New short film opens conversation about male vulnerability in rural NZ

By Jessica Tyson

A new film, Pet Day has helped to open up the conversation about male vulnerability and mental health in rural Aotearoa.

The film, written and directed by Ruby Harris, is one of six sustainability-focused short films, premiering on Māori Television's website, and the Māori+ app this month.

Harris says the film was inspired by her own childhood experiences of growing up in a rural town, male vulnerability and having fun riding horses with her best friend.

“I haven’t seen many films which explore parent male figures in and showing them in a vulnerable way so I thought that that’s quite important to show on screen.”

In the film, best friends Dani and Gabe, prepare for their school's annual pet day. But they become confused by their step-dad's emotional reaction when they bring home a gift from their teacher.

Photo: Someday Stories

The step-dad warns the mum that when he was a boy a teacher also treated him with gifts, which led to something harmful. However, exactly what happened to him was not mentioned in the film.

“That was a conscious decision to not tell the audience that. I wanted it to be from the child’s perspective,” Harris says.

Harris says she knew she could only have a short conversation and wouldn’t have enough time to explore the whole topic.

“I hope that it shows examples of those conversations can be had and for it to be a part of life and growing up without it being a burden, and how it can lead to hopefully some more connection and understanding of each other.”

Photo: Someday Stories

Pet Day was filmed in the Hokianga in April this year.

"We filmed it up there so it was familiar to the cast and their horses and a rural setting that was driveable from Auckland. A crew was brought together who had experience working with younger cast members, who knew the pace and how to work safely around horses."

When Harris and photographer Edith Amituanai went to meet the lead cast members in July 2020, they looked Harris and Edith up and down and eventually asked Ruby if she could ride. She jumped on one of the horses that was "a mongrel" and galloped around the back paddocks before they got invited to come down to the rugby field to hang out. Before leaving they asked Harris how old she was and she asked them how old she looked. They thought about 15 years old and she said she wasn't far off that.

Harris went up every month before the shoot to make sure she and the cast trusted each other and knew the story that was being told. They would meet at the rugby field, catch up, take some photos and go for a walk up the hills.

Where to get help:

  • Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.
  • Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.
  • Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7) or text 4202
  • Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz
  • What's Up: online chat (3pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 helpline (12pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-11pm weekends)
  • Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Someday Stories 2021: Pet Day