The New Zealand national flag flies beside the Parliamentary building in Wellington.
POV: In bringing a marginal story to a general audience, you had to make some conscious choices about your storytelling methods. This must have been an interesting challenge for you, as a filmmaker with a lot of experience in experimental film. Describe the choices you made for Georgie Girl and explain the kinds of projects you’ve worked on in the past.
Annie Goldson: Working in New Zealand offers different pleasures and challenges than working in larger countries. A disadvantage is that there is a very small alternative funding and distribution infrastructure which means that should one work in an experimental fashion, one has to be continuously involved in building audiences. The advantage of a smaller country on the other hand is that the “center” is forced to accommodate the margins more readily, and is generally reflects a wider range of political views than mainstream media in larger countries. There is also a strong sense of the “national” here and the majority of New Zealanders watch one of three broadcast outlets, hence, it is possible to have something like a “television event.” There is not so much dispersal as one sees in larger countries. Interestingly, Georgina is not seen as a marginal figure in New Zealand, she is enormously popular with most people, partly because she is so honest, but also she fits into the mould of the “Kiwi battler,” a favorite figure in women’s magazines (a “battler” is someone who overcomes huge hurdles through their own efforts and determination). Her ability to reach different sectors of this society was reflected in the pre-broadcast publicity here, as Georgie Girl was reviewed both by the more literary high culture journals, such as the “Listener” (that concentrated on the film) as well as the more populist magazines such as “TV Guide” and “The Women’s Weekly” (which concentrated solely on Georgina and her colorful life).
The “Kiwi battler” in action. Georgina Beyer at target practice with her constituents. Photo: The Dominion Post.
I realize that, engaged as I am in a relatively politicized cinema, I want to communicate with large audiences. My last film, “Punitive Damage,” a mother-son story about a young New Zealander who was a political activist killed in East Timor, was released in cinemas and on television around the world, again to large audiences. In film studies circles, both my last films would be categorized as “realist” which to some is a pejorative term. Of course, there has been a long debate about politics, documentary and form, but I am at a point where I feel that documentary “realism” has suffered from a rather over-generalized attack, and can be far more complex and far less politically compromised that some theorists have suggested. I really enjoy experimentation and certainly watch as much experimental film as I can here, but I find at this stage in my career, I do want that debate with a larger audience.
POV: One of the important tools you used was humor — tell us about the crucial role that humor plays in making the film approachable.
Goldson: There were some pretty irresistible juxtapositions in the film, which we shot instinctively and made themselves evident in the edit. But there were some genuinely funny characters, too, led of course by Georgina herself who has a kind of spontaneous oratory and humor quite typical within Maoridom which has a tradition of oral presentation. But Carmen, Dulcie and Malcolm are also very funny. Georgina has used humor, I think, to put people at ease and to break down prejudice. I know that some people feel uncomfortable in the presence of transgender people and she readily relaxes them. Many of Georgina’s local supporters, who may have had certain attitudes in the past but who adore Georgina now, go around saying “Oh, being a transsexual doesn’t really matter.” But as Chris says in the film, it does matter, it has made her who she is, and that is exciting, something to be enjoyed. So it was a combination of interlacing what was extraordinary and unique and serious about the story and the situation with the humor and warmth of the characters.