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Andrea Bosshard's latest effort, The Great Maiden's Blush might explore big themes, yet the Kiwi film-maker is not interested in making big statements, Shane Gilchrist writes.
Written almost two decades ago, big-screen drama The Great Maiden's Blush offers subject matter that reflects both the pain and joy of its lengthy gestation.
The film tells the story of two first-time single mothers who share a room in a postnatal ward. Starring Miriama McDowell as girl-racer Bunny and Renee Lyons as Aila, a pianist and gardener, the drama explores the challenges of new motherhood.
From very different worlds, the two mothers nonetheless develop a friendship that is both cautious and deep as each is forced to confront their past and face the truth of the paternity of their newborn babies.
Wellington-based writer and director Andrea Bosshard has cause for celebration as her independent effort rolls out at cinemas around New Zealand in the coming weeks, chiefly because she and fellow film-maker (and partner in life) Shane Loader have done it their way.
"I wrote it 18 years ago and in the end, having done quite a few films in between, we just thought, 'let's do it'. It wasn't crowd-funded, instead we had built up relationships with people involved in our other films. In a way I think they had trust in me.
"We made the film we wanted to make, albeit within a very tight budget.''
Bosshard says the screenplay for The Great Maiden's Blush was inspired by (but not based on) a novel by Russian author Julia Voznesenskaya, The Women's Decameron, which focuses on a group of Leningrad women who swap stories among themselves in a postnatal ward.
"The book is very formal in its structure, but it has these women discussing the big themes of life. I thought it was delightful,'' she explains via phone from Wellington earlier this week.
"At the same time I had also experienced problems breast-feeding my first daughter and spent a lot of time at the Karitane unit, which doesn't exist now. It was a place where race, religion and class became irrelevant among this group of women trying to deal with newborn babies.
"There is that window after giving birth when the world is turned upside down and one's priorities completely turn over. One's hopes for the world also change.''
The Great Maiden's Blush might explore big themes (including relationships, loss, grief, responsibility and hope), yet Bosshard says she's not interested in making big statements.
Bosshard also used a non-linear approach to the narrative; as the plot is revealed in measured doses, viewers are required to peel back layers of inference.
"We had the freedom to play with structure, although not everything that works in a script or on paper will work when you put it on the editing bench. Editor Annie Collins played with the structure for a long time.''
Bosshard says it helps to have actors able and willing to offer more than what's in the script.
"It can be very lonely being a director, so having people contributing to the story as a whole is very exciting.
"I think an actor's performance can change a character, too. Take Miriama McDowell, who plays Bunny. Once we started three weeks of improvisations, she brought out an unexpected vulnerability to her character.
"I love going to see films that allow me to negotiate my way through the story, the characters and relationships. Those sorts of films resonate within me for a long time. In a sense, I think The Great Maiden's Blush has a much more European ethos than many New Zealand films.
"Historically, New Zealand films have been quite grim or we tend to go with blokey-type things. Both Shane and I thought it was important to offer some hope in a world full of violence and negativity.
"The film is about a very personal story but it is also about how life goes on, that there is always a way forward.''
On that subject, Bosshard and Loader are on the move, too.
The couple plan to swap life in Wellington for Middlemarch, home to Bosshard's parents Patricia and Kobi, a highly regarded jeweller.
"I have lived in Wellington for about 30 years but it's never really felt like home. I have loved living here and enjoyed bringing up our children here, but I haven't felt a deep connection to the city. And every time I get back to the South Island ... I feel like I can breathe.
"Also, my parents are getting older. And two of our kids are in Dunedin now. We are just waiting for our youngest daughter to finish school this year. We are going to build a tiny place just out of Middlemarch. The plan is to continue to make films down there.''
It's something of a circular journey then for Bosshard, who grew up in Dunedin, attended Logan Park High School and the University of Otago before heading to Victoria University then to Australia to further a film-making ambition that was planted by her late teacher, Denise Walsh, head of drama at Logan Park.
"She was the person who first put into my mind the notion of film-making.
"I remember being bored out of my mind in sixth form and Denise gave me a super-8 camera and told me to go away and make a film. As soon as I held that camera, I knew what I wanted to do with my life.
"In one way, that was very simple. In another way, the tenacity that has been required has been immense.''
Since studying at Swinburne Film School in Melbourne, Andrea Bosshard has made many short films as well as the critically acclaimed documentary Backroom Troubles and feature dramas Hook, Line & Sinker (2011) and Taking the Waewae Express (2008).
She has taught screen performance at the Wellington Performing Arts Centre for nine years and has also lectured in film production at Victoria University.
She is currently working on a feature documentary on her father, goldsmith Kobi Bosshard.
The Great Maiden's Blush opens at Rialto (Dunedin), Limelight Cinema (Oamaru) and Ruby's (Wanaka) on Thursday, May 5; and at Central Cinema, Alexandra, on May 21.
Rialto Dunedin will hold a special Mother's Day screening (including Q&A) on Sunday, May 8, at 5.45pm.