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Trace Elements

Cityscape caught up with former local and director and writer of subantarctic thriller Human Traces Nic Gorman ahead of its opening on November 16.

Image: Kirk Pflaum

Where did the idea for Human Traces come from?
The idea came from the location – both in the sense of place as well as the isolation felt at the bottom of the world. Once I had a picture in mind of these brutal, weather-beaten dots of earth in the Southern Ocean, the characters and the plot flowed from there.

How would you describe your first feature film?
A better writer than me (Variety magazine) described it thusly: “A chamber piece played out in wide-open and brutally inhospitable spaces, Human Traces evolves into a gripping study in isolation, desperation and paranoia”.

What do you hope audiences take from it?
I hope they’re taken to a different world. The film is also a study in empathy, and I hope they get to experience a world seen through three separate people’s points-of-view.

What’s your favourite on-set story?
Shooting on conservation land in the deep south, we had to be incredibly mindful and considerate of the wildlife. We had penguin spotters on set who would notify us when penguins were swimming to shore down the beach and we would drop to the ground. One day we had sea-lion wranglers on set. They came in handy when a giant bull sea lion decided to demolish our make-up tent and chased us around the beach!

How did you get Human Traces off the ground, and did your award for Here Be Monsters help?
We won the Moa (NZ Film Award) for Best New Zealand short around the same time as the first draft from Human Traces was done. It definitely helped open doors for us and it became easier to cold-call people we wanted to work with. Timing and perseverance are huge parts of getting films off the ground.

What locations are locals likely to spot?
Cantabrians might recognise Haylocks Bay, which is a DOC reserve at the Akaroa harbour heads. We also shot on some tussocky slopes near the summit of Banks Peninsula and filmed one sequence in the Godley Head battery.

What advice would you give to young people wanting to crack the film industry?
Again, perseverance is important. Also, you’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with – work with people who excite you and terrify you. Watch lots of films. Support the local industry. Be nice, be open to all possibilities and love telling stories.

Tell us about your signing with Echo Lake Entertainment.
It’s all early days. I’m interested in telling stories on a bigger canvas. I’d love to work in America should the opportunity present itself.

What’s your favourite movie?
It changes all the time! I still dream though about the images in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, so let’s call it that today. In it Naomi Watts gives one of the greatest performances ever put on film. It’s often really funny, but it’s sexy too, and it’s terrifying, and in the end it’s terribly sad. Great art has the power to make you feel different and complementary emotions at the same time.

What are you working on now?
I’m writing the nth draft of a grounded science-fiction film. It’s about aging, death and parenting. All the fun stuff!

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