Short Film Review: Way South

Directed by Benn Jae

Where we live, the marketing shorts that play before the main features at the movies tend to fall under the umbrella of what the Gen Z kids call “things white people like.” There are a lot of hot stone massages, wine tastings and mountaintop marriage proposals. So I was delighted to recently come across Way South, which, despite having the same landscapes as a backdrop, is another thing entirely.

Directed by Benn Jae for Lake Wānaka Tourism, Way South is an eight-minute film adaptation of the poem ‘No Motorbikes, No Golf’ by Courtney Sina Meredith. In it, a cast of young friends and strangers meet, reunite, hook up, and frolic in and around the landscapes of Lake Wānaka. Everyone on screen is representative of a facet of the LGBTQI+ community, and they are having a ball.

Gizelle Regan, the Marketing and Communications Manager at Lake Wānaka Tourism, said she gave Benn an open brief: “make it about a sense of place, how being in Wānaka and Central Otago feels for you.” For Benn, who grew up a “colourfully queer child” in Queenstown and confesses to an obsession with the light of Central Otago, the work is a “hyperreal version of what my youth was.”

In particular, he wanted to create an authentic representation of LGBTQI+ life, rather than the kind of tokenistic depiction that is so rife in marketing. Part of that was letting the characters be, and simply to react to the astonishing scenery, which is what visiting the region is all about. “I wanted to build a narrative that was not necessarily speaking to gender or sexuality. It’s just wonderful characters playing in the hills. The whole thing was amazing. Most of the kids in the film have never left the North Island; their performances were really genuine because they were freaking out!”

From a marketing point of view, the film has worked. It’s the tourism organisation’s most viewed video on YouTube, and Gizelle has been stopped on the street by people who were blown away by it. “You don’t get that with your everyday jet boat promo,” she laughs.

No wonder. Possibly the only thing more gorgeous than the ridgelines of the Southern Alps is a crimson boa framed by the ridgelines of the Southern Alps. – LW