Florian Habicht's latest film is a documentary about Kawakawa residents James and Isey Cross. Reporter Jenny Ling visits them at home for a chat about their newfound stardom.
Isey Cross is sitting snuggled under a blanket on her patchwork couch after a stint of parties, premieres and publicity.
The centenarian is understandably tired, and still getting over the hullabaloo of the world premiere of James & Isey, the film made by Northland film-maker Florian Habicht which she and her son James star in.
More than 1500 people, including busloads of Northlanders, turned out to Auckland's Civic Theatre on April 3 for the glitzy event, which kicked off with a pōwhiri by Bay of Islands College cultural group Te Roopu o Peowhairangi.
Because it coincided with Isey's 102nd birthday, there was a private party at the Civic's grand Wintergarden ballroom afterwards, which had her dancing on stage.
She has also sat through numerous media interviews like this one.
Isey plays it down as "just another day".
But when gently pressed by her son, she admits that seeing herself on the big screen was "just awesome".
"By 11.30pm Isey was even dancing on the stage a little bit," Habicht said.
"Mum was there right till the end," James adds, which gets a cheeky chuckle out of Isey.
"I was just enjoying myself," she finally admits.
"It was absolutely awesome."
James and Isey are talking from their Kawakawa home, along with Habicht who, after documenting their lives over 12 days in 2019, is now part of the furniture.
The film tracks the tender relationship between mother and son in the days before Isey turns 100 as well as the party for her big day.
It's uniquely Northland, having been filmed at various locations in the Far North including their small farm in Kawakawa, the McDonalds drive-through in Kerikeri, the Stone Store Basin, and Cape Reinga.
The making of the film was timely for Habicht, a director known for quirky, offbeat movies and documentaries such as Kaikohe Demolition,Wooden Head, Rubbings from a Live Man, Love Story and Pulp: Life, Death & Supermarkets.
He had hit a rough patch in his career and was making TV commercials promoting the importance of buying cars with good safety ratings.
He met James and Isey while working on an Instant Kiwi campaign for the Lotteries Commission. He'd put out a call for "real people from all across the country".
James responded with a postcard saying he lived with his 99-year-old mother who was about to turn 100, the pair played Instant Scratch Kiwi, and would love to be in the ad.
If they were chosen, Isey promised to make Habicht one of her famous apple crumbles, a sweetener that he couldn't turn down.
While he was shooting the ad, James asked if he would also film his mum's approaching birthday.
"I wanted to make a movie to honour my mum," James said.
"I asked Florian and he said he'd do it."
While Isey has yet to fulfill her part of the bargain, Habicht is happy enough his own mum made apple cakes during the shoot, along with many sandwiches.
Filming was equally low-key: there was no crew, no budget, no scripts nor fancy film sets.
The only exceptional detail was that it was filmed on a Lomo lens Habicht bought online from someone in Russia.
"That's why the film looks so beautiful and it's got a real warmth to it," Habicht said.
"When we made the film, we literally made it with aroha.
"There was no time to get funding, it was just the three of us. We were the team.
"It's their life and I was lucky to capture it."
James also helped out with various aspects of filming.
"What I wanted to capture in the film was this brief look into our lives in a week and this is what came out of it," James said.
"It's about picking watercress and going to McDonald's for our birthdays as a treat."
They might not have had a crew, but they had the universe on their side, James said.
Being shamans and descendants of Ngāti Manu the Bird People, James and Isey say they both have "the gift".
They believe in a connection to the other world, the ability to heal the sick, and to communicate with spirits.
It was this gift that enabled James, a tohunga, to get his mum over 100.
"I just dial up the tupuna and ask for what we need," James said.
Habicht recalls one absent-minded incident during filming where James' gift turned out to be a godsend.
"Sometimes I forget to push the record button," he said.
"In Cape Reinga, I was filming James from a distance while he was performing an incredibly beautiful karakia.
"I realised at the end I hadn't pushed record, and I was going to have to ask him to do it again.
"The next minute he walked back up the cliff and did it again ... it was as if he knew."
James has always wanted to be a movie star.
Born in Karetu valley, he was aged 5 when his parents moved into their current home, down a winding gravel road on the outskirts of Kawakawa.
James was in Los Angeles in 1990 hoping for a big break when he got a call to return home as his father was sick.
The visit was supposed to be temporary, but he decided to stay and help Isey care for his dad, who ended up living much longer than doctors predicted, passing away in 2001.
Since then, James has devoted his days to looking after Isey, while travelling to Auckland for the odd acting role.
James & Isey has put him firmly in the spotlight.
The Northland premiere was held at Event Cinemas in Whangārei on April 17, and the film will be released nationwide on May 6 with screenings in Whangārei, Kerikeri and Kaitaia.
All the publicity is nice, James said, but he doesn't expect to be mobbed when he next heads into town.
"It won't change us but it will change people's perception towards us," James said.
"It's been so humbling and positive."
The film has resonated with all ages, James said, not just the target audience initially thought to be "arthouse and the elderly".
"I went and got petrol the other day and this young fella says 'aw, you're famous aye? I'm going to see your movie'.
"At the premiere, I had young guys 13 and 15 years old who came up to me and said I love your movie; your movie makes me want to think about things differently now.
"When you get older you recognise the importance of your parents and to treat them with more respect. This is coming from a teenage perspective.
"And men in their 30s and 40s came up to me after the premiere and shook my hand and said how moved they were."
Habicht admits he still cries in parts of the film, even though he's seen it dozens of times.
"The movie is made with love and it's about reminding people to be human beings and to honour their parents and each other and have respect for all life in general," James said.
"It's not about wealth, it's about aroha."
At the end of the day, it's about one man's relationship with his beloved mum.
"We're equal partners," James said.
"We just live our lives.
"It's the same as a marriage or your best friend, it's a relationship and you either make it work and put the effort in, or else it doesn't."
• James & Isey is released in cinemas on May 6.