Twelve questions

Sarah Stuart poses 12 questions to well-known faces

Twelve Questions: Ainsley Gardiner

Her father is Sir Wira Gardiner, mother former MP Pauline Gardiner and her step-mother is Education Minister Hekia Parata. But producer Ainsley Gardiner always just wanted to make films. Her latest production The Pa Boys is out this week.

Ainsley Gardiner produced Boy and Eagle vs Shark. Photo / Natalie Slade
Ainsley Gardiner produced Boy and Eagle vs Shark. Photo / Natalie Slade

1. That's quite the political heritage. No interest in it yourself?

A couple of years ago at dad's 70th, he required us all to make a speech. I said: "Thank you dad for your love of politics. My subsequent aversion to it has led me to the arts." Ha! Dad is so many things: he's a military strategist, he saw live action in Vietnam, he's a war historian and a philosopher and politician. He's taught me that history is a pendulum and there's very little you can do to influence that. That's a bit how I see politics.

2. You've written and directed a short film, Mokopuna, about a Maori girl who struggles to embrace her roots. Was that modelled on your childhood?

Yes, far too earnestly and closely as it happens. We grew up in Wadestown, in Wellington, where there was one Maori girl in the school and she wasn't me. I thought I was a "half-caste" because that's what we were called, even internally. It was only when we moved to Whakatane, when I was about 12, I realised I was Maori.

And that was a good thing. I had been misled by society that being Maori was something you wouldn't want to be by choice. Being Maori is awesome. It's taken me a long time to feel comfortable with all of the things I wasn't raised with. I don't feel automatically comfortable being welcomed on to a marae - I get stuff wrong. I wish it were different. I try to make it different for my kids, I want them to think being Maori is an absolute privilege.

3. Did your parents put a lot of pressure on you and your siblings to succeed?

Not at all. Growing up with clever parents, we were all just naturally quite clever, academically fine, so mum and dad didn't demand too much of us. They were both quite busy finding themselves in that regard. Dad was becoming a public servant and learning to speak Maori. Mum was in politics and an anti-drug campaigner. They just wanted us to be happy. In those circles I was Wira Gardiner's daughter. Then, when I made my first successful film, I was [director] Taika Waititi's producer. I did struggle up until Boy with the sense of being undervalued and that producing was a thankless job but I've finally got over that.

4. What was it that made Boy such a success, do you think?

There are lots of reasons it was a good film, but the reason it was a successful film? It's because it was so funny. People laughed and then they couldn't hear over the laughter and they went to the film again so they could hear the bits they missed. We actually want to laugh more, I think.

5. Which film made the most impression on you growing up?

The first time we hired VHS videos from United Video Courtenay Place, we ended up with Sixteen Candles, the puerile Porky's and Christiane F, a German film with English subtitles about a girl who was hooked on drugs by the time she was 10 and a prostitute by 14. It was my 11th birthday - what was my mother thinking? But each of those films completely transported me into their world, I was totally hooked. The film I wish I had made is The Breakfast Club - great characters, a great script, a simple set up but complex themes of human nature and how we view each other. And the coolest dance scene.

6. How did you get over your own writing or directing ambitions?

I didn't, that's still my end goal. I just changed my route. I think I have learned a lot about directing from the safety of the producer's chair. I have decided I'm not a talented enough writer to spend much more time on that, there are too many good writers out there to waste my time developing that craft. But, most days, I still plan to direct feature films. I'd like my kids to be older though. I can only bear so much mother guilt.

7. Film-making doesn't seem very family friendly, is that why you relocated from Auckland to Whakatane?

It's not family friendly, not if you're going to shoot 11-hour days, but I do everything I can to put my children first. Whakatane hasn't changed since my childhood. It is just the same which is why I love it. I find the people less complicated, provided you stay away from small town drama, and it is such a good place to raise kids. And the air is good and the beach is perfect, and I can surf every day. And there's no traffic! I'm oversimplifying, but it was the traffic that finally drove me out of Auckland.

8. Have you wanted to make films overseas?

Yes, I've always wanted to make action films. But the film industry is very culture specific and I seriously don't get Hollywood culture. I can't imagine treating an actor differently to the guy who's making me a coffee. If I had the chance to, though, I would direct an action feature in Hollywood, but I would do things differently and no one would be allowed a camper.

9. How hard is it to make a decent living from making movies?

Very, very hard. I've had my time of having to be on a benefit but I have young children to support and the way I make films it's like a relationship to me. I fully engage in it heart and soul and I can't do that with more than one person at a time. [Film-maker] Merita Mita was my mentor. She would say there was a sense of entitlement among some people who wonder why someone isn't funding their film. She was adamant that it's a privilege to live this way and be able to express yourself and find money to make the art. As hard as it has been at times, it's my choice to be a film-maker.

10. Where does your ambition come from?

I don't feel particularly driven or ambitious. I feel more like I dived into a swift-moving river and I'm being swept along most of the time. I barely feel like I even make choices to be honest, things just float by and I grab on and off I go.

11. After the success of Boy, are you nervous about The Pa Boys?

This film has been a bit of a reality check for me. Taika and I have been having a great time making films and enjoying ourselves and I feel like Taika's films have taken care of themselves to some extent. Pa Boys director, Himiona Grace, is a first-time director so in that way I've given him more support than maybe Taika has needed. But it's a great film, a thinking film, it's a more serious film. Himiona wanted people to feel something, and to think.

12. Who, in your opinion, is the most underrated creative New Zealander?

Any kid who's written off as being dumb and drops out of school early and has no idea of his or her potential. But there's this moment when these kids are having a couple of drinks and the attitude and bravado goes, and in that moment they are the most insightful, insanely funny, imaginative, creative beings. If only they knew. If only we could help them discover themselves better before they get lost to us.

- NZ Herald

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