Costa Botes has had a long independent career as a director of drama (Stalin’s Sickle, Saving Grace ), a run of feature-length documentaries (Candyman, The Last Days of Winter) and at least one film that is very difficult to classify (Forgotten Silver). Botes also spent many years as a film critic, with a reputation for an acerbic wit.
Nothing could be more surprising than the controversy that erupted [...]. Despite all the (we thought) obvious clues we planted [...], a large proportion of the audience swallowed the whole thing. Costa Botes on Forgotten Silver
Team Tibet tells the story of Thuten Kesang, who came to New Zealand in 1967, exiled from his Tibetan homeland, his family and his culture. Kesang was Aotearoa’s first Tibetan refugee. Filmed over 22 years by globetrotting filmmaker Robin Greenberg (Return of the Free China Junk), Kesang recounts his story, from his parents’ arrest in the wake of the 1959 uprising, to his advocacy for Tibetan environmental and political issues. He has become a point of contact for the global Tibetan community. The documentary was set to premiere at the 2017 NZ International Film Festival.
Act of Kindness follows the search for one very helpful man, in a country of 11 million people. In 1999 Kiwi Sven Pannell arrived penniless in Rwanda, after bribing himself out of a worrying encounter with rebel militia in Burundi. He was saved by a street beggar who spoke perfect English. Eight years later Pannell got the chance to return to Rwanda with camera in hand, and say thanks — if only he can track his saviour down. Directed by Pannell and Costa Botes (Forgotten Silver), the documentary is a portrait of compassion, obsession, and a nation recovering from tragedy.
To create award-winning A Year on Ice Antarctic photographer Anthony Powell spent 10 years (and nine winters) clocking the continent on camera: from the 24-hour darkness of winter to desolate, stunning polar vistas (blazing aurora, freezing ice storms) and the creatures and humans who are based there. Time-lapse imagery — Powell’s speciality — evokes the ever-changing patterns of polar life. Powell’s images have screened on National Geographic, Discovery and in BBC’s Frozen Planet. A Year on Ice has inspired awe and acclaim at film festivals worldwide.
A gang member wakes up one morning and decides he needs a day off. Willy (ex-Mongrel Mob boss Tuhoe Isaac) checks out of the gang pad and, on a whim goes for a cruise on the Interislander. At a Picton Pub he makes an unlikely connection with brothers of a different clan. The near-wordless exploration of culture clashes and a man’s journey outside of his comfort zone, was the debut dramatic short from director Zoe McIntosh. It was selected for New York and Tribeca film fests, and Isaac won best performance in a short film at the 2010 Qantas Film and TV Awards.
In Poppy two Kiwi soldiers discover a baby in a muddy WWI trench. For Paddy it will lead to redemption amidst the hell of war. From a David Coyle script — based on his great-grandfather’s war story — Poppy was another successful computer-animation collaboration between producer Paul Swadel and director James Cunningham (Infection, Delf). CGI evokes a bleak Western Front landscape on which the (motion-captured) human drama unfolds. Cunningham spent over 4500 hours making Poppy; the result was acclaim at Siggraph, and invites to Telluride and SXSW festivals.
When Forgotten Silver — the story of pioneer filmmaker Colin McKenzie — unspooled on 29th October 1995, in a Sunday TV slot normally reserved for drama, many believed the fable was fact. Controversy ensued as a public reacted (indignant, thrilled) to having the wool pulled over their eyes. Costa Botes, who originated the mockumentary, later made this doco, looking at the construction of McKenzie's epic, tragic, yet increasingly ridiculous story. He interviews co-conspirator Peter Jackson and other pranksters, and they muse on the film's priceless impact.
One of the most successful television shows shot on Kiwi soil, The Tribe was the brainchild of British-born Raymond Thompson. In a future where the adults have been wiped out by a virus, the children that remain have formed into competing tribes, some of whom live to terrorise. Running five seasons, The Tribe sold to more than 120 territories, and the cast toured performances from the soundtrack for overseas fans. The cast were almost entirely New Zealanders, as were most of the crew. Sequel The New Tomorrow, following descendants of the original characters, screened in 2005.
Saving Grace sees spiky street kid Grace (Kirsty Hamilton) get taken in by enigmatic carpenter, Gerald (Jim Moriarty). As Grace falls under (much older) Gerald's spell, she's flummoxed by his claim that he is the messiah. Could Gerald be Jesus of Cuba Street or is he a delusional dole bludger? The screenplay was adapted by Duncan Sarkies (Scarfies) from his stage play. Botes' dramatic feature debut converted fewer viewers than his earlier work, the classic hoodwinker Forgotten Silver; although critic Nicholas Reid welcomed an NZ film that offered "style and brains".
An epic documentary chronicling the extraordinary, unbelievable life of pioneer Kiwi filmmaker Colin McKenzie. Or is it? The first clue that none of this story is true is that the film begins (the opening 10 minutes is excerpted here) with Peter Jackson leading the viewer down a garden path. Much that is absurd and unlikely follows, leading to a curiously emotional climax. The screening of Forgotten Silver memorably stirred up NZ audiences, and it screened at international film festivals such as Cannes and Venice, where it won a special critics' prize.
This thoughtful but humorous documentary offers a wry tribute to sheep in New Zealand. Interviews with Chris Knox, Dog's Show presenter John Gordon, Dick Frizzell and Michael Parekowhai (among others) pull the wool away from our collective eyes, and examine Aotearoa's much ridiculed relationship with sheep. Artists' images, souvenirs, pets, and shows for tourists all feature, as do songs and plays. The documentary also examines the foundational role of sheep in the country's economy. This was one of the first productions from company Greenstone Pictures.
This excerpt from arts show The Edge looks at the special effects being crafted for Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures. It's an intriguing insight into the early days of Weta, the effects house who went on to be the world-making wizards behind Lord of the Rings, Avatar and District 9. Richard Taylor — now Weta Workshop head — crafts a sea creature; George Port gives a tour of the fledgling Weta Digital (him, a computer and a single room!); and Jackson (in a Tintin t-shirt) breaks down Heavenly Creatures scenes, and muses upon Kiwi ingenuity and taking on Hollywood.
The Edge was an early edition in a series of magazine style arts shows made by the Gibson Group. Later shows included Sunday, Bookenz, Bill Ralston-hosted Backch@t, and Frontseat. Diverging from then-standard Kaleidoscope model (sometimes lengthy documentaries, often on single subjects) The Edge took a faster-paced approach, with multiple pieces in a half hour show. Subjects ranged from the birth of special effects company Weta to early landscape painter Alfred Sharpe. Fronted by writer Mary McCallum, two series and over 60 episodes of the show were produced.
Valley of the Stereos is a comic face-off that starts tinny, but gleefully escalates to bass heavy, as a not-so-zen hippy (Danny Mulheron) gets caught up in a vale-blasting battle with the noisy bogan next door (Murray Keane). Made by many key Peter Jackson collaborators, the near-wordless pump up the volume tale was directed by George Port, shortly before he became founding member of Jackson's famed effects-house Weta Digital. Ironically Weta's computer-generated miracles would help render the stop motion imagery seen in the finale largely a thing of the past.
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.
Stalin’s Sickle takes Kiwi suburban paranoia to unexpected places as nine-year-old Daniel imagines his neighbour is feared Russian dictator Joseph Stalin. Set amidst 1962 Cold War conservatism, Daniel spots the south seas’ Stalin at church, spies on him to confirm his suspicions and schemes to send him on his way. But Daniel’s civil defence plan goes awry, leaving him with a worse threat to deal with. Based on the short story by Michael Morrissey, the Costa Botes-directed film won Grand Jury Prize at the prestigious Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival.
Two decades before the animals of Black Sheep run amok, comes this Sunday night horror about a couple trapped in the countryside as the sheep start getting restless. In between encounters with a cheerful butcher and a man of God, we learn that New Zealand has undergone revolution: anyone who farms or harms animals is now branded a criminal. Directed by Costa Botes; scripted by poet and lawyer Piers Davies, who co-wrote Skin Deep (plus cult movie The Cars that Ate Paris, with acclaimed Australian director Peter Weir).