Rochelle Bright sounds remarkably calm for someone who is laying bare her parents’ love story – with all its blemishes – on the silver screen.
Daffodils, based on her award-winning play of the same name, is about how her parents met among the daffodils by Hamilton Lake – the same spot her grandparents had met 20 years before – and what happened next, a bitter-sweet love story packed with great New Zealand music, re-arranged and performed by LIPS (Steph Brown and Fen Ikner) with the movie adding three original songs.
“It’s always been a story I’ve wanted to tell one way or another,” says Bright, who attended Bethlehem College and was raised at Mount Maunganui. “I was working on something else in 2013 while I had the residency at the Robert Lord Cottage in Dunedin when it just clicked and I knew how to write it.
“I didn’t have any expectations for it but there has been an unbelievable response to the play that’s taken me around the world.”
And now that play, which performed at the 2015 Tauranga Arts Festival, is a movie, complete with a yellow carpet premiere in Wellington.
“This is actually my third screenplay but it’s the first one to be made,” Bright says. “I’ve always loved film and I’m lucky that I felt confident about working on this project but all the same it has been a huge learning curve.”
“The theatre production is very much Bullet Heart Club’s and the movie is very much David’s”Rochelle Bright - Bullet Heart Club
Director David Stubbs wanted to make a movie featuring New Zealand love songs and contacted Bullet Heart Club, the theatre company started by Bright and Kitan Petkovski in 2013, about Daffodils. “The theatre production is very much Bullet Heart Club’s and the movie is very much David’s,” Bright says. “Daffodils has always just as much been about the music and the songs so having LIPS involved was magic.”
The film is rich with iconic Kiwi music, including Crowded House, Bic Runga, Chris Knox, The Mint Chicks, Dave Dobbyn, The Exponents, Mutton Birds, Th’Dudes, Ray Columbus and Blam Blam Blam.
Bright describes the resulting movie as the vision of every creative who worked on it. “The script is just one version. Because it’s a much bigger collaboration there are many more variables – the director plays with it, the actors improvise. And then the film editor gets hold of it and tells it another way.
“I’m too close to the work to be able to judge it – and, actually, what I think doesn’t matter. So much of it is about how other people respond to the story.”
Describing Daffodils as a search for her father – who died in a workplace accident when Bright was 14, “shattering the family” – she says there are a few hidden treats in the movie for family members. Lead actor George Mason, for instance, wears her father’s ring, while the travel photos are from her father’s slides.
“It makes me feel very honoured and special that they would bother to do that,” Bright says. “And I couldn’t believe how much like Mum Rose McIver looked when she came out of hair and make-up. They’d done a brilliant job.”
The other main character, played by Kimbra in her acting debut, is the couple’s adult daughter who acts as narrator.
Filmed in Raglan, Hamilton, Wellington and Wairarapa, the movie crew had to, at times, re-create parts of Hamilton – including the daffodils – that no longer exist.
“It’s kind of special as a storyteller to be able to bring that time and the world of a very average working family to the big screen,” Bright says.
“I’ve been very lucky that Mum has been so supportive – I asked her permission from the beginning. I wouldn’t be here otherwise. She saw the movie script and gave her blessing. But Daffodils has always had fiction mixed in with fact so there’s an element of distance there too.”Bright’s quest to know her father better has had a positive, private spin-off. “I feel like I’ve been on a good journey to honour him and creating this piece of art for him has brought the family closer. Daffodils has reached out to family members who haven’t talked in a long time. It’s been a healing process.”