New Zealand’s powerful new film offers genuine representation of Aotearoa’s transgender community in both performative and production roles. Rūrangi explores issues that directly affect the trans community, including important conversations about mental health, familial tensions, and the impact we have on the environment.

Burnt out trans activist Caz Davis returns to Rūrangi, the rural dairy community he fled ten years ago, hoping to reconnect with his father who hasn’t heard from him since before Caz transitioned. As father and son slowly reconcile, Caz finds new, life-affirming purpose, spearheading the town’s environmental fight against ‘Big Dairy’.

Murdering bigotry one poster at a time, with slogans like “Support gender diverse youth” and “Trans is beautiful“, Caz gets introduced to us as a strong willed man who has a great group of friends, a loving successful partner and is a role model within Auckland’s trans community. An eight month time jump shows a completely different Caz. Depressed, lost and insecure, he’s unsure why he’s on his way back to his hometown, but sometimes going back to the life you left behind can help with closure and embracing a new beginning.

Caz’s difficult relationship with his estranged father plays an important part in moving forward towards a happy life. Gerald (Kirk Torrance The Dark Horse) suspects the chemicals that are being used in farming around this small rural town to be the cause of his wife’s death many years ago. That loss makes for a sensitive topic both seem to avoid in fear of finally embracing each other’s differences.

Elz Carrad takes the lead as Caz in his soaring screen-debut, bringing his personal experiences to the role. Carrad is a star in the making, exceeding expectations while embodying his onscreen character’s tribulations giving one of New Zealand’s most convincing performances in recent history. This isn’t just a story to Carrad, this is something far more personal. His powerful line delivery and innate ways of embracing the character as his own is truly inspiring – cheeky grin included. Arlo Green (A Streetcar Named Desire) who plays Caz’s high school sweetheart Jem, is perfectly cast, bringing an insecure cis male to rethink his way of thinking about sexuality and gender, surprising himself along the way. Not only does he make you giggle with his clumsiness, it’s Green who brings an otherwise possibly caricatural part to life with plenty of heart and kindness. Āwhina-Rose Ashby (Dear Murderer) plays Caz’s best-friend-left-behind Anahera, who struggles with her own heritage, while absolutely not caring about what her small town neighbours think about her. She’s the lighthearted but unmissable core of this trio of characters. Ashby has a captivating spark in her eyes, you can just tell she was born to play this part.

Rūrangi is one heck of a beautiful film. The composition, lighting, use of colour, music and clever editing is something film geeks are bound to drool over. Director Max Currie (Everything We Loved) knows when shaky cam is worth using and when a shot is meant to be steady, which proves more than once that with contributing to the making of one of NZ’s most groundbreaking films, he’s a name worth memorising. Johannes Louis‘ wide shots showcase the natural beauty of “the land of the long white cloud” with Ngatea forming the backdrop for the fictional town of Rūrangi, while the graceful tui’s singing can be heard in the background, completing the picture perfect scenery.

Trans inclusion is vital, and by providing creative opportunities to the trans community of New Zealand, you can really start talking about a truly inclusive and empowering project that showcases not just the talent but the message and story that are highly important to be seen by gender-diverse people from across the globe. Representation matters and is so important to those who feel overlooked in society and pop culture. In Rūrangi, all transgender characters are performed by trans actors, and gender-diverse actors also star in several cisgender roles. The series is done in such a respectful and validating way, it’s hard for anyone who comes across it, to look away or ignore it.

Trans advocate and co-writer of Rūrangi, Cole Meyers, did an incredible job at creating a heartwarming, realistic narrative that celebrates the trans community, Māori culture (supported by an incredibly talented Māori cast), showcasing the importance of family – chosen or born with – and friendships that transcend gender and sexuality. A momentous victory for trans representation.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Rūrangi‌ is having its World Premiere in cinema at ASB Waterfront Theatre in Auckland, on Sunday 26 July at 7.00PM

Rūrangi‌ is also screening in select cinemas and venues across the country, and online.

NZIFF Review – ‘Rūrangi‌’

Reviewed online (screener provided by publicist), July 20, 2020. Rating: M. Running time: 96 min.

PRODUCTION: An Autonomouse production. Producer: Craig Gainsborough. Co-producers: Cole Meyers, Max Currie, Tweedie Waititi, Melissa Nickerson.

CREW: Director: Max Currie. Screenplay: Cole Meyers, Oliver Page. Camera: Johannes Louis. Editors: Brough Johnson, Dan Kircher. Music: Lachlan Anderson.

WITH: Elz Carrad, Kirk Torrance, Āwhina-Rose Ashby, Arlo Green, Ramon Te Wake, Renee Lyons, Aroha Rawson, Renée Sheridan, Sonny Tupu.

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