It was really important to show the powerful positive aspects of trans lives, that it shouldn’t be that one has to choose between having love in your life and being who you are.

And so showing trans people’s lives that have love from friends, from community and from family, have love for meaningful work, and love for themselves was really necessary for us to see.

Another big aspect was seeing trans people and romantic and sexual love – as desirable intimate partners, rather than either desexualised or fetishized, or being expected to put up with unloving or abusive relationships because that’s all we’re told we should expect is possible.

There’s also the theme of love and connection with culture and language, and the structural oppression and shame that affects those areas too.

And a huge overall element of Rūrangi is the love for and connection with the land, with the environment.

Love and healing go hand and hand within our story – because it was important to not just show an idealised version of our lives or relationships, but the bridge between what we see now, where we are now – and where we all deserve to be.

What messages do you hope audiences will take away from Rūrangi?

Elz: I hope people can find something within the story that hits home for them, it can be anything at all, but I hope people are touched by it in some way.

It has many themes and there are no rules to what you take from a story, it is personal for everybody and that’s what matters most to me.

Can you tell me about the message of ‘by us and about us’ and why that was important in the creation of the series?

Cole: So much of trans representation is filtered through or created by cis people’s understandings of our lives. Which means it’s a case of not seeing ourselves, or not seeing ourselves from the inside – of always seeing ourselves through other people’s eyes.

It’s really hard to recognise our truths or value our truths if we are constantly being told that the right way to be ‘ourselves’ is to be what other people want, to judge ourselves by what makes sense to other people.

These inaccurate representations of us can range from confusing – or just not that helpful – to actively dangerous or lethal. In the sense of both violence done to us by systems, structures and individuals and the self-harm from the tragic or hopeless (or non-existent) possibilities we see for our futures.

Also ‘by us and about us’ is not just about valuing trans truths, but valuing trans talents, trans creativity and leadership – it’s about showcasing these, and about fostering these for the future.

One example of this is our paid trans creative internship program – where we had 6 mentor/partnership opportunities for gender diverse people to train in major creative areas within the production – and share and have valued their own lived experiences.

World premiere on Sunday, 26 July

Rūrangi will premiere on Sunday, 26 July at the ASB Waterfront Theatre, Auckland. It’s also screening in Christchurch, Hawkes Bay, Tauranga and Wellington, as well as online.

Click here for more details and to book your tickets.

Watch the trailer for Rūrangi here.

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