MELBOURNE FILM FESTIVAL – Tom Furniss RUSTLING “A heartwarming tale of two brothers’ battle against fathers’ toxic masculinity”

RUSTLING is a dramatic short that explores the complex dynamics of a sheep-rustling family in rural New Zealand. Tom Furniss wrote and directed this film that examines topical themes like toxic masculinity and the loss of childhood innocence. This movie stars acting newcomers Billy Cox and Eden Flynn, as brothers Hoss and Blue who stand up to their domineering father (played by DC Comics’ Sweet Tooth, and Eden’s real-life father, actor Seth Flynn) when he wants to kill a lamb that the boy’s befriend. This film relies on cinematography over dialogue, which is evident by the film’s stellar production and clear quality of scenes. The young actors who play Hoss and Blue are able to perfectly encapsulate the discrete magnetism that this short film projects.

Writer/Director Tom Furniss’s most recent TV credits include New Zealand Today, Taskmaster, and Golden Boy. In the past, he’s written on popular TV shows like Power Rangers: Beast Morphers, Jono & Ben, and 7Days. Furniss wrote and directed a comedic mockumentary titled The Child Jumpers, which won the 48HOURS Filmmaking Competition in 2011. This year production began for his first feature, The Mountain, which will be produced through Taika Waititi’s Piki Films. RUSTLING has been nominated for Best Live Action Under 15 Minutes at The Palm Springs International Film Festival

RUSTLING was filmed over a period of four days on a rural farm in Port Waikato, New Zealand. This area is known as the Klondykes and was also used as a filming location for the Lord of the Rings. Furnisss’s inspiration from this film came from growing up in the hyper-maculine culture in New Zealand. “… (I) made it about just a family trying to put food on the table. The other theme running through my life at the time was masculinity. There’s always been this huge pressure in New Zealand to be a ‘bloke’ — strong, stoic, tough. And I am not that.” While this short has many universal themes, it is not a film for the squeamish. In fact, the opening scene shows Hoss and his father gutting a real sheep. “…death was a part of our filming process. We had to work with a recently butchered animal and that was incredibly hard for our young talent Billy and Eden,” said the director in an interview with Film-Business. The bleak nature of this film can at first be off-putting, but sets up the tonality for the major shift at the end that stands out more spectacularly against the grey landscape. 

The film’s focus is on the trio’s relationship and how their power dynamic shifts after they kill a sheep, orphaning its lamb who is then secretly adopted into their household by younger brother Blue. Most of the movie depicts the conflict of Blue wanting to keep the unbelievably adorable baby sheep (played by breakout star Danger Mouse), his father wanting to kill it, and Hoss being stuck somewhere in the middle. Hoss’s internal conflict is the focal point of this short film; he’s torn between wanting to avoid conflict with his father, and his loyalty to his younger brother. The lamb is intended to represent a sort of childhood innocence, one that their father has no patience for. The father is a tyrannical man who verbally batters them, telling them to “man up” several times throughout the film despite them both still being in boyhood. The climax of the story happens when Hoss finally shows his father the lamb they’ve kept hidden in their room, and asks if they can keep it as a pet. His appeal for compassion is rejected and met with his father slamming a knife on the table telling his teenage son to grow up and finish the job. In a tense, grey scene on a bleak hillside Hoss cradles the lamb who suckles on his fingers and stares up at him with doe eyes while he holds a blade to his throat. Thankfully this sombre short concludes on a hopeful note. 

While most of the movie alludes to the boys running away from their domineering father and his tyrannical ways, we are instead gifted with a more powerful and unexpected ending.The ending scene is a rewarding payoff, and stands out even more against the grey tonality that permeates the majority of the film. RUSTLING is a movie about love and loyalty, about two brothers who overcome their perceived conventions of masculinity set by their father to become stronger individuals. This is a slower movie, with not many scripted lines that still manages to enthral viewers with its spectacular performances and cinematography. This movie shows the importance of  challenging outdated societal preconceptions to lead a more fulfilling life, and will appeal to anyone who can identify with growing into your own individual social identity despite familial constraints. 

Keya Rivera


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