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Squeegee Bandit

Nine months, three cars, two women, thirty residences, three weeks of homelessness, a hundred run-ins with the cops, one court date, a kilo of marijuana, a closet full of skeletons, finding God and the Zen of window washing

Squeegee Bandit, New Zealand, 2006

Director/photography/editor: Sandor Lau
Production co: Kiwi Media and Sandor Lau Creations
Producers: Rhonda Kite, Sandor Lau
Additional editing: Alex O'Shaughnessy
Online editor: David Tokios
Sound: Greg Junovich, Michelle Mascoll, Sandor Lau

With: Starfish, MC Zodiac, Tony McGifford, Viani Paulo, Jeannie McGifford, Shivonne Annette

"Nine months, three cars, two women, thirty residences, three weeks of homelessness, a hundred run-ins with the cops, one court date, a kilo of marijuana, a closet full of skeletons, finding God and the Zen of window washing.”

Sandor Lau tells us that he is New Zealand's only Chinese Hungarian-American. He discovered Aotearoa in 2000 as a Fulbright scholar. He discovered Starfish, his Squeegee Bandit, on the streets of South Auckland where he earns a living cleaning car windscreens, pouncing with the speed and grace of a tiger. Starfish is a charmer with a quick wit and a dangerous edge, an exhibitionist with a mean talent for impersonation and a lot to say about himself and the people who put him where he is today. He vents about the stepfather of his kids, about the foster mother who mocked and bullied him, and about the Pakeha who stole Maori land. Lau is with him all the way, underscoring his explosive anger with plangent guitar chords, and underscoring the historical perspective with wacky excerpts from old government films. His frantic freeze-frame hip-hop music-vid style amounts to a virtuoso exercise in keeping up with his volatile subject. But in a lyrically ironic Christmas shopping sequence and in the long parting shot, he wishes his prancing tiger safe haven as well.

"My films and writing almost always centre round outsiders. I tell stories about black sheep, misfits, strugglers, fighting 'the Man'. Back in 2003, I had just finished Behaviours of the Backpacker, which was a quirky, feel-good outsider story, and I wanted to do something with more weight to it. So I had this idea to do a film about street-corner [car] window-washers. It's all very well to fight the Man, but the Man owns all the TV stations and all of the cinemas, so you have to play by some rules. I liked the idea of window-washers because it's not only the story of people struggling to make it in a land of plenty, but it's also exciting and highly visual. The best window-washers know they will make the most by entertaining people, not intimidating them. It's almost like street theatre. Both the Man and I know we are in the business of entertainment and at the end of the day what I want most is to tell my story and for people to watch. While I was waiting to hear back about my grant from the Screen Innovation Production Fund I did alot of research, beating the streets and looking for the right person. Filmmaking 'whether fiction or documentary' hinges on casting, and after weeks of wondering if I could ever find the right person, I went to the Otara Markets and met a maori man who called himself 'Starfish'. He was there making money hand-over-fist and I knew within minutes of meeting him that here was my star. As soon as he started telling me his stories I was in stitches, and maybe more importantly, he had all the other window-washers gathered around as well. I got my grant, got a camera, and started shooting a few weeks later. Rhonda Kite, from Kiwa Films, saw a promo I had put together and came on board the project to executive and co-produce with me. We made the film with very little money, but ironically, that gave us a luxury you don't get on expensive productions' time. Squeegee Bandit follows Starfish through nine months of struggle with the law, drugs, poverty, homelessness, and ultimately himself. yes, it's shot on video, and yes, it's a documentary but I have always thought of it as first and foremost 'a film' and sculpted the visual and narrative style that way. I think as filmmakers that it is our job to confront big, universal issues but the only way to do that is to tell small intimate ones. So Squeegee is a story about poverty and struggler and the collateral damage of the colonisation of Aotearoa. But most of all, it's the story of one guy with both a lot of charm and a lot of issues, just trying to make it to tomorrow." Sandor Lau, interviewed in Take, Winter 2006

Directorial Bandit: Sándor Lau on Squeegee Bandit. With the release of Squeegee Bandit, Jacob Powell tracked down cultural enigma Sándor Lau, one of New Zealand’s unique new cinematic voices to examine his views on cinema and life as a filmmaker in in Aotearoa. Read the interview on The Lumiere Reader

Screenings: Squeegee Bandit screened on 27 October in association with the exhibition Remixed.