Canadian-born New Zealand director Leanne Pooley has won a raft of awards for her work as a documentary filmmaker. The 2011 Arts Laureate's films include hit Topp Twins movie Untouchable Girls, 3D Everest first ascent saga Beyond the Edge, and euthanasia exploration The Promise. In 2015 her film 25 April, an animated feature about Gallipoli, was selected for the Toronto International Film Festival.

I was curious. As a filmmaker, that’s all you are at the end of the day – a paid curious person. Leanne Pooley on what attracted her to the subject of Try Revolution, Listener, 2 September 2006

25 April

2015, Director, Writer - Film

The first animated feature made and originated in New Zealand, 25 April tells the story of the country's involvement in an ill-fated mission to take a piece of Turkish coastline during World War I. 2700 Kiwis died and ‘ANZAC’ became a symbol of national identity. Director Leanne Pooley mines archive war dairies, and uses graphic novel style recreations from Flux Animation to evoke the the perspective of six NZ participants. 25 April debuted at the 2015 Toronto Film Festival. It combines a range of techniques, from traditional animation to facial motion capture. 


Beyond the Edge

2013, Writer, Director - Film

Beyond the Edge tells the story of Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay’s first ascent of the world’s highest mountain. Director Leanne Pooley (The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls) mixes archival material with recreations of the UK-led 1953 Everest expedition. 3D cameras were used to put viewers in the crampons of the climbers and evoke the challenges of endurance and danger that they faced as they ventured to the top of the world. Edge debuted at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival where it was second runner-up for the People’s Choice Documentary Award. 


Finding Mercy

2012, Producer - Film

At the age of eight, filmmaker Robyn Paterson (white) and her best friend Mercy (black) greeted Comrade Robert Mugabe with flowers at a Zimbabwe air-force base. They became poster children of the new Zimbabwe. But the country was soon to descend into turmoil under Mugabe’s rule, and Paterson’s family was forced to flee to New Zealand. This documentary traces Paterson’s return to her birthplace a generation later, and a high-risk undercover search to find the fate of her childhood friend. Mercy won Paterson the Best Emerging Director Award at 2013 DocEdge Festival. 


Shackleton's Captain

2011, Writer, Director


The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls

2009, Director - Film

Part concept film, part biopic, part historical record and part comedy, Leanne Pooley’s documentary was made to mark the Topp Twins' 50th birthday. New Zealand's favourite comedic, country singing, dancing and yodeling lesbian twin sisters tell their personal story: from their "coming out" to Jools' brush with breast cancer. The film features archive material, home movies and interviews with the Topps' alter-egos. Alongside local box office success and dozens of international awards, Girls won the People’s Choice best doco gong at 2009 Toronto Film Festival.


Being Billy Apple

2007, Producer, Director - Television

Billy Apple: enigma, con man, or artist? This film illuminates the practise of one of New Zealand's most controversial contemporary artists - Billy Apple. It shows his work in its international art context (particularly the historic development of conceptual art), introduces the artist - the ‘living work of art' - and explores how his life and work have become a brand.


Try Revolution

2006, Producer, Director - Television

If the Springbok rugby tour of New Zealand in 1981 had been halted from the outset, the impact on the hearts and minds of South Africans would not have been as profound. The original point of difference of this Leanne Pooley-directed film is to show how events in NZ (captured in Merata Mita's documentary Patu!) played out in South Africa; how the tour protests energized blacks, and shamed the regime, and provoked democratic change. Archbishop Desmond Tutu: "You really can't even compute its value, it said the world has not forgotten us, we are not alone."  


The Promise

2005, Producer, Director - Television

After Lesley Martin took her mother’s life to end her suffering from terminal cancer, she told the world about it in a book, To Die Like A Dog. Martin was charged with attempted murder and sentenced to fifteen months in prison. This award-winning documentary chronicles her subsequent ordeal as a martyr to the cause of euthanasia. Leanne Pooley's film won NZ Screen gongs for Best Documentary and Camerawork, and a best of festival award from the Input Festival in Taiwan.


Haunting Douglas

2003, Director, Producer - Television

This moving documentary portrait of dancer and choreographer Douglas Wright weaves current encounters with footage of past theatrical performances and extracts from his autobiography; from drug addiction and illness, to determination and triumph on the New York stage with the Paul Taylor Dance Company. Director Leanne Pooley's skilful documentary captures Wright's resilience, "I need to make things to feel that I can cope with whatever reality is. For me, dancing, performing for people, is the ultimate mystery and the ultimate joy."


The Man Who Has Everything

2001, Producer


Kiwi Buddha

2000, Producer - Television

Kiwi Buddha follows the journey of seven-year-old Rinpoche as he becomes the first Buddhist High Lama incarnated in the Southern Hemisphere. ‘Venerable Pong Re Sung Rap Tulku Rinpoche', is a schoolboy from Kaukapakapa, north of Auckland. The film documents Rinpoche's journey as he leaves small town New Zealand behind (along with McDonalds and Pokemon) to travel to a monastery in the Himalayas where he will spend his next 20 years studying Buddhism. Kiwi Buddha sold to the National Geographic channel and to 60 territories.


Relative Guilt

1999, Director, Producer - Television

When a young Swedish couple went missing on a camping holiday in New Zealand in 1989, the investigation into their disappearance attracted intense media interest. Months later David Wayne Tamihere was arrested and charged with their murders. The subsequent guilty verdict cast Tamihere's family into a nightmare. The Tamihere family were abused, ridiculed and scorned relentlessly by an outraged public, and an insatiable media. Ten years on, Pooley's documentary tells their story. The result won the 2000 Qantas Media Award for Best Documentary.


Eyewitness - Pond and River

1996, Director



1994, Director


First Hand

1990 - 1992, Director, Camera


Forty Minutes

1993, Director



1994 - 1997, Director, Producer