Director and photographer Benn Jae has a personal appreciation for the beauty of Wānaka. Having grown up in nearby Queenstown, his understanding and self-confessed obsession with the light of Central Otago plus a unique sensibility, matched with a brief that encouraged authenticity, was only ever going to deliver something magic.
WAY SOUTH, directed by Jae for Lake Wānaka Tourism, showcases the unrivalled beauty of Wānaka while embracing diversity and challenging the expected. The film’s script is an adaptation of a poem by Courtney Sina Meredith, ‘No Motorbikes, No Golf’, from her debut poetry collection, Brown Girls in Bright Red Lipstick.
It was Jae’s idea to use the poem for the film, the release of which happens to coincide with the 10-year anniversary of the launch of Meredith’s book. “I was over there with my partner, just having a day out and I found this book in a book store and just loved the title,” he says.
“When this brief came through from Wānaka, I was on the phone chatting it through while staring at Courtney’s book, I remembered that particular rose and the rest is history. It was very serendipitous.”
Jae had never met or spoken with Meredith, but he messaged her over social media about using the poem for a film, and the rest is history.“It was amazing working with Courtney because writing visuals to someone’s prose is quite a privilege, and I was honoured that Courtney had enough trust to let me do so,” he says.
Some cast members will be recognisable, such as actress Awa Puna and musician Luca George. But many are ‘street cast’. All are representative of the LGBTQI+ community and the wonderful tapestry that is Aotearoa.
“We are seeing a lot of big brand work come out that’s representing [minority communities] on screen, which is fabulous, but then when the people telling those stories aren’t from the community it becomes problematic to the narrative. The most special thing is that Wānaka has taken counsel from the community and let us guide the entire process.”
There’s a cultural shift taking place and WAY SOUTH is a small step towards a future that is truly inclusive, making the minority a majority way of thinking. Let’s challenge the status quo and what’s expected or possible.
THE LOSERKID TEAM BEHIND WAY SOUTH
Director: Benn Jae
Photographer: Sophie Miya-Smith
Stylist: Sammy Salsa
Hair: Sky Cripps-Jackson