A not-quite mockumentary follows the hilarious lives of two marijuana-smoking mates cruising society's fringes on their pimped-out ponies, writes Peter Calder.
If Clint Rarm and Dwayne Sissions had not existed, it would have been necessary for filmmaker Zoe McIntosh to invent them. And maybe she did. Or partly. Or not.
Not knowing where the real bits end and the bullshit starts is at least half the fun of watching The Deadly Ponies Gang, McIntosh's "not-mockumentary" film, which opens in cinemas today.
The 65-minute genre-bender was described by New Zealand International Film Festival director Bill Gosden as "the funniest movie valentine to stoned mateship and recreational innovation in New Zealand's backblocks since Kaikohe Demolition" and his confidence in it was rewarded. "It played to full houses pretty much wherever we took it," he says, "and I never heard from anyone who didn't think it was a hoot."
The film, which McIntosh, 29, self-funded and shot during 16 days over the course of a year, follows Rarm and Sissions, serious stoners whom you would be inclined to call bogans if it weren't for the fact they have no cars. Instead, they get about on the ponies of the title (pimped-out mounts they are, too, but there are no fluffy dice in sight), occupying their days by providing toys of very suspect provenance ("Let's just say they came from people who can afford more presents") to neighbourhood kids.
Clint is the antithesis of the matinee idol. Whether holding forth on the different kinds of horses ("big horses, little horses, like midget little, brown ones, spotty ones") or standing in an opshop describing his sense of style ("sharp, sophisticated, yet tough"), he leaves the viewer deliciously uncertain whether he is taking the piss or having the piss taken.
He seems genuinely mystified when his courting technique, which involves spray-painting a horse's flank, doesn't work.
What you would call the film's narrative arc, if it didn't look like a tangled fishing line, is the story of Clint's determination to raise the funds to get the toothless Dwayne a set of gnashers. "He can't get girls and he can't eat steak," Clint says. So he ... well, you should see the film to find out what happens next. You really should. It's a safe bet you've never seen anything like it.
McIntosh is perhaps best known for Lost in Wonderland, the engaging, moving and thought-provoking documentary about cross-dressing lawyer Rob Moodie. Her short film Day Trip is an almost wordless study of a heavily tattooed and gang-patched Maori taking the ferry to Picton; and King of Caravans looked at a caravan park in Whanganui with a reputation for being a place of last resort for the down and out.
I asked her what it was that drew her to outsiders as subjects.
McIntosh: I am not conscious of that when I make a film but I do gravitate towards people living on the edge. I am obsessed with travelling, with throwing myself into situations that make me feel uncomfortable, or like a foreigner. The people living there force me to challenge my own views. It sparks me creatively and I become really sensitive to things.
What is it you like about such people?
The characters in the caravan park have this really grunty honesty which I struggle to find in my own circle because we are so polite all the time. Visually it's interesting as well.
Some of my friends tell me I collect characters like freaks but I don't feel like that. I feel a little bit odd myself. I don't enjoy routine. I like things being spontaneous and mixed-up and I see a lot of my characters as very beautiful and brave. They have decided to take on life in quite an alternative way.
It seems a bit sad that our traditional way of documenting the world is so confined and often ignores people outside the mainstream.
I agree. The thing is that my films are often not funded, certainly not in the initial stages and when you don't have much funding and the accompanying guidelines of how the story has to be, you can go into an environment with an open mind. You can take your time to digest information and character. Artistically, it's a lovely place to be because you can piece it together like a jigsaw puzzle, in a slower and more considered way.
This film is neither straight documentary nor fiction. One of the things that I like about the film is that I don't know what is real and what is a leg-pull and I don't mind.
The original guts of it was Clint, who was on a mission to get Dwayne some teeth so he could pick up more women. That's legit; they are lifelong friends and I thought it was very beautiful. The characters are so witty and alternative, they also have a lot of heart and I thought that had an international appeal: the lengths a friend will go to for friendship and anything's possible with imagination.
It strikes me that you discovered quite a lot of what ended up in the film while you were making it.
It was the nature of the project. We had to work at weekends, or when I had just done a commercial and got some money. As a result the film has a scrapbook feel rather than a three-act structure. It was written and crafted on the fly, though I had a firm idea of the core story. It was refreshing way to work - but it meant that if we needed something, we had to make it out of cardboard.
I was hanging out to make a film that made me laugh and I cannot stress how much fun we had making it, and it's lovely to be getting such positive responses.