We need authentic stories, even in the rom-com genre. New Zealand filmmaker Anna Rose Duckworth agrees with this! She beautifully paints the line between romantic comedy and elevating humanity within that. We did an interview in March of this year right before she had her second child with her partner. Since then, Anna and screenwriter Michele Powles received a grant from the New Zealand Writers Guild to pen the first draft of their feature, “Put a Baby in Me,” an exploration of family through a queer and female lens based on Anna’s experiences trying to conceive.
In other news, Anna’s bittersweet romcom short, “Just Kidding, I Actually Love You” is currently in festival distribution and due to have its world premiere later in the year. Lou’ana’s “Lost and Found” music video was directed by Anna and has been nominated for Best Pacific Music Video at the 2023 Pacific Music Awards. Most recently, Anna was commissioned to be a director as part of an anthology feature inspired by former New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern.
Can you talk about your journey into filmmaking?
From when I was really young, I wanted to tell stories. Like I really wanted to be a poet when I was nine-years old, then I wanted to be a novelist, and as a teenager, I wanted to be journalist. When I started in college, I decided I wanted to be a copy-writer and do something financially sound. But then, when I was studying at university, it became quickly apparent that I didn’t have the passion for that. So then I put all of my energies into my creative papers at the university. Using a few choice words from the lecturers, they would say, ‘I think you may be more interested in filmmaking,’ and I agreed with them. So I switched over to filmmaking. I started out in producing, although I was always writing and doing work on my own. At that time, I didn’t have a lot of confidence in myself as a director and writer. I spent a lot of time producing for the first five to ten years, and then realized if this part of filmmaking was going to be so hard, I should be doing the thing I actually want to do, which was writing and directing.
Let’s talk about “Pain.” It was one of those films you go into thinking it’s a certain thing, a heart-warming father-daughter film, and then it was like, ‘Whoa, I was not expecting that.’
Once a year in New Zealand, they release funding for short films. In the lead up to that, I was doing a lot of journaling, and wanted to see what was going to bubble up to the surface. This one moment from my childhood came up for me where I saw an injury at a cricket game. I felt like that was such a pivotal moment for me as a really little child. But why was that such a pivotal memory for me? The more I interrogated why, the more I realized it stemmed from my realization that my parents weren’t perfect heroes who could do no wrong. They actually were just people. They were subject to the same loss of judgement, or they could be injured. If they were injured, they could behave badly, they could swear, they could get red in the face, they could cry. These were things that were really scary to me as a child.
It was at the time in my life when I was about to become a parent for the first time. I was thinking about parenthood, what it means, and what it means to your relationship with your children. You fear not being perfect, but in that journey with your children, at first they perceive you as perfect, and then they come to that same realization. It’s a cycle, right? Then you realize that’s how all parents feel.
Is “Just kidding, I really love you” based on a real story?
It’s kind of crumbled all together through a few different situations in my life, like my break-ups, and my spur of the moment decision to move to a different country. It’s based on my journey of realizing that I was just putting my own selfish needs ahead of the people that I cared about. That was a difficult realization for me to come to in my twenties. I took that journey and compressed it into one short film.
You are really good with comic timing. I feel like not everyone has that. Is that something that has always been a part of your work, humor?
For sure. I feel like growing up, my family always used humor to diffuse tough situations, and I feel like think that’s very much present in the way I communicate. When something is tough or hard or complicated, I feel like going to a laugh is my go-to direction. I like looking at things that are a little bit harder, or difficult to think about, but then doing it in a funny way.
Did you want to talk about your features?
I feel like the one I’ve been working on the longest is “This Whole Marriage Thing.” It is a polyamory rom-com. Rom-com is a genre I just love. A part of filmmaking that I really enjoy is just feeling a feeling, whether it’s like, “oh no don’t do that” or squealing with excitement, or just feeling warm and fuzzy inside. I feel rom-coms for me are such a great roller coaster. You can plug in, you can feel your feelings, and then you can leave the film feeling you’ve had such an enjoyable time.
One thing that I found with a lot of rom-coms growing up was that the messaging wasn’t so great in terms of what a woman needs to be. There was this message that a woman needed to be “complete,” and all of these external kinds of validation. The films were also very heteronormative. I love the feelings, but it was kind of like eating junk food, you know? The morality of the film wasn’t quite there. So I really like the idea of making a film where you still can have all of those fun and enjoyable moments, but it is backed up with humanism, and a broader representation of the world with different relationship dynamics.
The film industry in New Zealand seems a lot more progressive when it comes to underrepresented voices behind the camera, specifically women and non-binary people. Can you talk about that?
The barriers in America also exist here. But the New Zealand filmmaking landscape is much more aware and proactive about it. It’s something that people are mindful of and being proactive to try to counteract the disparity, rather than just allowing it to continue. I feel like this is true especially in the filmmaking space. Like with short films and feature films, we have government funding with the New Zealand Film Commission, which is responsible in making sure that the films that are being made are representative of the makeup of our people in New Zealand. So they are quite proactive, and have a lot of initiatives to try to battle the lack of equity in creatives and stories.
I do feel like there are a lot of systemic and long-standing issues for women from a very young age not pursuing putting themselves in the spotlight, not pursuing putting their creative ideas forward. Like in university settings, I feel those issues do exist. I’m quite interested in being proactive in the youth space to try to foster female lensed stories being valid. And I want to encourage young people that you don’t have to be the producer, and you don’t have to be the production manager because you want to tell stories, it can be your story. I really related to that journey of finding it harder to claim space for my ideas.
Do you want to touch on talking about your other projects?
Sure, I’ve just been on a four-week script consulting process with a consultant based in LA, which was really fun, for a feature we just got funding to write the first draft. It’s called “Put a Baby in Me,” about a queer couple: one who is cis, and one who is trans. They are trying to conceive a child, which is based around the experiences of me and my wife, so it is autobiographical. It’s kind of just asking questions of what is motherhood, and what is family, biology versus not biology. We get to choose what a family is, and part of family actually is working together through the hard stuff. So psychoanalyzing all of the characters has been a really fun process, and for myself, going into it has been really awesome.
I’m working on another feature about a lady in her late forties dealing with a hoarding disorder in response to the trauma she has harbored since the loss of her non-biological child from a divorce. She had raised a child for seven or eight years in a divorce that went badly, and that child was taken away from her and she never saw them again. I wanted to look at the way that trauma can manifest in our lives. That’s been really interesting as well. I’m interested in the psychology of what is going on in women’s worlds, and our stories.