Niki Caro's near wordless Sure to Rise was nominated for best short film at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival. Four years later her ambitious debut feature Memory and Desire was invited to Cannes. Caro followed it with Whale Rider, winner of more than 27 awards and one of New Zealand's most successful films abroad. Since then Caro has directed movies everywhere from France to Minnesota.

I feel I’ve never really had to fight to be a feminist or filmmaker [in NZ]. Stories about girls Pai’s age tend to be about sexual awakening. I wanted to tell the story of how Pai awakens to her own strength and power. Niki Caro

Screenography

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Whale Rider

2002, Director, Writer - Film

Set at the East Coast town of Whāngārā, Whale Rider tells the tale of a young Māori girl, Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes), who challenges tradition and embraces the past in order to find the strength to lead her people forward. Directed and written by Niki Caro, the film is based on Witi Ihimaera's novel The Whale Rider. Coupling a specific sense of place and culture with a universal coming-of-age story, Whale Rider met with sizeable success worldwide, winning audience choice awards at Sundance and Toronto.

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Memory and Desire

1998, Director, Writer - Film

This debut feature from director Niki Caro follows a Tokyo woman and her fiance who elope to New Zealand. A stunted beginning to their sexual relationship is overcome in a cave on an isolated West Coast beach. Shortly afterwards he drowns. She returns to a suffocating Tokyo before being drawn back to the cave. The restrained study of eroticism and grief was based on a short story by Peter Wells (itself inspired by a true story). Desire was selected for Critics' Week at Cannes (1998), and won best film at 1999's NZ Film Awards and a special jury prize for Caro.

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The Vintner's Luck

2009, Director, Writer, Producer - Film

Filmed in France, Belgium and New Zealand, The Vintner's Luck is a tale of growing grapes, meeting angels and seeking perfection. Belgian actor Jeremie Renier stars as Sobran, a poor winemaker who one day encounters an angel. The two make a pact. One day each year, as Sobran's fortunes wax and wane, the angel returns to hear more about Sobran's life. Director Niki Caro adapted Elizabeth Knox's bestselling novel with help from US script consultant Joan Scheckel; the film also reunites Caro with Whale Rider discovery Keisha Castle-Hughes, who plays Sobran's wife. 

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Sure to Rise

1993, Director, Writer - Short Film

While beachcombing, April discovers an injured man and claims him as her own. She must keep him a secret, and alive, in a makeshift community called Paradise. But Paradise is under threat and the other residents are slowly moving on. Fiercely protective of the broken man in her bed, April cannot leave, nor can she stay. For April there is nowhere to go but up. Directed by Niki Caro, and memorably shot by Simon Raby, Sure To Rise competed for the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1994.

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Jackson's Wharf - First Episode

1999, Writer - Television

Created by Gavin Strawhan and Rachel Lang, popular one hour drama series Jackson's Wharf was set in a fictional coastal town and revolved around a sibling rivalry between brothers Frank and Ben. Frank is the town policeman with a big secret; and golden boy Ben is a big city lawyer who has returned to town after their father's death. In this excerpt from the first episode of the South Pacific Pictures production, returning son Ben faces gossiping locals, simmering family tensions over the will (who will get the pub?) and an impending fishing tournament.

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Kia U

1992, Director - Music video

Half a decade before the electronic beats of Oceania, Hinewehi Mohi's debut is a gentler, more soulful affair — with the constantly moving big close-ups of director Niki Caro's video underlining the song’s heartfelt simplicity. Co-written with Dr Hone Kaa and Ardijah founder member Jay Dee, 'Kia U' extols, in te reo, the importance of rising above adversity and having the courage to evolve as a people and a nation. The latter would be challenged seven years later by Mohi’s landmark Maori language performance of the national anthem at a rugby test match. 

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Footage

1996, Director - Television

This documentary is a hallucinogenic exploration of the allure of the foot and the cult of the shoe. What other item of clothing carries the promise of such pleasure or pain? A podiatrist, a ballerina, a cross dresser, a mistress, an academic, a transexual, a femme fatale and a couple of shoe salesmen journey into the depths of their soles. Selected for Venice Film Festival in 1996, Footage was an award-winning excursion into documentary making for feature director Niki Caro.

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Plain Tastes

1995, Writer, Director - Television

A plain tale about the swollen secretions of suburban love. In middle class Auckland vulnerable passions break the surface as Laura aggressively pursues love and acceptance, finding something very like it right next door. For director Niki Caro this one-hour drama was a watershed in her career. It was her ultimate drama production before embarking on a feature film career; it screened as part of the Montana Theatre series on TV One in 1995. Plain Tastes features Meryl Main, Marton Csokas and Kate Harcourt.

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The M1nute

1992, Production Manager - Short Film

Filmmaker Scott Reynolds demonstrated early that familiar genres - the thriller, the serial killer tale - can provide rich showcases for invention and a distinctive style. His first short is an impressive calling card, showing just what can be done with minimal material: essentially one actor (a young Marton Csokas), a mysterious package, and the possibility the package is a bomb. A warning: the finale arguably takes the 'Macguffin' trickery to its logical conclusion. The M1nute was selected for the London Film Festival, and Oberhausen in Germany.

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Behind the Scenes of Whale Rider

2003, Subject - Television

Jonathan Brough’s insightful documentary on the making of Whale Rider travels from East Coast town Whangara, where the mythical whale rider Paikea landed - to Hollywood. This excerpt concentrates on the movie’s vital special effects component: nine whales, brought to the screen through a combination of life-sized models and digital effects. The largest model measured 65 feet in length. Star Keisha Castle-Hughes reflects on filming the challenging whale-riding scenes. 

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The Summer the Queen Came

1992, Director, Writer - Television

Miles (Joel Tobeck) is 16. His family are falling apart and he's got a crush on his cousin. An imminent Royal visit offends his mother's political sensibilities and his father is spending too much time with a female neighbour. Christmas is coming and the twins have murder on their minds. Director Niki (Whale Rider) Caro's survey of the everyday eccentricities of family scored nods for best TV drama scipt and director at the 1994 NZ Film and TV Awards. The film was one of three half-hour dramas commissioned by TVNZ under the series title Another Country.

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Old Bastards

1994, Writer, Director - Short Film

Whale Rider director Niki Caro’s fourth short film is comprised of six vignettes — each focusing on a different elderly man. With minimal supporting cast (Joel Tobeck has a cameo as a competence-challenged waiter), the men talk mainly to themselves or the camera. Shot on Super 8mm (with graphics from an overhead projector), Old Bastards attempts to “subvert our kindly and slightly condescending view of old men”; its dark alternative view instead paints the aging male as vigorously intolerant, lecherous, impotent, trapped or just lost.

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Bad Note for a Heart

1990, Director - Music video

Set at Bethells beach and in a tunnel somewhere in Ellerslie, this Niki Caro classic traces an elderly gentleman's (Noel Appleby) struggle with his hat, a sea nymph and a beating heart. Clearly reluctant to move into the 90s, the eternally rock Shayne Carter looks splendid in dark eye shadow."It was such a long time ago, but I think Shayne's makeup would have been applied by my friend [artist] Denise Kum."Niki Caro May 09

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Being Eve

2001 - 2002, Writer - Television

This quirky, upbeat comedy-drama looked at teen life through the eyes of 15-year-old Eve (Fleur Saville). Something of an amateur teen anthropologist, Eve questions everything in her world, musing on life to the camera and in voiceover. The series' fresh, self-aware style appealed directly to media-savvy teenagers. The TV3 series launched Saville's TV career, fostered young directing and producing talent, won many awards (including Best Drama Series at the 2002 NZ TV Awards) and sold to over 40 territories, screening in the US on Nickelodeon.

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Sanctuary (documentary)

2006, Subject

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North Country

2005, Director

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42 One Dream Rush

2009, Co-Director

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McFarland USA

2014, Director

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Jackson's Wharf

1999 - 2000, Writer, Storyliner, Director - Television

Created by Gavin Strawhan and Rachel Lang, Jackson’s Wharf was set in a fictional coastal town and revolved around a sibling rivalry between brothers Frank (the town cop) and Ben Jackson (a big smoke lawyer). Returning with his family, golden boy Ben has controversially inherited the local pub from his recently deceased father. Produced by South Pacific Pictures, the one hour popular drama screened for two seasons. Writer James Griffin and director Niki Caro worked on the show, alongside much of the talent who would later create Mercy Peak and Outrageous Fortune.

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Mercy Peak

2001 - 2003, Director - Television

With its mix of quirky characters, lush scenery, and medical drama, Mercy Peak proved to be a winning formula. Produced by John Laing for South Pacific Pictures, and starring a host of NZ acting talent (Tim Balme, Jeffrey Thomas, Renato Bartolomei, et al), Mercy Peak follows the highs and lows of Dr Nicky Somerville (Sara Wiseman), who leaves the big city after discovering her partner’s infidelity. Taking up her new role at the hospital in the tiny town of Bassett, Nicky soon learns that life is full of complexities no matter the population.