Vincent Ward has won an international reputation as one of New Zealand's most original and visionary filmmakers. Vigil and The Navigator played in competition at the Cannes Film Festival (the first Kiwi films to do so). In Hollywood, Ward made Robin Williams afterlife drama What Dreams May Come. Urewera-set docu-drama Rain of the Children (2008) revisited characters from his 1980 doco In Spring One Plants Alone. 

I want my films to be accessible, though I also want to do them on my own terms, and to be about my own concerns as a filmmaker. Vincent Ward
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Rain of the Children

2008, Director, Writer - Film

This lauded documentary revisits the subject of a film Vincent Ward made in 1978, aged 21. That film, In Spring One Plants Alone, told the story of 80-year-old Puhi, who lived with her schizophrenic son in the isolated Urewera. The follow-up — part detective doco, part historical re-enactment — focuses on Puhi's life. She married the son of Māori prophet Rua Kenana, had 14 children, and after a run of tragedies, believed herself to be cursed. The excerpt goes “way out there in the bush” to the Maungapohatu community where Rua, “made the city of God on Earth”.

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River Queen

2005, Writer, Director - Film

Vincent Ward's fifth feature follows an Irishwoman in 1860s New Zealand, as Māori tribes resist the occupation of their land by the British. Sarah (Samantha Morton) has had an affair with a Māori and borne his child. Years later the boy is kidnapped by his grandfather, a powerful tribal leader. Sarah embarks on a search for her child, aided by warrior Wiremu (Cliff Curtis). When she finds him, both mother and son must decide to which culture they belong. This excerpt from the notoriously ambitious film sees Sarah encountering charismatic chief Te Kai Po (Temuera Morrison).

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Spooked

2004, As: Bill Thorpe - Film

Loosely based on the case of a real-life computer dealer who acquired international bank records and later died mysteriously on Auckland Harbour Bridge, Spooked marked Geoff Murphy’s first local feature in 15 years (after a Hollywood foray). Everyman Kevin (Christopher Hobbs) is caught up in a barrage of intimidation after buying some used computer equipment and unwittingly receiving corporate secrets; Mort (Cliff Curtis) is the journalist investigating his case. The cast features rare cameos by director Vincent Ward and Goodbye Pork Pie star Kelly Johnson.

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What Dreams May Come

1998, Director

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Map of the Human Heart

1993, Director, Story

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Cannes '92

1992, Subject - Television

Cannes is the place where art meets schlock on the French Riviera. A year before Jane Campion's The Piano shared the festival's top prize, NZ-made documentary Cannes '92 managed to snare almost everyone standing, from Voight to Van Damme — including NZ entrants Alison Maclean (with her movie Crush) and Nicky Marshall (Mon Desir). Vincent Ward mentions the 14 companies involved in his Map of the Human Heart. Baz Luhrmann promotes Strictly Ballroom; Paul Verhoeven completely forgets the question after his Basic Instinct star Sharon Stone interrupts proceedings with a kiss.

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The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey

1988, Writer, Director - Film

A young boy is afflicted by apocalyptic visions in medieval Cumbria. Believing he is divinely inspired to save his village from the Black Death, he persuades a group of men to follow him into a tunnel. They dig deep into the earth and emerge ... in Auckland, New Zealand, 1987. Following portents, the time travelers must negotiate the terrors of a strange new world, (motorways, nuclear submarines) — while seeking to save their own. Nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes, it scooped the gongs at the 1988 AFI and 1989 NZ Film & TV Awards.

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Kaleidoscope - NZ Cinema, the Past Decade

1987, Subject - Television

This report for TVNZ’s flagship 1980s arts show was made to tie in with Nicholas Reid’s book about the renaissance in NZ cinema that began with Sleeping Dogs in 1977. Reid and a who’s who of filmmakers discuss many of more than 50 films made in the previous decade (with Bruno Lawrence ever present) — and ponder the uniqueness (or otherwise) of NZ film. The industry’s fondness for rural and small town settings, and forceful (often conflicted) male leads is explored; and more neglected areas — Māori film making and more of a voice for women — are traversed.

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Vigil

1984, Director, Writer - Film

Toss is an 11-year old girl living on a remote hill country farm. While out with her father herding sheep, he falls and is killed. Ethan, a bearded stranger appears, carrying his body, and plants himself on the farm. Toss fears he’s Lucifer and is confused when he and her mother become lovers. It is through Ethan, however, that Toss comes to terms with her father’s death and the first stirrings of womanhood. Vincent Ward’s debut feature was the first NZ film selected for competition at Cannes; LA Times’ critic Kevin Thomas lauded it as “a work of awesome beauty”.

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In Spring One Plants Alone

1980, Director

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Sons for the Return Home

1979, Art Director - Film

Sons for the Return Home tells the story of a Romeo and Juliet romance between students Sione, a NZ-raised Samoan, and Sarah, a middle class palagi. Director Paul Maunder shifts between time and setting (London, Wellington, Samoa) in adapting Albert Wendt's landmark 1973 novel. Sons was the first feature film attentive to Samoan experience in NZ — alongside themes of identity, racism and social and sexual consciousness. In this excerpt Sione meets Sarah's parents, and his tin'a has him scrubbing their Newtown pavement prior to Sarah's reciprocal visit.

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A State of Siege

1978, Director, Writer - Short Film

A State of Siege is the story of a retired art teacher dealing with isolation and loneliness, culminating in a stormy, terrifying night. Vincent Ward's acclaimed short — adapted from a Janet Frame novel — was made when he was at Ilam art school. The Evening Post called the taut tale "the most sensitive and intelligent film that has ever been made in New Zealand". San Francisco Chronicle praised: "Ward creates more horror in this low budget movie with his play of light and shadow than Stanley Kubrick was able to create in the whole of The Shining."

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Ma Olsen

1977, Director