The Coming-of-Age collection includes many of New Zealand's most beloved films. Featured are grumpy uncles, annoying parents, plus a wide range of children and teens negotiating the challenges of growing older — and wiser. Among the young actors making an early mark are an Oscar-nominated Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider), James Rolleston (Boy) and 12-year-old Fiona Kaye (Vigil). The titles include Alone, the winner of NZ On Screen's very first ScreenTest film contest. In the backgrounder, young Kiwi actor Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie writes from New York.
This short film about a teen struggling to connect with his father took the top prize in NZ On Screen's inaugural ScreenTest film competition for high school students. Wakatipu High School pupil Lachie Clark made Alone with his Year 13 Media Studies classmates Ella Little and Alex Booker. Following the theme "coming of age", teen Charlie (Joel Malcolm-Smith) heads to the hills to escape his dad's harsh words. ScreenTest judge Jackie van Beek (The Breaker Upperers) praised the "beautiful landscapes, cinematography and editing". TV producer Philip Smith plays the dad.
The God Boy is a portrait of a troubled teen Jimmy (Jamie Higgins) growing up in post-war small town New Zealand and wrestling with a repressive education and home front turmoil. Adapted from the Ian Cross novel by Ian Mune and directed by Murray Reece, the landmark film was the first NZ telefeature, gaining Feltex awards and front page reviews. With menace and Catholic guilt ever-present, it’s credited as a pioneer of what Sam Neill dubbed NZ’s “cinema of unease”. Higgins later starred in Australian TV show The Sullivans.
Taika Waititi's blockbuster second movie revolves around an imaginative 11-year-old East Coast boy (James Rolleston) trying to make sense of his world — and the return of his just-out-of-jail father (Waititi). Intended as a "painful comedy of growing up", Boy mixes poignancy with trademark whimsy and visual inventiveness. The film was shot in the Bay of Plenty area where Waititi partly grew up. A winner in its section at the 2010 Berlin Film Festival, Boy soon became the most successful local release on its home soil (at least until the arrival of Waititi's 2016 hit Hunt for the Wilderpeople).
Set in 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 became one of the most successful and acclaimed New Zealand films released internationally. It also won audience choice awards at the Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals.
Rain begins by evoking an idyllic kiwi summer. It's a 1970s beach holiday; Mum, Dad and the kids. Picture perfect. But, as the title hints, all is not sunny at the bach. Beneath still waters Mum is drowning in drink, Dad is defeated, and 13-year-old Janey is awakening to a new kind of power. An adaptation of the novel by Kirsty Gunn novel, Rain was director Christine Jeffs' widely acclaimed debut feature. The soundtrack was composed by Neil Finn and Edmund Cake. Kevin Thomas in the LA Times acclaimed Rain as “an important feature debut”.
Australian Idol winner Stan Walker made his acting debut in this hit feature, as aspiring singer Turei. Part of a whānau of Māori potato pickers from Pukekohe, he has to choose between duty to job and family (Temuera Morrison plays his hard-working Dad) and letting the music play. His dilemma takes place as reggae star Bob Marley performs in Aotearoa in 1979, offering the chance for Turei's band Small Axe to win a supporting slot at Marley's Western Springs concert. Released on Waitangi Day 2013, Tearepa Kahi's debut feature became the most successful local release of the year.
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”.
Over two years, The Candle Wasters – a troupe of young Wellingtonians – attracted 4.5 million YouTube views to their modernised vlog reimaginings of Shakespeare’s plays (Much Ado About Nothing, Love's Labour Lost). In 2015 they won NZ On Air and Kickstarter funding to create a web drama series loosely inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream – set at a teen house party. Each of the 10 episodes focussed on a different character. Produced with Bevin Linkhorn, Bright Summer Night was uploaded in August 2016. It won Best Drama at the 2017 Hollyweb Festival in the United States.
Snapchat meets kapa haka in this acclaimed 2016 Māori Television series. Co-created by actor Cliff Curtis, the Rotorua-set drama follows Piki Johnson (Hinerauwhiri Paki) as she negotiates being a teenager. The cast mixed rangatahi and screen veterans (eg Temuera Morrison). Scriptwriters included Briar Grace-Smith and Victor Rodger. Eight 30-minute episodes were made by the team behind hit show Find Me a Māori Bride. Director Kiel McNaughton told The Spinoff: "what we were trying to achieve was the first soap drama from a Māori perspective."
Taika Waititi's fourth feature is the tale of a city kid and a grumpy uncle on the run. Raised on hip hop and state care, Ricky (Shopping's Julian Dennison) goes bush with his foster uncle (Sam Neill). The authorities are on their tail. Wilderpeople is based on Barry Crump book Wild Pork and Watercress. Keen to recapture the style of classic screen yarns like Came a Hot Friday, Waititi's aim was a funny, accessible adventure. The result began winning acclaim when it debuted at North America's Sundance Film Festival, before becoming Aotearoa's biggest ever local hit.
Ricky is shy and has an overbearing father. He and extroverted misfit Telly (Chelsie Preston Crayford) slip out into the night, commandeering Ricky's father's fishing boat and heading out into the freedom of the fog. Peter Salmon's short film highlights oppression, boredom and sex in a small New Zealand town. Fog was shot in Ngawi, an isolated fishing village on the Wairarapa coastline. It was invited to 20 international film festivals, including the Critics' Week section at Cannes. At the 2007 NZ Screen Awards, Chelsie Preston Crayford was awarded for Best Performance in a Short Film.
Seventeen-year-old Timothy (Dean O'Gorman from Pork Pie) is facing suspension after a misguided prank. His parents hope the French-Canadian exchange student they’re hosting will settle Tim down, but when ‘Michel’ turns out to be ‘Michelle’ — and spunky — plans go awry. Coming of age and cross-cultural comedy ensues as Tim tries to court his Montreal mademoiselle. Shot around Avondale College, the award-winning NZ-Canadian film got a special mention from the Children’s Jury at the 1996 Berlin Film Festival. The cast includes Angela Bloomfield and Milan Borich.
Alex is a champion teenage swimmer determined to win selection to the 1960 Rome Olympics, in this adaptation of the award-winning young adults novel. Written by ex Empire Games swimming medallist Tessa Duder, Alex was the first in a quartet of books exploring the vicissitudes of the high achiever freestyler as she deals with rivalry, ambition, first love and the pressures of growing up. Lauren Jackson, who played the title role, later appeared in vampire movie Perfect Creature. The film was a co-production between New Zealand and Australia.
The movie version of Margaret Mahy's first novel for young adults is still set in Christchurch, but the time period is now post-quake. Teenager Laura Chant (newcomer Erana James) encounters a very strange man (Brit actor Timothy Spall, from Mr Turner) and a boy with a secret. The coming of age fantasy has been a longtime passion project for husband and wife team Stuart McKenzie and Miranda Harcourt, who have worked to keep their version as "dark and scary" as the Carnegie Award-winning original. The cast also includes Melanie Lynskey (Heavenly Creatures) and Lucy Lawless.
Teen actors Nikki Si'ulepa and Toby Fisher won acclaim in Ian Mune's fourth feature as director. Si'ulepa plays a Samoan street kid who meets a well-off white teen, when both are facing mortality in a hospital ward. The co-production between NZ and Canada (where it debuted on cable TV) won over critics in both nations. "Si'ulepa dominates the camera and the action with a natural authority", raved Metro. Moon scooped the gongs at the 1996 TV Guide Awards (including for originating screenwriter Richard Lymposs); and won notice at Berlin and Giffoni film festivals.
Praising novel The Scarecrow, one critic argued that author Ronald Hugh Morrieson had melded genres together into “a brilliant, hallucinatory mixture distinctively his own". The movie adaptation is another unusual melding; a coming of age tale awash with comedy, nostalgia, and a touch of the gothic. Taranaki teen Ned (Jono Smith) is worried that the mysterious arrival in town (US acting legend John Carradine) has murderous designs on his sister. The masterful narration is by Martyn Sanderson. The result: the first Kiwi film to win official selection at the Cannes Film Festival.
One summer’s day, teenaged Jayde (Atarangi Manley) and Wiremu (Darcey-Ray Flavell-Hudson) tag along with their older siblings on a trip to a local swimming hole. Young passions ignite by the Rotorua hot pool. Later tragedy occurs and Jayde faces lost innocence and the ritual of tangi, while bearing a secret. Michael Bennett’s short — cutting between Jayde’s experience of the day and its aftermath — was shot in his Te Arawa home turf. It won selection for the 2005 Berlin Film Festival. 'Mu' was an early role for Flavell-Hudson (Mt Zion, Ghost Chips ad fame).
Set over a Christmas beach holiday in 1935, The End of the Golden Weather chronicles the friendship between a teenage boy and the wild-limbed Firpo, dreamer and social outcast. Writer/director Ian Mune spent more than 15 years "massaging" Bruce Mason's classic solo play into a movie, before assembling a dream team to bring it to the screen. The finished film captures the world view of a boy for whom fantasy, hope and disappointment intermingle. Among an impressive awards haul, 12-year-old star Stephen Fulford was recognised at America's Youth in Film Awards.
Hibiscus (Suivai Pilisipi Autagavaia, from short Manurewa) and no nonsense Ruth (Anna-Maree Thomas) have been friends since school. But now Hibiscus is finishing university, and her domineering mother doesn't want boyfriends getting in the way. So Hibiscus enlists Ruth's help, to handle any temptations. Hibiscus & Ruthless marks the second movie for writer/director SQS (Stallone Vaiaoga-Ioasa) — who won keen audiences in 2015 for his first feature, Samoan-set comedy Three Wise Cousins. Stuff reviewer James Croot praised the new film's casting, comedy and pathos.
This short film follows 14-year-old George (Norissa Taia) who has to find her own way to celebrate her birthday when everyone else forgets it. But solace comes from an unexpected place. The film marked director Reina Webster-Iti’s thesis project for her Master of Fine Arts degree at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts (the Fulbright scholar was the first Kiwi to study film directing there). Little Things won a Special Mention at the 2005 Berlin Film Festival, while young actor Norissa Taia was nominated for an NZ Screen Award. The casting is by Whale Rider's Diana Rowan.
One of Them! was one of two dramas (alongside Niki Caro movie Memory and Desire) inspired by short stories collected in Peter Wells' 1991 book Dangerous Desires. It was made for TV One as a Montana Sunday drama. Set in Auckland, 1965, One of Them! follows Lemmy and Jamie, two teenage boys coming to terms with their sexuality. In the dark days before gay liberation, bullying and intimidation was rife, and while the boys flaunt their sissyness, their internalised homophobia wreaks havoc on their emotional lives — until they can admit to being "one of them".
"I do hope your pimples don't let you down on the big night." 14-year old Steve is caught between creatures he does not fully understand: two parents with very different ideas about the suit he should wear to his first school dance. Meanwhile everywhere he seems to look, images of men are taking control of his imagination. In Stewart Main's comical coming of age story Steve escapes his parents' good wishes, to discover his true desires. They aren't quite what his no-nonsense father had in mind.
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.
Fifteen-year-old James is a suburban kid who tries to have it all one night on Courtenay Place. A sensitive lead turn from newcomer Aaron McGregor captures the intensity of being taken by the night, as booze and hormones derail romantic intentions. Choice Night was a second short collaboration between director Christopher Dudman and writer Paul Stanley Ward, loosely based on the latter’s experiences as a teenager in 90s Wellington. It was selected for the Clermont-Ferrand (in competition) and BFI London film festivals, and won Best International Short at Geneva.
Shopping marks the feature debut of Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland, who were acclaimed for their short films. Set on the Kapiti Coast, the 80s-set drama follows half-Samoan teenager Willie (Kevin Paulo), who is seduced into a world of petty crime. Adrift in muscle cars and boozy lawn parties, he finds stirrings of love, and escape from his volatile Pākehā father. Little brother Solomon (Julian Dennison) must fend for himself. Selected for the Berlin and Sundance Film Festivals, Shopping went on a winning spree at the 2013 NZ Film Awards (including Best Film and Screenplay).
Set in Central Otago in the drought-parched summer of 1975, gay-themed feature film 50 Ways of Saying Fabulous follows a chubby 12-year-old named Billy (Andrew Paterson) as he embarks on a challenging journey of sexual discovery. Adapting Graeme Aitken's novel, writer/director Stewart Main (Desperate Remedies) depicts a boy escaping into fantasy from the drudgery of farming duties — and learning about himself, his sexuality, and dealing with change. 50 Ways won a Special Jury Award at Italy's Turin International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in 2005.
Filmed in New Zealand’s deep south, this feature follows the vicissitudes of Adrian: a sensitive 11-year old haunted by the disappearance of three local children, who befriends mysterious new-in-town Nicole. The adaptation of Sonya Hartnett’s coming of age novel Of A Boy, is the feature debut of Denmark-based Dunedin-born director Daniel Joseph Borgman, following on from his lauded shorts Berik, and Lars and Peter. The creative team behind the 'informal' Danish-NZ co-production included frequent collaborators of directors Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg.
In this award-winning short film Michael is a 17-year-old who gets the abattoir blues during his first day at 'the works'. Fitting in turns out to be the least of Michael’s worries as young blood is welcomed on the line in the old fashioned way, and rite of passage is interpreted literally to meaty effect. Meathead was filmed at the Wallace Meat plant in Waitoa. Based on the true story of a mate of his, director Sam Holst’s debut short was selected for Cannes and won the Crystal Bear in the Generation (14plus) section of the 2012 Berlin Film Festival.
Released in Kiwi cinemas in August 2009 — after winning praise at festivals in Berlin and Rotterdam — The Strength of Water marks the big-screen debut of Māori playwright Briar Grace-Smith, and Pākehā director Armagan Ballantyne. The film centres on a 10-year-old twin brother and sister in an isolated part of the Hokianga, and the events that follow when they encounter a young stranger. The Strength of Water merges a spare, naturalistic portrait of a Māori family struggling to stay above water, with moody images of earth and sea, loss and new beginnings.
Roseanne Liang's documentary Banana in a Nutshell tells the story of her romance with Stephen Harris. After falling in love at university, everything seemed perfect for the pair. Enter Liang’s traditional Chinese parents, and suddenly the prospect of her marriage to a Pākehā got a lot more complicated. In this excerpt, Liang guides viewers through her childhood, romance, and threatened disownment by her parents. Liang added an extended epilogue when her award-winning film hit DVD. The couple's story was later fictionalised for Liang’s 2011 feature My Wedding and Other Secrets.
Crime thriller The Last Saint puts Auckland’s underworld squarely in its sights. Beulah Koale (who played the killer in short film Manurewa) stars as teenager Minka, who gets caught up in drugs and romance while working for psychotic P-dealer (Joe Naufahu). The first movie directed by Shortland Street actor Rene Naufahu, this "searing local thriller" (Sunday Star-Times) was funded largely by private investors, as well as a Pledge Me campaign. Calvin Tuteao and Jared Turner are part of an impressive cast; the soundtrack includes contributions from P-Money, Six60 and Katchafire.
Author Maurice Shadbolt went before the cameras to play father to the main character, in this adaptation of his acclaimed coming of age novel. Teen Nick (Paul O’Shea) is estranged from his family, and blaming himself for his Māori mate's climbing death. He runs away to his straight talking grandfather (Derek Hardwick) — who takes him bush — and loses his virginity to Sally (a first film role for Rebecca Gibney). Produced by Pacific Films legend John O’Shea, the NZ-German co-production was directed by Rolf Hädrich (Stop Train 349). The film debuted in NZ on television.