John Reid made his feature debut with an acclaimed adaptation of Roger Hall play Middle Age Spread. Since then he has directed three more features ranging from raw comedy to moody arthouse pieces, plus a host of television programmes and commercials. Reid went on to become head tutor at Wellington's New Zealand Film and Television School.
New Zealanders have a thirst to see their own characters on screen. John Reid in 1979
This film investigates and captures the dramatic changes to Wellington's cityscape in the 70s and 80s. "To get in before nature's earthquake we created one of our own". As a result of mass demolition of buildings deemed to be earthquake risks and the subsequent building boom, graveyards make way for motorways, and wood and stone for steel, glass and concrete. There are interviews with the boosters (Bob Jones, Sir Michael Fowler), demo workers, and laments for the loss of heritage and local culture (Harry Seresin, Aro Valley protesters, and surprisingly, Rex Nicholls).
After hitting town for a Ranfurly Shield game, two brothers from the sticks (Grant Tilly and Pork Pie's Kelly Johnson) have to sneak their abruptly deceased father back home. If the body isn’t buried at home, they won’t inherit the family farm. Director John Reid’s shaggy dog tale — a Wellington-set Weekend at Bernies reeking of stale-beer and ciggies — both lauds and satirises the Kiwi male. It’s set back when "blokes were blokes and sheilas were their mums". The final clip sees Grant Tilly getting things off his chest, now that Dad is unable to answer back.
In 1979, Red Mole was New Zealand's best-known alternative theatre troupe. During two seasons in New York, they wowed audiences with their Dada-influenced shows. "All possible elements of theatre and spectacle are employed by the skilful members of the group." (The Villager). In this 16mm film directed for the National Film Unit by soon-to-be-famous actor Sam Neill, the group takes a surreal journey through actual and imaginary New Zealand. Neill would later collaborate with editor Judy Rymer on Cinema of Unease.
The focus of this short film is a memorial service on Seatoun Beach, five years after the sinking of interisland ferry Wahine on 10 April 1968. More than 50 people died when the 9,000 ton ship keeled over just inside Wellington Harbour, during the ferocious Cyclone Giselle. The ferry had been in service just 20 months. National Film Unit director Sam Pillsbury uses archive footage of the sinking along with reconstructions and recreations of radio reports — the memorial service itself was recreated for the film. There are also scenes of the attempted salvage operation.
The bid to raise the level of Fiordland’s Lake Manapouri (to provide hydro-electricity for an aluminum smelter) resulted in controversy between 1959 and 1972. This film charts a (still-timely) debate as arguments for industrial growth and cheap energy vie with views advocating for ecological values. New Zealand’s first large-scale environmental campaign ensued, and its “damn the dam” victory was a spur for the modern conservation movement — drawing an unprecedented petition, Forest & Bird, and figures like farmer Ron McLean and botanist Alan Mark into the fray.
This 1994 ‘home front noir’ is set in World War II Wellington, where the plots — a murdered marine, exploited working girls and gonorrhea — spread amidst the invasion of US soldiers stationed at Paekakariki. Kerry Fox (An Angel at My Table) is a public health nurse who becomes romantically linked with the US investigating officer (Tony Goldwyn — Ghost, TV's Scandal) while pursuing the STDs and the truth. They’re supported by Oscar-winning US veterans Rod Steiger and Robert Loggia. John Reid (Middle Age Spread) directs, from a Keith Aberdein script.
This feature film takes as its starting point writer Katherine Mansfield's posthumous instructions to her husband John Middleton Murry (Sir John Gielgud) regarding her work, and his subsequent handling of them. The story shifts between the publication of Mansfield's letters 33 years after her death and memories of Mansfield. Jane Birkin plays both Mansfield and a publisher's mistress who provokes revision of Middleton Murry's decisions. Filmed in France, the Pacific Films-produced, John Reid-directed film was praised by Variety as "an affecting experience."
A rare and early case of a Kiwi play being adapted for the big screen, Middle Age Spread asks whether adultery is inevitable (or whether the adulterers will inevitably be found out). Grant Tilly stars as a philandering teacher fearing a future of stress, decay and marital dissatisfaction. Roger Hall's acclaimed middle-aged comedy was adapted in the first flush of the Kiwi film renaissance, and marks the feature debut of many talents: director John Reid, cinematographer Alun Bollinger, writer Keith Aberdein, editor Mike Horton, and composer Stephen McCurdy.
One of an early 80s series of stand-alone dramas, Coming and Going is set in a boozy officers’ mess in Maadi in Egypt during World War II. Based on a short story by Dan Davin (who saw service in North Africa and Europe), it centres on Reading (David McPhail in a rare serious role) who will never be one of the blokes — but who is now facing ostracism and open hostility. Andy (Kevin Wilson) has just rejoined the unit after being wounded; and he gradually discovers that Reading’s plight is the result of something far more serious than standoffishness.
Shot on location in Wellington, often after dark, Inside Straight helped usher in a new era of Kiwi TV dramas, far from the rural backblocks. This Minder-esque portrait of Wellington’s underworld was inspired by writer Keith Aberdein’s experiences as a taxi-driver and all night cafe worker. Phillip Gordon (soon to win fame as a conman in Came a Hot Friday) stars as the former fisherman, learning the ways of the city from veteran taxi driver Roy Billing. A solid but unspectacular rater over 10 episodes, the show was scuttled by the launch of trucker’s tale Roche.
Pioneering soap opera Close To Home first screened in May 1975. For just over eight years middle New Zealand found their mirror in the life and times of Wellington’s Hearte clan. At its peak in 1977 nearly one million viewers tuned in twice weekly to watch the series co-created by Michael Noonan and Tony Isaac (who had initially only agreed to make the show on the condition they would get to make The Governor). The popular family saga carved a regular niche for local drama on screen, and the output demands were foundational in developing industry talent.
This 38 episode series revolved around the ups and downs of a community house run by Tony Van Der Berg (Frank Whitten). The series was devised by Liddy Holloway to meet a network call for an Eastenders-style drama that might tackle social issue storylines. It was the first drama series to put a Māori whānau (the Mitchells) at its centre. Despite being well-reviewed, it was perhaps the last gasp of Avalon-produced uncompromisingly local drama (satirised as the ‘Wellington style’), before TV production largely shifted to Auckland to face up to commercial pressures.
This 80s TV series sees real estate agent Selwyn, TV producer Nardia (early turns from Temuera Morrison and Jennifer Ward-Lealand) and art student Ben (Kerry McKay) as a trio of young Wellingtonions drawn together by a mysterious invitation. At an antique shop dinner they discover they share a colourful birth mother, before becoming players in a game for a legacy of $250,000. Conceived by Brian Bell, Seekers was one of a series of teen-orientated dramas made in the mid-80s (along with Heroes and Peppermint Twist). The 16 episodes screened from February 1986.
Duggan features John Bach as brooding Detective Inspector Duggan, attempting to solve murders amid the tranquillity of the Marlborough Sounds. New Zealand's answer to Inspector Morse, the show was conceived by Marion McLeod, scripted by Donna Malane and Ken Duncum, and produced by The Gibson Group; the series followed on from introductory tele-features Death in Paradise and Sins of the Father. The turquoise waters of The Sounds (shot in a number of episodes by Leon Narbey) make for an evocative setting in this sharp, classy Kiwi whodunit.
The Strip centres around 30-something Melissa (Luanne Gordon), who sheds a legal career to set up a male strip revue. Created by Alan Brash, The Strip played to a certain demographic's desire for ogling naked men (warmed up by 1987 play Ladies Night and 1997 film The Full Monty), but with a focus on female characters, as Melissa juggles business with raising a teenage daughter. Taking cues from Ally McBeal (with fantasy sequences to match) the Gibson Group tale of g-strings, feminism and red light romance screened for two series on TV3 and sold internationally.