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Alumni Q&A: Zoe Mcintosh

24 August 2023

Beginning her filmmaking career here at the Ilam School of Fine Art, Zoe McIntosh is now an award-winning director of commercial, documentary and dramatic works. Her latest feature film, Stylebender, had its global premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in June 2023, where it was nominated for Best Documentary and Best New Director.


What was your motivation when choosing to study a BFA in Film?

I remember being really keen to get out of Auckland. Ilam School of Fine Art had a great reputation for producing interesting artists at the time and I was excited about going to a place where I knew nobody. Little did I know that 'being out of my comfort zone' would become a theme in my film work later haha.

It’s notoriously difficult to get your break as a woman in filmmaking – how did you transition from studying to working in the industry?

Zoe McIntosh Image 2 UC Alumni

Thank you for acknowledging this. It is SO hard to become a film director and even harder as a woman. How I transitioned was by submitting two films I had made at University into a few film festivals overseas and in New Zealand. They got traction and won a few awards. This recognition opened doors for me to direct films in New Zealand while I was still quite young.

Is there a project from your portfolio that you feel particularly proud of?

I cringe at all of them now if I am honest. I would LOVE to dig them out and watch them though- just for a laugh. God knows where I could find them. 

At Uni I made a film called Night Vision about an unconventional relationship, a pimp and prostitute who were married and had a kid together. They really let me into their lives and were so honest and accommodating. I was proud of that film because it was raw, intimate and bold. Making it was a seminal moment for me, as it clarified to me directing films was exactly what I wanted to do. It was a high I will never forget and I still get when making documentaries today.

What is your favourite part of the creative process? What is the most challenging?

There are so many parts to the creative process that I adore. I absolutely love finding charismatic, flawed and unconventional characters. I also adore spit balling ideas with creative people who I admire and connect with (whether that's the cinematographer, writer or the art director). I generate so much energy from collaborating creatively with people I admire. Finally, I love the visual process of creating a mood board and the look of the film. Trying to distill the central idea of the film into key visual metaphors is super fun.

Can you tell us about your most recent project, Stylebender?

Yes, I have just finished a feature film. It's an intimate look at Israel Adesanya, the Nigerian-born, New Zealand-based MMA champion, which goes beyond the ring and delves deep into an unlikely fighter's journey. Exploring themes including masculinity, bullying and the healing power of dance, this is a poignant examination of the complex, electrifying and sometimes controversial personality known as 'The Last Stylebender.' It's has just premiered in New York at Tribeca film festival and is coming out in cinemas across NZ- 24th August 2023!

What advice would you offer to current film students dreaming of a career like yours?

Don't be like everyone else- find your own flavour and voice. The world today is noisy and full of content, you have to really zone into what makes YOU different. Understand that it's a career of constant rejection. Enjoy the process. Be curious as f**k and surround yourself with people who are better than you. 

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