Now playing to enthusiastic public and industry audiences at the Toronto International Film Festival after playing to five and even six star reviews in its
home country New Zealand, where it grossed $2 million, “The Dark Horse” (ISA: Seville/eOne) is a provocative, emotionally charged drama about a man who searches for the
courage to lead, despite his own challenging mental health issues, and who finds purpose and hope in passing his gift for speed chess to the children in his
This film is being hailed as one of the greatest New Zealand films of all time. Seeing that (aside from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy), there have not
been many films playing widely outside of New Zealand since the unprecedented, trend setting and career building “Once Were Warriors“, this film is well
overdue and widely welcomed by the international film world.
The lead actor, Cliff Curtis (“Training Day“,”Whale Rider“, “Once Were Warriors”, “Three Kings”) was initially not sure he wanted to work on this film and
did not trust the producer, and writer-director, nor were they sure of him to play the part of a man so physically unlike Curtis. They spoke many times
about the story, the role, so unlike any Curtis had ever played. When Curtis told James that he thought the key to the character of Genesis was Love, James
felt that perhaps he could play the role, but then he would have to gain weight (Curtis inhabits a tight, muscled, lean body and Genesis was more of a big
bear of a man, weighed 300 pounds, was missing front teeth). And he would have to method act to create the image of Genesis as James wanted to depict him.
The concept of love however bound the team in a united effort to make the movie work. It is no surprise that the word Curtis used to describe what kept the film going was Aroha, which in Maori means Love. Cliff put himself at risk, playing such a role which, if it failed to
deliver, could ruin his career, and trust was necessary for everyone in undertaking to tell this story. After many conversations and then after seeing “I’m Not Harry Jenson.“, Curtis agreed to make the movie.
Over the six week shoot, the family and friends of Genesis visited the set, watched dailies, saw the editing; the spirit of Genesis hovered over the
production, and even over its world premiere in Toronto, where Genesis’ widow and their three year old son; the child actor, Wayne Hapi, and Xavier Horan
who plays Jedi were present.
Also always present during the shoot, and even today, was chess and the love of the game. Genesis himself, once a local chess champion, derailed by mental
illness that kept him in institutions until he was released into the care of his gang-member brother who lived in a gang-dominated society, used the game
of chess as a spiritual talisman to transcend his earthbound world through love of people and of the game.
Director James Napier Robertson played chess but Curtis did not. However, he learned quickly, coached by chess master, Milton Green, and by Genesis’ own
chess mates! Jedi and Noble. Everyday hundreds of games were being played on the set. They still are all playing!
“The Dark Horse” was written and directed by James Napier Robertson and produced by Tom Hern, who previously worked together on “I’m Not Harry Jenson.“, a micro
budgeted whodunit thriller which played to full houses at their home country’s New Zealand International Film Festival where it also garnered strong
reviews. This team of two went on to make a short, “Lambs“, which played at Clermont Ferrand, Berlin, Melbourne and Raindance, and to produce two more
feature films films under the banner of their own production company, Four Knights backed by Autralasian entrepreneurs who cane aboard after seeing “I’m
Not Harry“. Both features have been released theatrically in New Zealand, the fragile meditative drama, “Everything We Loved” and “The Dark Horse“, the
emotionally charged drama inspired by the colorful true life of bi-polar suffering-Maori-speed-chess-playing genius, Genesis Point.
Tom saw a documentary in 2003, also called “Dark Horse” on TV about Genesis which deeply moved him. With so many families wracked with mental illness,
including his own, Tom felt he had to turn Genesis’ story into a feature film. He and James worked three years on the script, keeping the authenticity of
the story by staying in close touch with Genesis and his friends and chess mates and family. As James wrote, he was conscious of wanting to capture
Genesis’s spirit and spoke a lot with Genesis and the other people in his community. Unfortunately, Genesis himself died very unexpectedly during the first
year of work. He was very articulate about his illness and was a great storyteller, self-taught in religious and spiritual texts and practices; he was a
deeply spiritual man.