Opening in Auckland tomorrow, Whānau Mārama: New Zealand International Film Festival is now celebrating its 55th year in Auckland and 46th year as a national event. A long-standing advocate of queer cinema, 2023’s lineup is endowed with queer stories, including an Australian gay ballroom romance (Of An Age), a closeted teacher’s choices in Thatcher’s Britain (Blue Jean), a surreal poetic trip about gender, race, and love in France (Orlando), and a commune of cross-dressers in 1950’s USA (Casa Susanna). Find these and many more at

Independent filmmaker Ira Sachs has been creating queer cinema since the early nineties. Following his breakthrough gay romantic drama, The Delta, Ira’s work has been selected for festivals worldwide and showered with independent film awards.

Ira’s latest work Passages will make its New Zealand debut at the NZIFF. Passages tells the story of Thomas and Martin, a French/British couple whose 15-year relationship is turned upside down when Thomas falls in love with a woman.


On Zoom from his family home in Ecuador, Ira discusses his love of the New Zealand International Film Festival (NZIFF), his fascination with love triangles, and why telling personal queer stories is getting harder.

What do festivals like the NZIFF mean to you and your career?

That one means more than almost all the others. My first short film, Vaudeville, was chosen for the NZIFF in 1991, and I was invited by Bill Golden to come show the film in NZ when almost no other festival in the world accepted it or saw its promise…. Bill [who passed away in 2017] was just a uniquely independent visionary as a festival programmer and really had the best taste. 

[Internationally] Sundance and the Panorama section of Berlin are different than all other festivals because queerness has been embraced by the leadership of those two festivals in a way that is not true for festivals like Cannes and Venice. These festivals are defined by dominant men in power, and questioning that power is something that young filmmakers must do.

You’ve been producing queer films since the early nineties. Is it easier to tell queer stories now than it was then?

Progress doesn’t just go forward. While being a part of a queer family is easier than it was when I began, finding a sustainable trajectory for queer personal cinema is not easier. Neither is making independent films in general.

Why is that?

From a capitalist standpoint, global commodification and exploitation of cinema has meant things need to reach a broader audience. They need to be palatable in New York and Paris, as well as Taipei and Saudi Arabia, which by its nature reduces the individuality of the work.

Still from Passages.

Why was Passages a story you wanted to tell?

I wanted to make an intimate film about relationships. A frank, suspenseful, beautiful film. The kind of movie that I was first drawn to as a filmgoer…. My first and second films were also about love triangles. The complexity, suspense, and desire on screen, within that construction, is very attractive to me…. I want to take risks and put things on the screen that feel vulnerable. I hope the film is both pleasurable and challenging, in an unexpected way.

What inspired this particular love triangle?

It was rooted in watching The Innocent by Visconti and finding myself, as a gay man, very attracted to the body of Laura Antonelli in the film and thinking, who’s to say what my sexuality is? No one controls that. I realised it’s how younger people growing up today think.

Whereas we had to put our sexuality into boxes?

We needed to because those boxes were being put into closets. We needed to understand ourselves in opposition instead of in possibility.

Talking of younger people, how is it to bring up two 11-year-olds as gay parents in 2023?

It’s compelling, stimulating, rewarding, and takes a lot of your attention, but only in a positive way. There are always challenges and changes in culture, but it’s a beautiful thing to raise a kid and to choose to do that with your partner. We became parents when I was 46, and [even at that age] there was nothing I could compare it to. I find it completely fulfilling.

You’re an American living in Ecuador, yet your work is often connected to France. How did that come around?

France, uniquely, is still actively supporting what I consider ‘personal’ filmmaking. Not just independent, but storytelling that is really generated by the individuality of the creator…. I lived in Paris for the first time for three months as a film student in 1986 and saw 197 movies. My life was transformed by the relationship between the city and moviemaking, cinema, and cinema-going. My taste and aesthetic have been really influenced by French cinema. And so for this film, it’s a city that I know. I’ve had breakups there. I’ve cried there.

But Passages is not autobiographical, is it?

No, but I do see a pattern in my films since I began: they’re often motivated by men behaving badly…. I’m in the film, but so are a lot of other people. Let’s put it that way.

NZIFF will be spread across the country in 17 regions and at 31 venues, opening Wednesday 19 July through to Sunday 10 September. For dates and times of Passages screenings and to book tickets, visit