In the beginning — of both movies and books — is the word. Many classic Kiwi films and television dramas have come from books (Sleeping Dogs, Whale Rider); and many writers have found new readers, through being celebrated and adapted on screen. This collection showcases Kiwi books and authors on screen. Plus check out booklover Finlay Macdonald's backgrounder.
Biographer Michael King takes us through the life of pioneering writer Frank Sargeson: from puritanical parents to self-discovery in London, through to decades encouraging an emerging tide of New Zealand writers. The documentary’s most priceless moments are the tales told when four of those writers return to Sargeson’s fabled fibrolite bach, in Takapuna. Kevin Ireland calls it an “oasis, this marvellous place where books ruled supreme”. Sargeson’s purposefuly minimalistic writing style, the doco argues, helped NZ literature find its own voice.
Many of Aotearoa’s most successful films have been adapted from novels. This 2006 Artsville documentary looks at the process of turning books into movies. Authors Alan Duff (Once Were Warriors), Tessa Duder (Alex) and Jenny Pattrick (The Denniston Rose) reflect on the opportunity and angst of having their words turned into scripts — and maybe films. Duff reflects on DIY adaptation (What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?). Scriptwriters Ian Mune (Sleeping Dogs), Ken Catran (Alex), Riwia Brown (Warriors) and Geoff Husson (Denniston Rose) provide the adapters' perspective.
Katherine Mansfield, a rare New Zealand writer to achieve international renown, left for Europe as a 19-year-old. This documentary examines her complicated relationships with her family and homeland, her turbulent personal life, her writing — credited with changing the course of the English short story — and her early death in France in 1923, at age 34. Shot in five countries and presented by Catherine Wilkin, it includes excerpts from interviews with her companion, Ida Baker (from 1974) and biographer Claire Tomalin. Ilona Rodgers reads from Mansfield’s writings.
This fresh, unhurried film is drawn from a substantial interview with renowned writer Janet Frame by Michael Noonan; filmed largely at at Frame’s then-home on Whangaparoa Peninsula. It was part of the Three New Zealanders series made to commemorate the 1975 International Year of Women — an early John Barnett production. The rare footage of Frame — here aged 50 — presents a confident writer in her prime, and negates any stereotypes about Frame's inarticulacy or shyness. Note: the segments from the programme dramatising some of Frame’s work are not included here.
Directed by Jane Campion, An Angel at My Table is adapted from author Janet Frame's renowned three-part autobiography. It threads together a series of images and scenes to evoke Frame's dramatic life story. Originally made as a TV drama, the much-acclaimed dramatisation won cinema release in 35 countries; it established Campion as a global director, launched actor Kerry Fox, and introduced new audiences to the "mirror city" of Frame's writing. This excerpt follows Frame's life-saving escape from Seacliff Asylum, to first publishing success at Frank Sargeson’s bach.
“The funniest, liveliest, most exuberant film ever made in New Zealand”. So said critic Nicholas Reid, a year after Came a Hot Friday became 1985's biggest local hit. Though Billy T’s loony Mexican-Māori cowboy is beloved by fans, he is but one eccentric here among many — as two scheming conmen hit town, and encounter bookies, boozers, country hicks, nasty crim Marshall Napier, and Prince Tui Teka playing saxophone. Until the arrival of The Piano in 1993, Ian Mune and Dean Parker’s award-loaded adaptation remained NZ's third biggest local hit. Ian Pryor writes about the film here.
Once Were Warriors opened the eyes of cinemagoers around the globe to an unexamined aspect of modern New Zealand life. Director Lee Tamahori's hard-hitting depiction of domestic and gang violence amongst an urban Māori whānau was adapted from the best-selling Alan Duff novel. The film provided career-defining roles for Temuera Morrison and Rena Owen as Jake the Muss and Beth Heke. It remains NZ's most watched local release in terms of bums on seats. Among a trio of backgrounders, Riwia Brown writes about adapting Duff's book for the screen.
Artists Prepare was an National Film Unit series that featured prominent performance-based artists of the time. The edition follows poets Sam Hunt and Gary McCormick (the "John Travolta of New Zealand poetry") on tour in the Nelson region as they give poetry readings, talk to high school girls, drink whiskey, and muse about poetry and life — while Minstrel, Hunt's dog, lies patiently under bar tables. Ultra-tight stovepipe jeans, rock-star scarves, scenes in a milk bar and out on the open road in a Valiant evoke a time when poetry and heartthrob weren't antonyms.
Classic sci-fi TV series Under the Mountain follows the adventures of redheaded twins with psychic powers — Rachel and Theo — on their Auckland summer holiday. They meet the mysterious Mr Jones, an alien emissary who enlists them in the battle against the evil Wilberforces, who are plotting planetary destruction. Adapted from the Maurice Gee novel, the series' fx left their slimy imprint on a generation of NZ kids, haunted by the transmogrifying Wilberforces, who changed from humans into giant slugs slithering underneath Auckland’s volcanoes.
Witi Ihimaera was the first Māori writer to publish a book of short stories (Pounamu Pounamu) and a novel (Tangi). In this wide-ranging Kaleidoscope profile Ihimaera (here in his late 30s) talks about being “the boy from the sticks made good”, and conforming to expectations: “do I want to be the literary voice of the Māori people? No”. He discusses editing influential anthology Into the World of Light and the camera accompanies him on a Wellington circuit, as he roller-skates, and visits Newtown’s Black Power HQ. George Henare reads excerpts from Ihimaera’s work.
In this documentary children's author Margaret Mahy is interviewed at her Governors Bay home by friend and fellow author Elizabeth Knox. Many of Mahy's beloved storybook characters also appear to put her on the spot about their origins. In this excerpt, the famous lion from A Lion in the Meadow thanks her for making him yellow, and Mahy talks about eating porridge thrice a day as a young solo mum. Yvonne Mackay directed this seamless mix of real life and Euan Frizzell-created animation. Read more about the doucmentary here.
Kaitangata Twitch follows the adventures of 12-year-old Meredith (Te Waimarie Kessell) who faces mysterious happenings on Kaitangata island. Meredith is the only one who can apprehend the island's 'twitch' and prevent tragedy repeating. The Māori Television series was adapted from a Margaret Mahy story by long-time collaborator, director Yvonne Mackay, and was filmed in Mahy's Governors Bay hometown. Newcomer Kessell stars alongside Charles Mesure and George Henare (in a Qantas-winning turn). Twitch sold to ABC Australia and won international awards.
Barry Crump's iconic deer hunting yarn A Good Keen Man captured Kiwi imaginations. Published in 1960, it quickly sold 300,000 copies, and with Crump cast as an "ironic, laconic sort of super-bushman", made him a legendary literary figure. This excerpt from the award-winning documentary looks at Crump's upbringing and early success as a writer. The full 72-minute documentary covers everything from his fractured family relationships, violence, a life-changing incident on a bush camp, and discovering religion, to the ads for Toyota that reignited Crump's profile in the 80s.
Poet Sam Hunt goes "between islands" on a home turf tour. To a backdrop of languid 'good day' Strait's scenery, he yarns with locals about stories of land and sea, and recites poetry: "[it's all about just] standing back and listening ... or watching". He chats with poet Alistair Te Ariki Campbell, goes groper fishing off Mana, and hears of a plan to float on a flax flutterboard across the Strait. Hunt then gets himself across via ferry for whaling stories at Oxley's Rock pub and meets boatbuilders and Cape Jackson farmers. The Costa Botes film includes (brutal) archival whaling footage.
Gaylene Preston's documentary on writer Keri Hulme — filmed two years after Hulme shot to global fame on the back of her Booker Prize-winning novel The Bone People — is both a poetic travelogue of Okarito (the township where she resided for 40 years), and a sampler-box of affable musings on her writing process, whitebait fishing, the supernatural, and the 1200 pages of notes for her next novel, the elusive Bait. Leon Narbey's camera is aptly alert to the magical qualities of the coast, from the resident kotuku to the surf and birdsong peppering Hulme’s crib.
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.
This documentary offers a glimpse into the life, art, and inimitable cheeky-as-a-kaka style of late Kiwi poet, Hone Tuwhare. In the Gaylene Preston-directed film, the man with "the big rubber face" (cheers Glenn Colquhoun) is observed at home, and travelling the country reading his work; polishing a new love poem; visiting old drinking haunts; reading to a hall full of entranced students; and expounding his distinctive views on everything from The Bible to Karl Marx's love life. He reads some of his best-known poems, including Rain and No Ordinary Sun.
Visionary educationalist and novelist Sylvia Ashton-Warner is interviewed by leading educationalist of the day, Jack Shallcrass, in this documentary about her life and work. From her home in Tauranga the film explores her educational philosophies (“organic teaching” and her “drive to diffuse the impulse to kill”) and her “divided life” between woman and artist, as she plays piano and interacts with children. It is the only interview she ever made for television, and was the first of the Three New Zealanders documentaries made to mark International Women's Year.
In this Kaleidoscope report, Lorna Hope profiles poet, novelist and critic CK Stead as he resigns from his position as a Professor of English at Auckland University to write full time. Stead is filmed teaching, writing (at his Karekare bach), at home in Parnell, and at Frank Sargeson’s Takapuna house. He discusses his academic career, family life, walking for inspiration, and how he began writing as a teen. He also mentions his novel Smith’s Dream (adapted into 1977 feature film Sleeping Dogs), and how its themes are echoed in the 1981 Springbok Tour protests, where Stead was arrested.
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.
In director Geoff Murphy's cult sci fi feature, a global energy project has malfunctioned and scientist Zac Hobson (Bruno Lawrence) awakes to find himself the only living being left on earth. At first he lives out his fantasies, helping himself to cars and clothes, before the implications of being 'man alone' sink in. As this awareness sends him to the brink of madness — see the excerpt above — he discovers two other survivors. One of them is a woman. The Los Angeles Daily News called the movie “quite simply the best science-fiction film of the 80s”. Read more about it here.
When his father dies, Paul (Matthew Macfayden), a world-weary war journalist, returns to his Central Otago hometown. He strikes up an unlikely friendship with a teenage girl (Emily Barclay). Their relationship is frowned upon and when she disappears, the community holds him responsible. The events that follow force Paul to confront a tragic incident he fled as a youth, and face dark secrets. Critically-acclaimed, In My Father's Den marked the debut of a formidable fledgling talent: it was the only feature from writer-director Brad McGann, who died of cancer in 2007.
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.
Beneath her twinset, repressed housewife Gwyneth (Mandy McMullin) is close to the edge: of attacking the dishwasher, and giving in to lust (thanks to neighbour Kevin Smith). Especially after learning the husband has done the dirty on her. Based on a Fiona Farrell story, Mon Desir blends fantasy, satire and domestic tragedy. Writer/director Nicky Marshall scratches under the fingernails of Kiwi small towns, to reveal “what happens behind the facade of wholesome goodness and normality”. Mon Desir was chosen for the 'Un Certain Regard' section of the Cannes Film Festival.
Rain evokes an idyllic 1970s beach holiday. But as the title hints, all is not sunny at the bach. Mum (Sarah Peirse) is drowning in drink, Dad is defeated, and 13-year-old Janey is awakening to a new kind of power. Adapted from Kirsty Gunn's novel, Rain marked the acclaimed first feature for director Christine Jeffs. Invited to screen at the Cannes Film Festival, it won awards back home for actors Peirse, Alistair Browning and teenager Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki. Neil Finn and Edmund Cake composed the soundtrack. LA Times critic Kevin Thomas called it "an important feature debut".
A State of Siege is the story of a retired art teacher dealing with isolation and loneliness, culminating in a stormy, terrifying night. This is a six-minute excerpt. Vincent Ward's acclaimed short — adapted from a Janet Frame novel — was made when he was at Ilam art school. The Evening Post called it "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."
In 1986 Footrot Flats: The Dog's (Tail) Tale and its theme song ‘Slice of Heaven’ were huge hits in New Zealand and Australia. The adaptation of Murray Ball's beloved Footrot Flats comic strip marked Aotearoa's first animated feature. There were a lot of big questions to answer: Will Wal become an All Black? Will Cooch recover his stolen stag? Will the Dog win your hearts and funny bones? Punters answered at the box office. This John Toon-shot trailer doubled as a promo for the Dave Dobbyn-Herbs song, and smartly leveraged both. Tony Hiles writes about the film's making here.
Norvin has razor teeth and looks as much like a shark as any young boy can. So he makes a dorsal fin out of plastic and sets off to scare everyone out of the water. Now Norvin has the cove to himself. Or does he? The success of animator Euan Frizzell's wry adaptation of the Margaret Mahy picture book saw four more Mahy tales follow (collected on DVD as The Magical World of Margaret Mahy). Among a trio of awards, The Great White Man-Eating Shark won best children's short at the Ottawa International Animation Festival. Ray Henwood provides the droll narration.
This documentary looks at the life and work of acclaimed author Patricia Grace. Filmed at home, on marae and in classrooms, Grace discusses her writing process, her Hongoeka Bay upbringing, her children’s books, criticism of her work, and her Māori identity and belonging to the land (a theme of her then-recently successful novel Potiki). In particular she affirms the importance of writing from experience. The film features interviews with publishers and friends, and excerpts from Grace's stories are read and dramatised, including At the River, The Hills and Mutuwhenua.
Three New Zealanders was a documentary series that looked at the lives of three of NZ's most celebrated writers: Sylvia-Ashton Warner, Janet Frame and Dame Ngaio Marsh. Produced by Endeavour Films (John Barnett), the final chapter of this three-part series centres on internationally acclaimed crime-writer and Shakespearean director Dame Ngaio Marsh. It contains an interview with Marsh in her later years, interspersed with comments from former students and friends, and re-enactments from her novels (with the Blerta crew as players, and John Bach as Hamlet!).
Died in the Wool was part of a TV anthology adapting the murder mysteries of Dame Ngaio Marsh. MP Flossie Rubrick has been found dead in a wool bale, and it's up to Inspector Roderick Alleyn (UK actor George Baker — Bond, Z Cars, I, Claudius) to unravel the secrets of a South Island sheep station. The tale of a cultured Englishman amidst World War II spies, Bach and seamy colonial crimes — like Marsh's books — found a global audience: it was the first NZ TV drama to screen in the US (on PBS). Includes a Cluedo-style sitting room inquest and a wool shed reveal.
Smith (Sam Neill, in his breakthrough screen role) is devastated when his wife runs off with his best friend Bullen (Ian Mune). Smith escapes to the Coromandel. Meanwhile, the government enlists an anti-terrorist force to crack down on its opponents. Bullen, now a guerrilla, asks Smith to join the revolution. Directed by Roger Donaldson, this adaptation of CK Stead's novel Smith's Dream heralded a new wave of Kiwi cinema; it was one of the only local films of the 1970s to win a big local audience. This excerpt includes a much talked about scene: a baton charge by government forces.
This film is about the redemption of Jake the Muss. It picks up the story after Jake has turned his back on his family (his wife has left him to escape the violence) and is up to his usual tricks in McClutchy's Bar. After one of his sons dies suspiciously in a gang fight, another sets out to find revenge, accompanied by young gang member Tania (Nancy Brunning). Scripted by Alan Duff and directed by Ian Mune, the film was the second-highest-earning NZ film of the 1990s, (eclipsed only by Once Were Warriors). It scooped most of the categories at the 1999 NZ Film & TV Awards.
Under the Covers was a spin-off series from TVNZ 7 book series The Good Word, compiling Finlay Macdonald’s 10 minute pieces on great Kiwi books into their own show. Each episode features three books and tells the story behind them via interviews, readings and archive footage. This episode featured Barry Crump’s A Good Keen Man, David Lange’s My Life, and — in this excerpt — Jane Mander’s The Story of a New Zealand River, the 1917 novel that some say was an uncredited inspiration for Jane Campion's The Piano. Sam Hunt provides a spirited defence of Mander's book.
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. In this excerpt, the pair get caught, and s**t gets real. 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 won acclaim almost everywhere it went, and became New Zealand's biggest ever local hit.
Historian Michael King's opus was a bridge between Māori and Pākehā; he turned Aotearoa's history into an unprecedented publishing bestseller. History Man traces King's own past, to understand the man and his passion for his work. This doco was commissioned only weeks before King and his wife were tragically killed in a car accident. Nevertheless it is a detailed portrait of a much loved and missed New Zealander. It is another collaboration from this producer/director team, whose subjects include Michael Houstoun, Ian Mune and Barry Crump.
"...I mean to say, shouldn't I be in love with a fella or something?" Mandy (Richard Hanna), a man who dresses as a woman, describes his relationship with transsexual Jewel (future politician Georgina Beyer). Jewel's Darl concentrates on the fine details of their relationship: tea and biscuits in bed, Jewel's belief in staying strong against other people's mockery, and Mandy's memories of a troubled childhood. Nominated for multiple NZ Film and Television awards after finally getting a TV slot, Peter Wells' drama was inspired by an Anne Kennedy short story, which won the 1983 Katherine Mansfield Award.
A documentary about author Janet Frame based on the eponymous biography by Michael King. It travels through the familiar Frame themes - her alleged mental illness, family tragedies, overseas stays, how she began writing. Its value, and fresh insight, lies in the interviews with Frame's close friends and key figures in her life. They shed light on her personality and achievements. King in particular provides a considered, often-amusing account of Frame's life. This was his last interview for film; he was killed in a car accident in 2004.
On this episode of the book show hosted by novelist Emily Perkins, the panel discusses Rachael King’s gothic toned second novel Magpie Hall. There’s a visit to Governors Bay on Banks Peninsular to meet a book club with a multi-national feel; and TVNZ journalist Tim Wilson talks about his favourite book – the ultimate in weighty tomes, Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. In his ‘Under the Covers’ piece, Finlay Macdonald explores ‘A Good Keen Man’, Barry Crump’s breakthrough novel from 1960 – the work of a “man of the land with the soul of a poet”.
Hairy Maclary is a 10-part series adapted from the beloved children's books by Lynley Dodd. Animated by Euan Frizzell, the animated episodes follow Hairy and his canine mates (dachshund Schnitzel von Krumm, dalmatian Bottomley Potts and Old English Sheepdog Muffin McClay) on their Kiwi seaside adventures: from a rumpus at the vet, to the rescue from a tree of Hairy's tomcat tormenter ... Scarface Claw! Miranda Harcourt narrates, conveying the rhythms of Dodd's prose which have seen the stories sell several million copies around the world.
Denis Glover's poems are some of the most enduring in our literary tradition. "And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle" from The Magpies is probably New Zealand poetry's best known line. Glover (1912-1980) also established the first independent literary press (The Caxton Press). This documentary, directed by Bill de Friez, takes a candid look at the poet and reveals a larger than life figure ("a great drinker, a great womaniser, a great poet") connected to all the literary personalities of his day.
A culture clash story by Witi Ihimaera inspired this comic drama, which marked the directing debut of screen veteran Larry Parr. Set in the mist-shrouded Taranaki hamlet of Whangamomona in the 1940s, the short film focuses on the conflict between a local tohunga, Mr Hohepa (Sonny Waru) and feisty Pākehā Mrs Jones (Annie Whittle) — as viewed by the young boy who helps deliver her mail and groceries (Julian Arahanga, in his screen debut). The locals think Hohepa has placed a makutu (or curse) on Mrs Jones. But could more basic human emotions be at work?
Shirley Horrocks' documentary profiles the life, work and influence of pioneering PI writer Albert Wendt (1973's Sons for the Return Home was the first novel published in English by a Samoan). The film accompanies the writer to various locations in the Pacific and addresses his Samoa upbringing, his education in New Zealand and his work as writer and teacher; and discusses the contemporary explosion of Pacific arts. "I belong to Oceania — or, at least, I am rooted in a fertile part of it and it nourishes my spirit, helps to define me, and feeds my imagination."
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.
The Silent One is a mythological children's drama about the friendship between a deaf mute boy, Jonasi, and a rare white turtle. The boy's differences lead to suspicion from his Rarotongan village. When the village suffers drought and a devastating storm, the boy and turtle (also considered an ill omen) are blamed and ostracised. Adapted by Ian Mune from a Joy Cowley story, the beloved film was the first New Zealand dramatic feature to be directed by a woman (Yvonne Mackay). In the excerpt here, Jonasi is excluded from a boar hunt and first meets the turtle.
As a bitter civil war tears apart the lives of his students, an isolated English school teacher in Bougainville (House star Hugh Laurie) finds a unique way to create hope; 14-year-old Matilda (Xzannjah Matsi) is enthralled by his Charles Dickens-infused disaster survival lessons. The life during wartime tale was directed by Kiwi Andrew Adamson (Shrek), and adapted from the 2006 Booker Prize short-listed novel by Lloyd Jones. Adamson spent time in Papua New Guinea, as the teen son of missionary parents. Laurie and Matsi won best actor gongs at the 2013 Moa Awards.
One of those Blighters began life as a doco on Taranaki novelist Ronald Hugh Morrieson, but after interviews with many who knew him, morphed into something more offbeat: a semi-fictionalised tale of Morrieson’s mates reminiscing about his departure, interwoven with highlights from his tales of drunkards and con artists. The dramatisations are from his four novels - all became movies - plus one posthumously published short story. Amidst a cast packed to the rafters with carousing Kiwi screen legends, fellow multi-talented muso Bruno Lawrence plays Morrieson.
Presented by Alison Parr, this 1997 TVNZ arts series focused on New Zealand literature and writers; it featured studio interviews with authors. The Write Stuff was made by Pinnacle Productions — Amanda Evans, Pamela Meekings-Stewart and Di Oliver-Zahl — who were also behind contemporary arts series For Arts Sake. There were 26 30-minute episodes. Those interviewed included Emily Perkins, Bill Manhire, Sonja Davies, Barbara Else, Kate de Goldi, and Marilyn Duckworth. The Write Stuff screened on TV One.
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.
This Depression-era road movie tails teen runaway Kate (Greer Robson) as she tags along with World War I veteran Patrick (Aussie actor Peter Phelps) — himself on the run after assaulting a repo man. The odd couple relationship grudgingly evolves as they often narrowly escape the law, and head north across the southern badlands. Director Sam Pillsbury's on the lam tale won wide praise, with Kevin Thomas in the LA Times calling it "pure enchantment". Robson's award-winning turn as the scamp followed up her breakthrough role in Smash Palace.
This short, written and directed by Christine Parker (Channelling Baby) takes an allegorical look at the creative process. A writer (Rima Te Wiata) has a korero with a trickster spirit guide Hinekaro (voiced by Rena Owen), and conjures worlds from the words she inks on a page. In her imaginative struggles she’s visited by a ruru owl and her younger self, and other creatures are brought strikingly to life via special effects (beetles from a book, an eel hiding in a toilet bowl). Hinekaro was adapted from a 1991 short story by Booker Prize-winner Keri Hulme.
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.
Early Days Yet, directed by Shirley Horrocks, is a full-length documentary about New Zealand poet Allen Curnow, made in the last months of his life. The poet talks about his life and work, and visits the places of some of his most important poems. It includes interviews with other New Zealand poets about Curnow's significance as an advocate for New Zealand poetry. As Curnow famously mused in front of a moa skeleton displayed in Canterbury Museum: "Not I, some child, born in a marvellous year / Will learn the trick of standing upright here."
This was a beloved six-part children’s drama about the adventures of skateboarding 12-year-old Terry Teo, based on a 1982 graphic novel comic by Stephen Ballantyne and Bob Kerr. The Auckland-set series honoured the comic’s distinctive New Zealand landscapes, people and humour, and gave them a cartoonish feel with larger-than-life acting, animated arcade game style sequences, bright costumes and oversized props. Former Goon Michael Bentine headed the cast which also featured Billy T James as a bikie, and a cameo from former PM Sir Robert Muldoon.
Solo mum Leeanne Rosser (Jean's Kate Elliott) is rejected by her Christian mother. She tries to stay close to her brother Brent (Jared Turner), unaware of his secret life as a thief. One day a burglary goes wrong, and a woman is badly injured. The incident causes repercussions for all the members of the two families, and relationships begin to fracture. Based on Maurice Gee's novel Crime Story, Fracture was the second feature directed by Larry Parr. Its release was delayed by the collapse of Parr's company Kahukura in 2002. The Press called Fracture "competent, confident and complex".
Mercury Lane was a story-driven arts show that generally included a cluster of short documentaries, poetry and musical performances in each hour-long episode. This episode of the Greenstone-produced arts series features Sam Hunt interviewing acclaimed New Zealand poet Alistair Te Ariki Campbell. Campbell discusses his early childhood in the Cook Islands as the child of a Pākehā father and Polynesian mother, and reads a selection of poems. The programme ends with Auckland pianist Tamas Vesmas playing a Debussy prelude at the Auckland Art Gallery.
Made in New Zealand is a documentary about acclaimed New Zealand children and young adults writer Margaret Mahy. The film takes a line from her award-winning story The Changeover — "...made in New Zealand, it said, Wisdom Laboratories, Paraparaumu" — and uses it to talk about the importance of New Zealand settings in Mahy's work, her international successes, and her life as a writer. Mahy is filmed at her home in Governors Bay, speaking to children in her famous rainbow wig, and out and about on Akaroa Peninsula.
The Insatiable Moon is the tale of a man with nothing but wisdom, joy and possibly a direct line to God. Arthur (Rawiri Paratene) wanders the streets of Ponsonby, where he finds perfection (Sara Wiseman) just as his community of boarding house friends faces threat. Producer Mike Riddell first wrote The Insatiable Moon as a 1997 novel, inspired by people he met while he was a clergyman in Ponsonby. The film’s extended development almost saw it made in England with Timothy Spall - before finally coming home, “on half a shoestring and a heap of passion”.
In this film two Kiwi larrikins, Sam and Jack (Alan Jervis and Pork Pie's Kelly Johnson) go on a road trip, seemingly fuelled by blokey banter. A pit stop at Hokonui Pub leads to shenanigans with a stolen road roller, varied shaggy dog stories and jail, before Sam has to return to the dreaded missus. The characters and scenarios were adapted from two of Barry Crump's novels featuring anti-hero Sam Cash: Hang on a Minute Mate and There and Back. Mate was made for TVNZ, and screened in late 1982. Pub spotters will appreciate the pub's high pressure hoses and five ounce glasses.
The night before his granddaughter's birthday, a man who likes having a flutter on the horses (Utu star Anzac Wallace) has a "dream". But which horse is he meant to bet on this time? Raniera gets help from his wife (Erihapeti Ngata) and the local community, to understand what the dream might mean. This edition of the pioneering Māori drama series marked Rawiri Paratene's debut as director. Patricia Grace based the screenplay on her story 'The Dream'; Temuera Morrison has a small role. Viewers can choose whether to watch the episode in Te Reo or in English.
On the Samoan island of Sapepe, the rebellious, pranksterish young Pepe (Faifua Amiga) rejects his imported Christianity and declares himself a descendant of the old gods, setting himself on a path of alienation and conflict. In this excerpt, he leads a burglary of his father's store and burns down a church on the streets of Apia. Adapted from two works by Albert Wendt and shot with a local and largely amateur crew, Martyn Sanderson's first feature is emboldened by vivid cinematography and Kingpin-star Amiga's unforced charisma in the lead role.
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".
This 1985 film spins off Katherine Mansfield's request to her husband John Middleton Murry, to burn "as much as possible" of her letters and writing after her death. Three decades later Murry (Sir John Gielgud) is still haunted by Mansfield, as he works on a collection of her work. Brit Jane Birkin plays both Mansfield, and a Kiwi expat who reminds Murry of his ex lover. Initially charmed, she grows annoyed at Murry's narrow-minded view of Mansfield. John Reid took over directing two weeks before shooting began in France. Variety rated the Pacific Films drama nuanced and intelligent.
This Review episode from 1973 offers an interview with Hone Tuwhare — then 51 years old — at the Māori Writers' and Artists' Conference at Tukaki Marae, in the town of Te Kaha. One of New Zealand’s best-loved and lauded poets, Tuwhare speaks of various influences, including sex, religion, trade unionism and communism. Poet Rowley Habib sits alongside Hone in the interview, and occasionally contributes to the conversation. This documentary also features a poetry reading from Dunedin's Globe Theatre.
The second feature film directed by writer Anthony McCarten (Ladies' Night) is a small tale with some big themes. Set in a New Plymouth car yard, the film chronicles an endurance contest in which a car will be awarded to the person who manages to keep their hands on it the longest. As night falls, solo mother Jess (Melanie Lynskey) finds herself fending off the attentions of an obstinate competitor (Craig Hall), with a much harsher vision of the world than hers. Inspired by similar real-life contests, McCarten based the film on his novel Endurance.
Billy Williams (Cliff Curtis) is enthusiastic and likeable, but a bit hopeless. When the driving force behind the Waimatua School 75th Jubilee is killed in an accident, Billy takes over, determined to prove himself. Meanwhile, the arrival of ex-international rugby player Max Seddon (Kevin Smith) forces Billy's wife Pauline (Theresa Healey) to question the choices she has made in her life. This affectionate comedy drama about small town New Zealand life marked Cliff Curtis's first lead role in a feature film — and actor Michael Hurst's first time directing a movie.
In the wake of the Allied invasion of Normandy, US soldier Saul (Usual Suspect Gabriel Byrne) meets Belle, alleged to be a Nazi collaborator. He offers to stay in her cottage as Résistance accusers circle. The tragic tale of moral ambiguity during wartime was adapted from a novel by Kiwi MK Joseph. Filmed in France in 1988, director Larry Parr’s feature debut was troubled by the withdrawal of a French partner and bankruptcy of the US distributor; after film festival showings it screened on NZ television in 1995. French actor Marianne Basler won a 1992 NZ Film Award as Belle.
Maurice Gee's classic novel about aliens running amok under Auckland has rarely gone out of print, since its debut in 1979. First adapted as a memorable 80s TV series, this movie retooling sees teenage twins Theo and Rachel stumbling across shape-shifting creatures that are hiding beneath Auckland's extinct volcanoes. American showbiz magazine Variety praised Black Sheep director Jonathan King's "solid helming", and the excellent acting of Sam Neill as the mysterious Mr Jones. Oliver Driver plays lead villain Mr Wilberforce, under four hours of make-up.
When people tell the amazing story of Kiwi legend Julian Harp, Nicky doesn't get a mention. Now, in one of the NZ screen's classic monologues, Nicky takes the opportunity to let us in on what really happened: her relationship with Julian, his plan to destabilize the Government via letterwriting campaign, and the couple's preparations for the day he achieved engineless flight and rose into the sky from the Auckland Domain, never to be seen again. Based on the classic short story by CK Stead, author of Smith's Dream (aka Sleeping Dogs).
Directed by Robert Sarkies (Scarfies, Out of the Blue), and written with brother Duncan (from the latter's novel) Two Little Boys is a tale of the misadventures of two Invercargill bogans. When a Scandinavian tourist fatally meets Nige's fender, Nige (Conchord Bret McKenzie) runs to best mate Deano (Aussie comedian Hamish Blake) for help. "Trouble is, Deano's not really the guy you should turn to in a crisis." Mateship is challenged by security guard flatmate Gav, a rogue sea lion and some dunderhead decision making. The black comedy opened in NZ on Sept 20 2012.
Young, confident and good-looking, Michael (Matt Whelan from Go Girls) discovers he has only a short time to live. Rather than undergo pricey experimental cancer treatment, he steals the cash and absconds to Hong Kong and Europe, determined to enjoy the life that remains. But heedless OE hedonism is complicated when he meets Sylvie (Roxane Mesquida, star of A Ma Soeur) and goes cross-continental with her. Based on Steven Gannaway novel Seraphim Blues, Kirstin Marcon’s first feature combines down under filming with a guerilla-style winter shoot across Europe.
Sean's prize possession is a 1958 red and white Ford Fairlane. His sister Annie works in an auto paint shop. But Annie is sick of playing shotgun, while her brother drives. What she wants is Sean's trust, and the chance to use her spraypainting talents to give the Fairlane a new look. After the Fairlane is stolen, the pair find themselves caught up in an adventure which tests their relationship. Writer Debra Daley based the script on a short story she had written about growing up in the ‘car culture' of Henderson, in West Auckland.
Based on a novel by the late Ronald Hugh Morrieson — whose stories painted hometown Taranaki as a hotbed of colourful characters and dodgy dealings — Predicament is a prohibition-era tale of blackmail, anxiety and criminal partnerships. Awkward teen Cedric (Hayden Frost) meets two oddball misfits (played by Conchord Jemaine Clement and Australian comedian Heath 'Chopper' Franklin), and becomes entangled in a plot to blackmail adulterous couples caught in the act. Jason Stutter's film went on to win six Aotearoa Film Awards in 2011.
Armed with his trusty ray gun and protected by his pith helmet Lord Broadforce's exotic species search on an alien planet is going swimmingly — until the dame gets colonial angst. The short is based on the sci-fi world of Dr Grordbort created by Weta Workshop's Greg Broadmore (designer on District 9), in which Victorian steampunk meets alien trophy hunting. The live action-CGI film was created over 22 weeks by 11 students of the Media Design School's 3D animation programme, under the direction of James Cunningham. Broadmore followed with a Grordbort video game in 2018.
In 2003 Toi Māori Aotearoa engaged Charlotte Yates to produce an album and stage performance celebrating the verse of poet Hone Tuwhare. Yates co-opted various musicians (including Dallas Tamaira from Fat Freddy's Drop, and the late Graham Brazier) to transform Tuwhare's poetry into lyrics, using a range of music from rock to dub. This short film by Lala Rolls was commissioned for the album launch; the material was also used in the live show. We see Tuwhare at home at Kaka Point and reciting his poetry against the songs, and glimpse his warmth, humour and literary verve.
During WWII the Post Office photographed letters, enabling mass mailing to soldiers via rolls of film. Post Office worker Ngaire (Yvette Reid) deals with mail for soldiers serving overseas. On this small, handsomely-framed canvas, writer-director Paolo Rotondo explores how war and distance affect relationships. Dead Letters makes a persuasive case that the memories preserved in words and film contain their own magic, even when that magic is tinged with sadness and death. It won best short screenplay at the 2006 New Zealand Screen Awards.
A Moment in Time is an armchair interview with historian Michael King OBE filmed in 1991. King discusses his early influences, motivation, and distinctive publications. King died in a car accident with his wife Maria Jungowska in 2004, and his reflections in A Moment in Time are testament to the tragedy of that loss: "We've got to be able to trace our own footsteps and listen to our own voices or we'll cease to be New Zealanders, or being New Zealanders will cease to have any meaning."
Filmed in France, Belgium and New Zealand, The Vintner's Luck (aka A Heavenly Vintage) is a tale of growing grapes and meeting angels. Belgian actor Jeremie Renier (L'Enfant) 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.
This feature dramatises an ill-fated offensive that Kiwi soldiers undertook during World War I’s Gallipoli campaign. On 8 August 1915 the Wellington Battalion briefly seized Chunuk Bair, a pivotal peak overlooking the Dardanelles; they suffered huge losses. The film pitches the attack as a formative New Zealand nationhood moment, with Kiwi guts and resilience countered by inept, careless British generals, as much as their Turkish foes. Filmed on an Avalon set and the Wainuiomata coast, the story was based on Maurice Shadbolt’s classic play Once On Chunuk Bair.
The last novel by Taranaki author Ronald Hugh Morrieson revolves around a freezing plant worker (Peter McCauley) in an inter-racial marriage. The role of an English remittance man was expanded in a failed attempt to cast Peter O'Toole (the role ultimately went to NZ-born Bruce Spence). Morrieson's view of small town NZ is a dark one, as he explores racism, violence, murder, suicide and blackmail. Bruno Lawrence contributes to Jonathan Crayford's jazz-tinged score, and features in the wedding band. The freezing works scenes were shot at the defunct plant in Patea.