A short film starring a Rotorua rugby player will have its international premiere at a film festival in Finland.

Tits on a Bull was filmed in various locations around Rotorua featuring Ngawaea Taia (Te Arawa) and produced by film-makers Tim Worrall, Piripi Curtis and Lara Northcroft of Velvet Stone Media.

Director and writer Tim Worrall (left) and local rugby player Ngawaea Taia preparing for filming last year. Photo / Ben Fraser
Director and writer Tim Worrall (left) and local rugby player Ngawaea Taia preparing for filming last year. Photo / Ben Fraser

The film stars well-known New Zealand actors Roy Billing from Underbelly, the Narnia movies and Agent Anna; and Maria Walker, who has appeared in Mount Zion, Harry and Top of the Lake.

It will be competing in the international section of the Tampere Film Festival on March 5. The NZ Film Commission is sending Mr Worrall and Mr Curtis over to attend.

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Veteran actor Roy Billing on the set of Tits on a Bull during filming in Rotorua. Photo / Ben Fraser
Veteran actor Roy Billing on the set of Tits on a Bull during filming in Rotorua. Photo / Ben Fraser

Set in a women's rugby team, Tits on a Bull follows the close friendship between a "crusty, old coach" Rusty (Billing) and his star player Phoenix (Taia) as their loyalty to one another is threatened by Phoenix's new relationship with the captain of the team, Mel (Walker).

"It's inspired by different situations and different people that I have known," writer and director Tim Worrall (Ngai Tuhoe/Te Arawa) previously told the Rotorua Daily Post.

"The old coach is based on a parking attendant I used to see a lot in Wellington, he was a lovely old character."

The rugby scenes were shot at Waikite Rugby Club in Koutu, where Taia plays in the women's team. She caught the attention of Worrall at the local Thursday night touch competition playing for her whanau team.

"We had a men's social team playing beforehand, and I thought, 'that girl looks like she can play' and the way she was interacting with her teammates showed she wasn't shy," he said.

"I could see this sassy young wahine [woman] bossing around the men in her team and thought she's either a waha [mouth] or she's something special. Next minute she was running the move perfectly and putting her teammates into space with her timing and acceleration."

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Worrall said they had scouted through agencies and castings to find someone for the role. Taia's confidence and authenticity as well as her rugby skills convinced Worrall she would make a great lead actor in the film.

"The real challenge was either going with an actress who could look like she could play or a player who we could teach to act. We did a big round of auditions in Auckland with about 30 girls and casting in Auckland and Rotorua."

The film has been funded through the NZ Film Commission's Fresh Shorts initiative. A number of screen professionals both local and Auckland-based donated their time and services for nothing or at minimal rates to ensure the film is made. More than 30 locals were directly involved in the production.