Aaron Watson's career path has been anything but dull. He's acted in children's television programmes (eg InFocus and Oi), performed at the 1996 Edinburgh Festival Fringe with his friend Duncan Sarkies, and spent 14 years as a tour guide in Russia and Central Europe. Dunedin-raised, Watson turned to producing in 2011, working with friend Jackie van Beek on short films In Safe Hands (a 2012 NZ Film Award winner) and Go the Dogs (2012 Berlin Film Festival). In 2017 the pair released their first feature film The Inland Road. Watson went on to produce feature comedy This Town, from documentary filmmaker David White.
Jackie [van Beek] and I set out an ambitious plan and five year timeline to go from short films to a feature, and it wasn’t always easy but we supported each other and stuck to it. I’m very proud of the end result. Aaron Watson on his first feature film, The Inland Road
The first feature from Jackie van Beek was born from the idea of three very different people in a house, after a crisis. The central character is teen runaway Tia, who after a car crash moves in with a family who are connected to the accident. To find their lead actor — newcomer Gloria Popata — writer/director van Beek and casting director Yvette Reid did an epic casting call across Aotearoa. Reid auditioned 340 people. Van Beek is best known as an actor herself, often in comic roles. She directed seven shorts, before The Inland Road was invited to debut at the Berlin Film Festival.
Jackie van Beek directed and starred in this 2014 short film, playing a tramper who finds her solitude interrupted in a Southern Alps hut. The short was filmed in Arthur’s Pass, where van Beek spent time climbing and exploring near her family crib, while growing up. Uphill won Best Film at an international showcase for organisation Women in Film and Television International; van Beek also won Best Actor at Kiwi festival Show Me Shorts. She would collaborate again with producer Aaron Watson on her feature directing debut, 2017 drama The Inland Road.
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.
This 2011 short, from director Jackie van Beek, follows a young woman couriering her uncle’s heart. In Safe Hands was based on a real life scandal involving Greenlane Hospital stocking a 'heart library' with organs from deceased patients. For decades the hearts were used for research purposes, often without parental consent. The Dunedin-shot film won Best Self-Funded Short Film at the 2012 NZ Film Awards (The Moas), after debuting at the 2012 NZ International Film Festival. Van Beek and producer Aaron Watson later collaborated on feature film The Inland Road (2017).