Christmas is a strange time in New Zealand. While the blistering sun shines and families head to the beach, our television screens and department store speakers send a very different message. Christmas films are a tossed salad of snowploughs, ugly jumpers and warm eggnog, while Christmas music is all about fireside whisky and mistletoe kisses. It's a weird assault on the senses when one emerges from a Kmart or Farmers to find the sun still shining and humidity levels still relentlessly high.
Director Tony Simpson wanted to provide an antidote to that confusion. "Most Christmas movies are set in the Northern Hemisphere, so I thought we really needed to change that and to have our kids see what they do at Christmas time," he says. "Beaches and barbecues and jandals and shorts and hats and swimming - all that sort of carry-on."
Kiwi Christmas is the result of Simpson's effort to make what he is confident has never been made before - a wholly New Zealand Christmas film. Starring Sia Trokenheim, Xavier Horan and Laura Daniel, Kiwi Christmas follows a dysfunctional family whose camping trip is disrupted by the arrival of Santa - who has fled his duties, feeling fed up with the materialism of Christmas. In the role of Father Christmas is veteran Finnish actor Kari Vaananen, who Simpson said he tracked down through a Finnish director he met in Germany.
"I just rang him up and said, 'G'day mate, I'm Tony from New Zealand and we're making a Christmas movie', and the rest is history," says Simpson. "He loved it. He'd be sitting in his deck chair in the sun, going, 'This is where I'll have Christmas next year'. When I rang him originally at the start of the process, they were getting one hour a day of sunlight."
As for Trokenheim and Horan, Simpson says it was clear early on that they shared a great connection. "The chemistry between Xavier and Sia worked so well," he says. "I've watched the movie over and over and over the last few months as we edited, and I never tire of watching those actors practise their craft."
Kiwis across the country will be able to relate their own holiday experiences to the film. Shot at Te Muri Beach in the Mahurangi Regional Park, north of Auckland, the beachside campground setting provides a warm, familiar backdrop to the Christmas themes. But Simpson says it wasn't always the idyllic, summery place it appears on camera; their 30-day shoot had to contend with not one, but two cyclones blowing through.
"You see it in one of the scenes - everyone's getting blown to pieces," he says. "We had to call a weather day one day.
"The beach cricket scene was filmed over a couple of days, and if you look at that you can see all the rain coming in the background with the wind blowing everything around. Otherwise, it looks pretty good, so we were lucky."
The underlying theme of Kiwi Christmas is the value and importance of family. Simpson says Christmas time in New Zealand is unique and serves as the perfect time for people to come together. "It's about spending time with family, camping under canvas and just being together without devices and all those other trappings that we have."
But ultimately, Simpson hopes Kiwi kids get to see the film.
"We're not making enough films for them. They need to see themselves on the big screen, and I know when I was a kid, some of those films we saw when we were young are the ones that have stayed with us for the rest of our lives."
What: Kiwi Christmas
Who: Director Tony Simpson
When: In cinemas November 30