Director Michelle Savill’s first feature film shot on both sides of 2020’s lockdown saw Ana running around all the nooks and crannies of her hometown of Wellington.
Filming locations included the vibrant Cuba Street precinct, Wellington Airport, Karori, where Ana grew up, and a flat where some of her best mates lived. The New Zealand Film Commission-funded film even features her Mum’s barbershop chorus.
Ana plays the film’s pivotal lead Millie, a would-be architect heading for an internship at a prestigious firm in New York City. As she sets foot on the plane, she has a massive panic attack and gets off.
Unable to face anyone with the shameful truth she decides to hide it, instead posting on social media pretending she’s made it to New York and is having the best time.
Ana describes the film-making period as intense.
“I was looking at a place where I am from with fresh eyes. I was in a very familiar place that I love very much, working on a project which I also loved very much, not only going through the totally new adventure that is shooting a first lead role in a feature film, but also this wider situation of the pandemic.”
Filming began four days before the first lockdown. It was put on hold for six months then shooting resumed just before the omicron outbreak. The film screened at various film festivals including the New Zealand International Film Festival in 2021, Berlin, SXSW and Edinburgh in 2022 ahead of it’s NZ theatrical release in September 2022.
“We had opportunities to celebrate around the world — having given everything to creating this piece, to just have those moments of closure and completion when there had been so much uncertainty was wonderful,” says Ana.
“I’m so grateful we got it in the can, and for people to have finally been able to see it.”
As a UNESCO City of Film, Wellington is known for its rich and diverse screen activity, and it’s something Ana is proud of.
“I’m really stoked international big-budget films like Avatar have been shooting here, but my big thing is our local stories.
Ana is a strong advocate for creating a more diverse screen sector, one that shines a light of Aotearoa’s original stories and storytellers.
“If we don’t tell these stories, then literally no one else will.”
‘Millie Lies Low aside, the 2016 Toi Whakaari graduate played a lead role in the 2021 inter-generational Māori women-led feature film Cousins.
She is also among the ensemble cast in Alice Englert’s debut feature Bad Behaviour, completed a nine-month stint in Shortland Street, and she has just wrapped filming a new Netflix series God’s Favourite Idiot.
Currently, Ana is enjoying being part of the Wellington-based A Wave in the Ocean: Aotearoa Pop Up Film Intensive run by New Zealand’s own Academy Award®-winning director Jane Campion.
“She’s a true tohunga, of cinema, I’m just so in awe of her as a person, it’s been quite overwhelming for all of us, especially for me, as a young performer/director who’s made one short film!”
Over the next year, with funding support, each of the 10 participants will make a short film to consolidate their learnings.
“This is an opportunity that isn’t lost on me, it will help me to broaden my horizons and become a more objective storyteller, it’s an experience I feel very grateful for.”