It's never an easy time to be gay.

Strides are being made but still, between ongoing discrimination, debates about gay marriage, hate crimes and mass shootings, it remains tough going.

But it was tougher still, in the 1960s - especially in rural New Zealand.

There were no pride parades, no gay clubs and there was little tolerance. It would have been decidedly grim, to say the least. And it's around era that two New Zealand film-makers have centred their latest movie.


West of Eden tells the tale of two gay men who find love on a New Zealand farm in 1960, a time of keeping dirty laundry hidden and failing that, a time of hostility and violence.

Vanessa Cohen-Riddell (Broken Hallelujah, The Last Stop) wrote and produced the film, directed by her husband Alastair Riddell.

The pair, who produced the film without any government funding, had to work tirelessly to get the story made. They faced setbacks before, during and after filming as they struggled to find locations, work around actors' schedules and finalise the release, now aptly timed to follow the win of LGBT film Moonlight at the Oscars.

It was a labour of love, but they stuck at it in an effort to highlight how far we've come.

"One of the things we're both really strong about is that history isn't forgotten and there are a lot of people who still fight very long and hard for things to change and once those changes have happened, decades down the track, people often forget and don't really appreciate how hard it was for people who were fighting the cause," Cohen-Riddell says.

"I know for Alastair being involved in his band [Space Waltz] - his persona onstage was very feminine and he got a lot of flak for that and he used to talk about how strange it was.

"People have so many prejudices - or they used to, but I like to think we've come a long way since then. So partly it was a remembrance, but also a celebration of how far we've come and a reminder to keep going."

West of Eden takes on the hostility and violence toward LGBT people in the 60s. Photo / Supplied
West of Eden takes on the hostility and violence toward LGBT people in the 60s. Photo / Supplied

Setting it in New Zealand added an extra layer to the film, as it dealt with the quiet, reserved, and sweep-it-under-the-rug nature of 1960s Kiwis.

"In the story there are a lot of secrets being kept and that causes a lot of problems. I think in our reserve as New Zealanders there are a lot that lies underneath which I think is quite distinctive of this country and we're still a bit like that - we like to think we're not, but we are," says Cohen-Riddell.

But at its core West of Eden, she says, is a story to which everyone - gay, straight, New Zealander or not - can relate.

"I just imagined being in that position; that I couldn't love the person I wanted to love because it was deemed unacceptable and how hard that would be and the worst thing would be living a kind of lie.

"I know people personally who have had to do that, and ... I think that's so damaging for anyone, so I was really looking at it from a point of just love."



West of Eden


In cinemas today