Writer [Ngā Puhi, Ngāti Wai]
Briar Grace-Smith, ONZM, has written for stage, page and screen. Her 1996 play Purapurawhetu was called "a new classic of New Zealand theatre" by The Listener (it was later filmed for TV's Atamira). After writing for Being Eve and Mataku, Grace-Smith created quirky TV movie Fish Skin Suit. In 2010 she won a NZ Scriptwriters Award for her debut feature The Strength of Water, and followed it by working on the scripts of Billy T James TV movie Billy, series Kaitangata Twitch and movie Fresh Meat. Grace Smith was one of the creators of 2017 film Waru, and has been a development executive at the NZ Film Commission.
I’m probably telling the same story again and again, and it’s something about the underdogs. They’re the characters that interest me. Briar Grace-Smith, interviewed in Turbine, October 2003
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.
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."
A soap told from a Māori perspective, this Rotorua-set drama follows Piki (newcomer Hinerauwhiri Paki) as she faces the challenges of being a teen in the age of Snapchat. This opening episode sees the aspiring singer juggle an audition for a kapa haka troupe, and a crush on a fellow performer. NZ Herald reviewer Duncan Greive praised Paki as "shockingly good", and found the Māori Television series "a distinctly modern drama which could have come from nowhere else". The show was developed from an original idea by actor Cliff Curtis and producer Lara Northcroft.
In search of a hideout, gun-totting Gigi (Kate Elliott) and a gang with criminal tendencies end up in hot water after crashing into the lives of a middle class Māori family. To describe the whānau as meat lovers would be euphemistic. Actor/director Danny Mulheron has often gleefully given the finger to political correctness — witness Meet the Feebles, stage farce The Sex Fiend, and TV's Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby. This Gibson Group production marks his in your face cinematic debut. The anarchic result promises cannibalism, comedy — and chef Tem Morrison.
Directed by Peter Burger (Until Proven Innocent), this top-rating tele-feature dramatised the life story of legendary comedian Billy T James. Billy screened on 21 August 2011 as a Sunday Theatre drama on TV One, 20 years after Billy T’s death, aged just 42. Actor Tainui Tukiwaho (Step Dave) plays Billy T. Touted as revealing "the man behind the chuckle", the drama traverses Billy T’s life from childhood. This excerpt follows Billy as he reaches the peak of his career, fronting TV skits and pub stand-up. It was adapted by Briar Grace Smith and Dave Armstrong from the Matt Elliott biography.
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.
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.
Kete Aronui is a documentary series that features leading contemporary Māori artists. Screening on Māori Television, produced by KIWA Media, and funded through Te Māngai Pāho, its title translates as "basket of knowledge." Each episode provides a portrait: surveying the lives and practices of the artists, often with a focus on how they interact with their whanāu and community. The series surveys artists working in a diverse range of mediums, including dance, photography, theatre, film, poetry, music, tā moko, weaving, and sculpture.
The Strip centres around 30-something Melissa (Luanne Gordon), who sheds a legal career to set up a male strip revue. Created by Alan Brash, The Strip played to a certain demographic's desire for ogling naked men (warmed up by 1987 play Ladies Night and 1997 film The Full Monty), but with a focus on female characters, as Melissa juggles business with raising a teenage daughter. Taking cues from Ally McBeal (with fantasy sequences to match) the Gibson Group tale of g-strings, feminism and red light romance screened for two series on TV3 and sold internationally.
This quirky, upbeat comedy-drama looked at teen life through the eyes of 15-year-old Eve (Fleur Saville). Something of an amateur teen anthropologist, Eve questions everything in her world, musing on life to the camera and in voiceover. The series' fresh, self-aware style appealed directly to media-savvy teenagers. The TV3 series launched Saville's TV career, fostered young directing and producing talent, won many awards (including Best Drama Series at the 2002 NZ TV Awards) and sold to over 40 territories, screening in the US on Nickelodeon.
Described as a "Māori Twilight Zone", Mataku was a series of half-hour dramatic narratives steeped in Māori experience with the "unexplained". Two South Pacific Pictures-produced series screened on TV3; a later series screened on TV One in 2005. Each episode was introduced by Temuera Morrison Rod Serling-style. The bi-lingual series was a strong international and domestic success; producer Carey Carter: "Our people are very spiritual ... and here we are ... turning it into stories so that the rest of the world can get a glimpse of that aspect of our culture."
While playing at the beach with their grandmother, two children witness an Elvis impersonator walk out of the sea. They believe he's the "fishman" lover of a female taniwha, Hine Tai. Magic realist mayhem — and tragedy — ensues as the stranger stirs up the life of their whanau in the quiet fishing village. The fable, written by Briar Grace-Smith and directed by Peter Burger, received six nominations at 2002 NZ TV Awards, winning Best Drama, and Camera. It screened on TV3 and features the Bic Runga song 'All Fall Down'.
Backch@t was a magazine-style arts and culture show that appealed, from the opening acid-jazz theme tune, to a literate late-90s arts audience. Fronted by media personality Bill Ralston, the show included reporters Mark Crysell and Jodi Ihaka, and Chris Knox appears as the weekly film reviewer. In keeping with Ralston’s journalistic background, Backch@t took a ‘news’ approach to the arts, debating topics in the studio and interviewing the personalities, as well as covering the sector stories.
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.