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Astrid Glitter, the woman behind John, New Zealand’s only gay pornographic feature film. (Portrait: Byron Coll, Image Design: Tina Tiller)
Astrid Glitter, the woman behind John, New Zealand’s only gay pornographic feature film. (Portrait: Byron Coll, Image Design: Tina Tiller)

Pop CultureNovember 13, 2022

The woman behind New Zealand’s only gay pornographic feature film

Astrid Glitter, the woman behind John, New Zealand’s only gay pornographic feature film. (Portrait: Byron Coll, Image Design: Tina Tiller)
Astrid Glitter, the woman behind John, New Zealand’s only gay pornographic feature film. (Portrait: Byron Coll, Image Design: Tina Tiller)

Astrid Glitter, director of John, New Zealand’s first and only gay pornographic feature film, tells Sam Brooks why she remains so proud of it 16 years on.

The synopsis of John sounds like it could be any entry in the local film section of the New Zealand Film Festival. “John is a regular Kiwi guy who’s tired of one night stands. Men just want to shoot and leave, when John really wants to just have someone to love.”

John isn’t just another independent film, though. Released in 2006, John is the first, and to date only gay pornographic feature film made in New Zealand. Almost as unusually, it was made by a woman, Astrid Glitter. Her name is a pseudonym: GLITTER is a quasi-acronym of “girls like it too”. “Astrid”, meanwhile, just sounded cool.

Sixteen years after its premiere, this is the story of John and the woman who brought it to the screen.

Astrid Glitter poses with Byron Coll’s portrait of her, at the official launch of Chris and Eli’s Porn Revolution. (Photo: Jinki Cambronero)

The year was 2005. Glitter, an Aucklander working in the theatre and film industry, had been wanting to make a film herself for a long time. A friend had mentioned to her that they would love to see an adult film starring gay men and made in New Zealand. Glitter thought she could do that – with a feminist, sex-positive slant.

“I approached it as an independent film,” she says – this wasn’t going to be a quickly made video shot in a hotel room. The first stage was research. Glitter wanted to understand the genre: what the formulas were, what patterns she needed to follow, or subvert. “I looked at things I thought were rubbish and what wasn’t, down to how many minutes of sex was in an adult film, how many different kinds of performances, if they had a story, and how that story works.”

It was important to Glitter that the film had a real storyline that stood on its own without the sex scenes. The film follows John as he makes his way through Auckland’s gay scene, and is basically a sweet rom-com complicated by a female flatmate who is deeply in love with John. Despite John’s own yearning for love, a few of those men, predictably, want nothing more than an anonymous hook-up.

Also important? “Good music! That was really important because the soundtracks in adult films can be just atrocious.” The soundtrack, by composer Paul Frewin, remains one of Glitter’s favourite things about the film. Some tracks would sit perfectly in a 90s rom-com, others are full-on indie rock; there’s even a little bit of ska in there. 

Glitter was firm that John should be a different sort of film than standard mainstream adult cinema. “I wanted to make sure that there were things in John that were positive influences,” she says. “To show that you could have adult material that was X-rated that still had positive messaging.” When a condom is used in John, for example, it’s shown in full – very different from the obfuscation and tricky camera angles used in most adult films to hide the use of condoms.

By November of 2005, the cast and crew were hired – the auditions required the actors to read a script and get an erection onstage. Filming began in the middle of December, and they shot for eight days, with one pick-up just after Christmas. “I remember on the very first day on set realising, ‘This is where I belong,’” Glitter recalls. “I remember that feeling of knowing that this is the role that suits me best. I was totally in a happy place.”

Post-production took place through the first half of 2006 before John was sent off to the censors in August, receiving the expected “X” rating.

Then, on September 9, 2006, John emerged into the world.

Astrid Glitter talks to a friend/fan at the launch of Chris and Eli’s Porn Revolution. (Photo: Jinki Cambronero)

The release was a glitzy event. After a cast and crew screening at a private cinema, Glitter limoed everybody to a venue on Karangahape Road, where attendees were served a “Glittertini” – 42 Below vodka, white creme de cacao, lycee liquor and rose syrup in a martini glass.

While John received an ecstatic response from the gay press, it was a rocky road to get the film out to people – despite, amazingly, it being included in the Buy New Zealand Made campaign. “We had the sticker on the DVD and everything!” laughs Glitter, still incredulous.

Glitter Films had to distribute the film independently. “It was just at that turning point where people still bought DVDs, there weren’t really any streaming services. If you wanted to do a download, you actually had to download it to your computer,” says Glitter.

She thinks that people were appreciative of what the film was trying to do, and the ground that it was breaking. “But if you look at the adult content that people wanted to buy, it’s generally a lot harder and a lot rawer than what John is,” she says. Her film was “quite soft in respect to gay adult material that might’ve been around”.

John was stuck in a no-man’s land; it was too adult to be the sort of independent film you’d see at the New Zealand Film Festival, and it was too “soft” to fit in with the hardcore gay pornography on offer. The price point was also an issue; they charged a premium because it was made with higher production values than, say, a video of two people in a hotel room.

Glitter Films did two production runs of John, the first one selling out thanks to orders in the US. The second run didn’t sell out, and Glitter still has the copies in her closet.

Glitter is philosophical about its muted reception. John wasn’t supposed to be a purely commercial venture, in the way that a lot of adult films are. When it comes to most pornography, if it’s not made cheap it’s unlikely to make money. Glitter thinks that’s why nobody else in New Zealand attempted a similar project. “They’re looking to do it for commercial value. I wasn’t doing that. I was looking to make a film.”

Despite the relatively small release, John did receive acclaim. Both the film and Glitter were nominated at the 2010 GayVN Awards, for Best Alternative Release and Best Director, and it was also an official selection for the Berlin Porn Film Festival. Although Glitter is no longer making adult films, she would love for John to make it to the New Zealand Film Archive, to be recognised as part of film history. “It’s an unusual thing in the history of New Zealand film,” she says. “No one had done it before, and I don’t believe anyone has done it since.”

She doesn’t talk much about John today, but she hasn’t forgotten the team who poured themselves into the project. “I may have been steering the ship, basically, but there were an awful lot of people that were helping to make it, and I thank them all,” she says. “They were also stepping out and doing something really different.”

Ultimately, despite how groundbreaking John was, and how much of a true unicorn it is in New Zealand cinema, adult or otherwise, to Glitter, it’s just a normal story. “Gay men want to find love too right? Sure hookups and one night stands are fun, but people want to find love too. 

“That’s a normal story. Does it really matter if you’re gay or straight?”

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