Paul Oremland

‘Mysterious Ways’ filmmaker talks about the journey to make his movie and its impact

JENNY BLOCK | Contributing Writer

Queerness and religion are strange and, oft times, dangerous bedfellows. It’s a topic that even cinema tends to shy away from. But one filmmaker has decided to hit it head on, and he’s done it with glorious results.

Written and directed by Paul Oremland, Mysterious Ways is a brand new LQBTQ film out of New Zealand that is ruffling some feathers — in a good way.

The film is about a media storm that threatens the marriage between a vicar, played by Richard Short, and his Samoan boyfriend, played by Nick Afoa, after the two announce that they plan to have a traditional wedding in the church.

Mysterious Ways was released on April 30 by Ariztical Entertainment and will be available on a number of platforms, including iTunes, VUDU and Google Play, as well as Ariztical’s digital platforms and DVD.

Dallas Voice caught up with Oremland to find out more about Mysterious Ways and its, well, mysterious ways.

Dallas Voice: Did you always want to be a filmmaker? Paul Oremland: Yeah, I mean, I started making films when I was at school, and I won’t give my age away by saying it was on super eight, but yeah. And it’s something that I’ve always loved. Both film and television have been my life.

It was quite strange though. I was brought up in a fairly strict fundamentalist religion, which actually frowned on movies. So I didn’t actually see any of them until I was about 16, and I was a little screwed up about being gay and the religious thing. Ironically, the first film I ever saw in my life was Ben Hur, a great classic, and it blew my mind. But at the time I was very screwed up and angry at the world, and I just thought, what great medium to sort of get back at all these people who are making me feel bad. That was sort of the driving force to begin with, but then it changed.

What inspired you to make this particular film? It’s been a real labor of love. I worked on it for a long time. It started out when marriage was becoming a possibility for gay people, and I just thought, look, it’s a great area to explore. I’m not a devout Christian or anything anymore, but I’ve always been interested in religion because of my background. I was aware of the split in the Anglican church, so I just thought what a great subject to explore.

What made you think you could make this idea of a film into a reality? I think it’s tough to get any film off the ground in this environment. I mean, you have to be convinced, and I was pretty convinced it was the right film for me to do. It just felt like the next film that I felt I had to make.

For some reason, the idea that you can be gay and also have faith seems to confuse and upset a lot of people. I mean, we’ve actually had some quite negative reactions to the film from gay people, oddly enough. … Yet I’ve also seen it mean so much to so many people.

Can you speak a little to what the negative reactions from gay people were? I think it’s because the film is not anti-religion. I understand the pain and suffering that so many rainbow people have been dealt by religion over the years. But I think it’s more subversive to suggest that there can be gay Christians.

It’s difficult. I grew up in a country where it was illegal. You were imprisoned. They had aversion therapy. It was a completely taboo subject at school. You were totally ostracized if you were even thought to be gay. So a film like this is incredible.

It is a wholesome film. It has a little bit of kissing and it’s definitely a film about love, but it’s not sex, drugs and rock and roll.

Do you have any advice for people who want to remain in the church but who are also gay and don’t want to have to be closeted? The film is about love triumphing [and] about family and community. For me, one of the most important things is community. Communities are really important, and a church is a community, and when it’s supportive, it can be fantastic. My parents remain deeply devout and they managed to still be supportive and weirdly come round, although it remains an issue.

The other thing, the film is a biracial love story, and the character Jason is Samoan, The Pacific Islander community throughout the world, but certainly here in New Zealand, is very large, fairly conservative, deeply religious. And this is still huge taboo. I mean, it’s still illegal in many of the Pacific Islands.

In America there are still many, many gay Christians who struggle with the fact that they have to find a church that accepts them. And often, and it still splits families apart. Here in New Zealand, I met a young person the other day whose family had virtually thrown him out, and I just couldn’t believe it in this day and age.

I feel more included when cheesy movies are made that include our community. Do you feel that way too? I feel in many ways it’s more subversive. It’s been amazing down here. We had a little theatrical run, and we had lots of gay clergy who said, ‘Look, this is our story.’ And we had young gay people bringing their mom and dad. Growing up, it would have been wonderful to have something like this. It’s a film that’s got real heart.

Anything else you’d like to share? It’s a struggle to get it noticed. The gay festivals didn’t want to go near it. And that’s been really sad, because I’ve also seen how it really has moved people. There are so many gay people still struggling to reconcile faith and sexuality and it doesn’t need to be that way.

I’ve not seen another film that touches on this area. There are lots of films attacking religion, lots of films about struggling and eventually finding love and leaving your faith. But a film where one celebrates it and God blesses it in a most unexpected way, I think it’s important.

There are a lot of people that it will mean a lot to. Watch it, because at the end it delivers. It delivers. The ending’s really spectacular.

Watch the trailer at