Ainsley Gardiner has produced shorts, feature films and television shows. In 2004 she established Whenua Films with actor Cliff Curtis, to promote indigenous story-telling on screen. After working on two award-winning shorts with Taika Waititi, she would co-produce his first two features, Eagle vs Shark and breakout hit Boy. Gardiner has also worked as a producer on variety show Happy Hour.
She has an astounding capacity and capability, the amount of work she does." Cliff Curtis on Ainsley Gardiner, in The NZ Herald, 22 March 2010
For this 2017 feature film, eight Māori women each direct a 10 minute segment of events circling around the tangi of a child (Waru). Each director had a day and a single shot to capture their take on the context behind a tragedy. After its debut at the 2017 NZ International Film Festival, Waru won a rush of social media attention, and screened at the Toronto and imagineNATIVE festivals. The Hollywood Reporter praised it for bringing "a sense of dramatic, urgent realism to a story that plays out like a suspenseful mystery". Waru is produced by Kerry Warkia and Kiel McNaughton.
"It is about 'life, death and fu*king good music'" runs the tagline to this movie, which follows a Wellington band playing East Coast and Northland pubs, as they head for Cape Reinga. On the road to Te Rerenga Wairua the boys go on a roots journey that is both musical (the cast includes singer Francis Kora, with songs by Trinity Roots' Warren Maxwell) and personal (mateship, whānau, whakapapa). The debut from writer/director Himiona Grace was co-produced by Ainsley Gardiner (Boy) and Mina Mathieson (Warbrick). It was released in NZ cinemas in February 2014.
Service station worker Tania (Sophie Henderson) is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman who identifies as Māori, working to take her little bro Pi to Surfer’s to find their Dad. But flitting Pi causes plans to go awry. Directed by Curtis Vowell (his debut) the script was adapted by Henderson from her theatre monologue, and shot in 20 days via the NZFC’s low budget Escalator scheme. The twist on the Hine-nui-te-po myth was a breakout hit of the 2013 NZ Film Festival. NZ Herald critic Dominic Corry raved: “one of the freshest New Zealand films to come along in years”.
The award-winning directing debut of actor Tammy Davis (better known as Outrageous Fortune’s Munter) is a South Auckland-set Christmas tale. Young Vinnie (Darcey-Ray Flavell-Hudson of Ghost Chips fame) and Jonah (James Ru) are bored on the mean streets — tagging, BMX-ing — when Jonah peer pressures Vinnie to join him in breaking and entering a house. When they find more than Christmas pressies inside, it tests mateship, moral codes and festive spirit. Crowned Best Film at Flickerfest, Ebony Society was selected for the Berlin and Sundance film festivals.
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).
A party of returning raiders hauls a massive waka taua (war canoe) through dense Waitakere bush, driven by their brutally insistent chief towards safety. Two water-boys are crouched in the bow. One of them risks a bold act of compassion — towards the trophy prisoner tied to the stern. The impressively-produced portage has echoes of Werner Herzog movie Fitzcarraldo, but the story is palpably Māori. Directed by Tearepa Kahi, Taua won Best Short at National Geographic’s 2007 All Roads festival, and was selected for the Berlin, Rotterdam and Clermont-Ferrand festivals.
Taika (Boy) Waititi's first feature is an offbeat comedy about two lonely misfits and their attempts to find love. Lily (Loren Taylor) is a shy fast-food cashier with a crush on clueless gaming geek Jarrod (Conchord Jemaine Clement). When Lily crashes Jarrod's fancy dress party wearing a shark costume and impresses the self-styled ‘Eagle Lord' with her gaming prowess — excerpted here — she gets her man. But their budding romance is sorely tested by Jarrod's obsession with a childhood nemesis. Empire called the film, "a comic delight destined for cult adoration."
A graffiti artist (Ropata Matthews) gets sprung by the cops while tagging. But his younger brother ends up being the fall guy and at the receiving end of long arm of the law. The hero heads into the Tamaki night, and with spray can and marker signs his views on politics (including on one of the infamous Iwi/Kiwi billboards from the 2005 National Party campaign). Ultimately he’ll need more than words to repay his brother. Co-written with Savage, the film was the first dramatic short directed by actor Tearepa Kahi (Mt Zion). It was invited to play at the Berlin and Clermont-Ferrand Film Festivals.
Six Māori Battalion soldiers camped in Italian ruins wait for night to fall. In the silence, the bros-in-arms distract themselves with jokes. A tohu (sign) brings them back to reality, and they gather to say a karakia before returning to the fray. Director Taika Waititi describes the soldiers as young men with "a special bond, strengthened by their character, their culture and each other." Shot in the rubble of the old Wellington Hospital, Tama Tū won international acclaim. Invited to over 40 international festivals, its many awards included honourable mentions at Sundance and Berlin.
Before their award-winning short films Run and Six Dollar Fifty Man (both invited to Cannes, in 2007 and 2009 respectively), Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland gave early notice of their talents with this short. Made to showcase the work of students from drama school Toi Whakaari, Dead End chronicles the tensions and preparations as various people converge for a funeral. Director Albiston utilises imaginative angles, music, humour and surprise to inject energy into a familiar scenario. Invited to film festivals in NZ, Sydney and Ourense (Spain).
The ‘OE’ is a Kiwi rite of passage, but for those travelling in a Kombi van, the trip can feel “like mixed flatting in a space the size of a ping-pong table” (Peter Calder). In Kombi Nation, Sal sets off to tour Europe with her older sister and friend; they’re joined by a dodgy male and a TV crew, recording the shenanigans. Shot guerilla style after workshopping with the young cast, Grant Lahood’s well-reviewed second feature anticipated the rise of observational ‘reality TV’, but its release was hindered by the collapse of production company Kahukura Films.
Youngsters Romeo, Ed, and Polly wait in two cars after dark while their parents are inside drinking. It’s a situation many Kiwis would recognise: cars in loco parentis outside the bar or rugby club. Soon cross-car rivalry warms to budding friendship. Winning performances, and the tender mix of comedy and romance saw the tale of a Te Kaha pub carpark become an international hit. Two Cars won a boot-full of awards, launched Waititi’s career, and was the second NZ short to gain an Oscar nod (Waititi infamously feigned sleep during the 2005 Academy Awards ceremony).
Viewable in full, comedy/drama Hopeless is a portrait of Wellington 20-somethings attempting to get along with crushes, exes, and never weres. Well-meaning Ben (Phil Pinner) finds himself becoming relationship therapist to two friends, despite possessing a dangerously unstoppable mouth. Hamstrung by an advertising campaign highlighting Pinner sitting on a toilet, Hopeless won warm reviews. It also offered impressive movie debuts for Mia Blake (No. 2), Scott Wills (Stickmen) and a hilariously unhinged Adam Gardiner (Agent Anna). Spin-off TV series Lovebites followed.
Written by Scott Wills, shortly before he won an award for acting in hit pool caper Stickmen, Ouch is the tale of a man (played by Wills) who arrives at a beach close to sunset, gazes intently at a nearby house, and dives into the ocean. Afterwards he approaches the house, and slips inside. The puzzle presented for viewers in this wordless short film is working out what sort of intruder this man is. Wills, director Brian Challis and future Boy producer Ainsley Gardiner first worked together on another moody, low dialogue short, The Hole (1998), which played at festivals around the globe.
Awash with off-kilter angles and some highly unusual noises, The Hole centres around a man and a woman who react in very different ways to the unexpected. Dean (Scott Wills from Apron Strings) and Jenny (Magik and Rose’s Nicola Murphy) are digging a well when Jenny hears voices from the bottom of the hole. The irascible Dean starts thinking about exploitation; Jenny thinks about helping. Inspired by a tale told by his grandmother, Brian Challis’ first film was invited to the prestigious Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival, plus more than a dozen others.