As renowned for his idiosyncratic voice and eccentricity as he is for his poetry, Sam Hunt is the perfect person to star in a documentary. Sam Hunt: Purple Balloon and Other Stories, released on the 26th of May, knows this; directed by Tim Rose and produced by Jim Scott, the film features interviews with Sam, his friends, family and contemporary poets, along with various snippets of Sam’s poetry itself.
Work on the film began five years ago when Scott and Rose, who have been friends with Hunt for around forty years, decided to record Hunt performing poetry. “Poems don’t necessarily belong on the page,” Scott said. Steadfast in this conviction, one of their initial aims was to have Sam perform over digital media. Eventually, the film developed into a fully fledged documentary on the poet’s life.
An initial unwillingness on the part of the New Zealand Film Commission to fund the film led to difficulties. “We were kind of juggling work to do it,” Scott described. “It would have moved it along a lot quicker if we had the money.” Scott believes that a great deal of the problems they had with selling the movie to the Film Commission stemmed from the lack of clear narrative in the film; “We talked to a representative from the Film Commission and she basically said ‘why would we want to fund a movie about a drunk hippy?’” That said, the duo eventually triumphed, attaining post-production funding from the Commission.
There were other difficulties in preparing the film. “Sam likes his dope, he starts drinking early, and you’ve got to share, you’ve got to be a part of it,” Rose said. “By the end of the filming it’s difficult to keep the camera steady and your wits about you.” Scott agreed. “You think you’re doing the right thing at the time, and later you look at it and are like ‘for fuck’s sake!’”
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Despite these obstacles, Scott and Rose persevered – after all, Hunt’s story was something they had to tell. “In a certain generation’s mind’s eye, he’s still the stand-out New Zealander,” Scott elaborated. “We’re still quite a rugby, racing, beer culture, so the main standout thing about Sam is he took arty things to the people. He took something that wasn’t mainstream New Zealand and changed our mindset. He basically changed New Zealand culture for a generation because he totally believed in what he was doing. Poems are his currency. You can take the piss out of him, but you still like him. There’s elements of him you’d quite like to be.”
Scott and Rose were especially keen to show the audience both sides of Hunt’s personality, the public and the private. “The public’s quite buffoonish, you get people doing Sam Hunt impersonations,” Scott said, “but he also relishes his privacy.” Hunt was largely open in his interviews, discussing his family, the death of his mother and the birth of his sons; however, Scott and Rose avoided questions involving the women in his life. “He doesn’t go into specifics,” Rose said. “We didn’t go there. If we had, it would have been a different movie.”
Having gelled during the production process, Scott and Rose plan to continue working together in the future. Rose is currently writing a script for a new movie. “It’s been a lot of work, but seeing a film in the box office is quite exciting,” he said. “We’d like to do a drama with a smaller budget to try and make some money without the Film Commission. It’s the modern age, it can be done.” However, there may still be conflicts to come – Rose wants to make an ‘arty’ film, while Scott wants it to be a ‘treasure hunt’. “It’ll probably be somewhere in between,” he said.