Nick Afoa and Richard Short in Mysterious Ways (Supplied)
Nick Afoa and Richard Short in Mysterious Ways (Supplied)
4 min read

For a film that is centred inside a church, surrounding a church community and with the lead character a vicar, Mysterious Ways does its best to tell an interracial gay love story in the most warm-hearted and kindest way while dealing with the impact that religion has on members of the rainbow community worldwide.

Set in New Zealand’s biggest city Auckland, this film is unashamedly Kiwi, but could literally be picked up and repositioned into a town in Australia, the United States or Asia and no one would know the difference, such that the characters and the story is universal.

Mysterious Ways tells the story of Peter, a vicar who wants a church wedding with his boyfriend Jason, who is Samoan. For Anglicans, this is not allowed, and homosexuality itself is still very taboo in Samoan culture.


When news of the marriage makes headlines a media storm erupts, and God is forced to step in.

For Director Paul Oremland the film has been a real labour of love but it’s clear, when Gay Nation spoke with him, it’s a film from the heart.

“I’m passionate about it, obviously, and that’s down to just everybody who came together in a way that I’ve never seen before,” Oremland explained about the production process.

“It’s a film that was made from very little. But ultimately, it’s the performances, and I can’t praise the cast enough.”

Nick Afoa and Richard Short in Mysterious Ways (Supplied)
Nick Afoa and Richard Short in Mysterious Ways (Supplied)

The film, put together for just a few hundred thousand dollars, was filmed in 16 days in between stints of Covid lockdowns which created headaches on many levels.

Producer Ngaire Fuata said the hurdles that they needed to jump to make the film actually had a positive effect on the end result.

“It was difficult, because we had some support from the film commission, and then we didn’t. Then we just decided we would make it and we got a really good team of people that believed in the story,” Fuata said.

“It was actually, in some ways, a really beautiful way of making the film. It was one of those things that’s probably divinely meant to be that way.”

Established British actor Richard Short (Mary Kills People, Tragedy of Macbeth) plays the vicar Peter and screen newcomer Nick Afoa (Who played Simba in the London West End theatre production of The Lion King) plays Nick, who is of Samoan and Croatian heritage.

The supporting cast includes acclaimed Kiwi actor Michael Hurst who plays the Bishop, Maureen Fepuleai whose portrayal of the ‘Aunt’ is just stunning and Newcomer Joe Malu Folau who, at times, steals the show playing Jason’s young gender-fluid nephew Billy who arrives in town insisting they are an angel sent by God to bless the wedding.

“Most of the characters were based on, real people,” Oremland said.

“Joe, who plays Billy, brought the character to life in a way that we didn’t expect.”

At this point, Fuata piped in saying they had something in mind for the Billy character but didn’t really expect the result.

“He [Folau] came along, and we were like – we always said we would have to think out of the box with it, and he just blew everyone else away, really, in his very own style,” Fuata said.

Joe Malu Folau as Billy in Mysterious Ways (Supplied)
Joe Malu Folau as Billy in Mysterious Ways (Supplied)

To secure Afoa was also a victory for the film.

“I suggested him to Paul, because I’ve done stories on him before, and I kind of knew him, and I wasn’t quite sure whether he’d be up for a role like this,” Fuata said.

“But I suggested it to him and he was just, he was there. He did a screen test, and it was just perfect.”

“He was just amazing,” Oremland said, “He really took on that character, and he was quite brave to do so. I mean, a lot of the people involved are very brave, because it’s still a very taboo subject.”

Although it’s clearly a rainbow community story, the film has appealed to a large cross-section of audiences that have seen the film.

They have had screenings where clergy have come along and have said the film is “their story” and another screening where a lesbian couple came along and they said it was “their story” and a sold-out showing in a town on the east coast of New Zealand called Whakatane where it was a mixed bag with locals from all walks of life attending and embracing it.

As Oremland, Fuata and the team embark on screenings in the US this week to sell the film, they are quick to mention it is not a film with sex, drugs and rock n roll involved.

“A lot of the gay festivals didn’t pick it up, because they felt it was a Christian film, which it isn’t meant to be. I mean, it’s not,” explained Oremland.

“I just think there’s an audience out there for the film.”

On a side note, Oremland and Fuata passed on a story from the small church they did most of their filming in an inner suburb of Auckland. They had to get permission from the Bishop to film the party scene within the church with the character Billy performing a drag set.

“The vicar said she read the script and loved it,” Oremland recalled.

“Then she goes on, I spoke to the bishop and he said is the film truthful and honest and I said yes and he said ok fine you can have a drag act in the church.”

For a film that was all about love and acceptance, the church does work in mysterious ways.

For readers in New Zealand, you can stream Mysterious Ways on TVNZ+. For those in Australia, the film will be released on the SBS channel NITV in June 2024. For those in the northern hemisphere it is on release in German territories (Germany, Austria and Switzerland), US/Canada at the end of May and the United Kingdom should have an opportunity to see it mid-year.

Last Updated on Apr 16, 2024

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