Self-taught editor Cushla Dillon moved from shorter works to features with Harry Sinclair's Topless Women Talk about their Lives: both the bite-sized TV series then the movie, for which she won her first NZ film award. Dillon has gone on to edit shorts, documentaries, and many more features — including The Price of Milk, Orphans & Kingdoms, and award-winning documentary This Way of Life.
Cushla’s been very influential on the whole style of Topless. I guess in a way Topless has partly evolved out of me trying to make things that Cushla wants to watch! Harry Sinclair, on Topless Women talk about their Lives
With The Free Man, genre-hopping director Toa Fraser (The Dead Lands) takes on the world of extreme sport. The globetrotting documentary is built around encounters between Kiwi freestyle skier Jossi Wells and The Flying Frenchies, known for their base jumps, wingsuit flying and tightrope walks at terrifying heights. As Wells gets direct experience in the art of walking a highline, director Fraser investigates what adrenaline junkies gain — and lose — when putting their lives on the line. The Free Man gets its Kiwi premiere during the 2017 NZ International Film Festival.
When the Taliban attempted to destroy reels upon reels of historic Afghan film, a group of brave archivists hid the films away in a few dusty sheds in the middle of the desert. When German-based Afghani filmmaker Ibrahim Arafy returned to the Middle East to track down and restore the long hidden films, Kiwi filmmaker Pietra Brettkelly joined him, to tell the story of the archive's restoration under immensely trying conditions. Working with unskilled labourers amidst ongoing conflict, Arafy’s team do their best to save an integral part of their nation’s culture.
Journalist Kim Webby's Price of Peace is a portrait of Tūhoe activist Tame Iti, whose family Webby has known for 20 plus years. After the 2007 police raids, Iti was one of four to go on trial, accused of plotting terrorist activities. Webby’s film ranges widely from early land grievances to modern-day jail cells — and a police apology. NZ Herald reviewer Peter Calder praised the result for balancing a personal focus on Iti, with “a powerfully affecting” examination of the 2007 raids, which placed the raids in "the wider context of Tūhoe history and the process of reconciliation”.
Described by writer/director Paolo Rotondo as a “drama about how adults need kids as much as kids need adults”, Orphans & Kingdoms follows three teens on the run, who break into a holiday home to hide out. Then the owner (Colin Moy, who played the brother of the main character in In My Father’s Den) arrives home, followed by the police. Shot on Waiheke Island, the low-budget Escalator film had a sell-out world premiere at the 2014 Auckland Film Festival, before winning a Moa award for best editing. Best known as an actor, Rotondo won awards for writing short film Dead Letters.
In 1994, Teina Pora was found guilty of the rape and murder of Susan Burdett. He spent 22 years behind bars despite physical evidence implicating someone else, and concerns over the reliability of Pora's confession. In this Māori Television documentary, director Michael Bennett examines the case against Pora, and private investigator Tim McKinnel's belief in his innocence. This excerpt includes footage from Pora’s original police interview and a visit where he fails to identify Burdett’s house. In 2015 the Privy Council quashed Pora's conviction
The Whanganui River settlement of Jerusalem had a moment in the national spotlight when poet James K Baxter lived there in the early 70s — but it is home to a long established Māori community and the Catholic order of the Sisters of Compassion (since 1892). To make this documentary, Miriam Smith and Christopher Pryor spent a year in Jerusalem, following the lives and interactions of the nuns and the Ngāti Hau. North & South called their observations of a world of co-existing contrasts — Māori and Pākehā, young and old, secular and religious — “a cinematic treat”.
This theatrically released documentary charts 23 years of highs and lows for one of NZ's most enduring rock bands — complete with personal dramas, early tragedy, adoring local audiences, album sales of 250,000, attempts to crack the United States, and that agonising name change. Seeking an audience beyond the faithful, award-winning director Sam Peacocke expanded the story's scope to feature the band's family and friends as much as the music. NZ Herald entertainment writer Scott Kara called the result "a cracker", and "a must-see for fans of the band".
Fifteen-year-old James is a suburban kid who tries to have it all one night on Courtenay Place. A sensitive lead turn from newcomer Aaron McGregor captures the intensity of being taken by the night, as booze and hormones derail romantic intentions. Choice Night was a second short collaboration between director Christopher Dudman and writer Paul Stanley Ward, loosely based on the latter’s experiences as a teenager in 90s Wellington. It was selected for Clermont-Ferrand (in competition) and BFI London film festivals, and won Best International Short at Geneva.
Simone Horrocks' first feature revolves around the disintegration of a man's life, after his daughter goes missing. Horrocks relocates Stephen Blanchard's novel The Paraffin Child from a washed-up UK coastal community to West Auckland/Piha. Outrageous Fortune talent Antony Starr plays the forest ranger who separates from his wife, then learns she is pregnant to the policeman investigating his child's disappearance. Horrocks says After the Waterfall investigates healing, resilience, and "how we live with unfinished business".
Filmed over four years, This Way of Life documents the story of Hawkes Bay hunter and horse wrangler Peter Ottley-Karena, wife Colleen (Ngāti Maniapoto), and their six children. Intercut with Peter's articulate bush philosophy, it captures the family's romantic, dignified relationship to each other and to the natural world. Ever-present amongst the challenges their commitment to a 'simple life' faces is Peter's broken relationship with his step-father. Life received a special mention at the Berlin Film Festival; Variety called it "resonant and stunningly shot".
Juliette Veber's observational documentary tells the story of Gary Peach, a teacher in charge of discipline at South Auckland's Aorere College. "Peachy" has unorthodox methods (a loud hailer to wrangle truants) but his genuine commitment to the mainly Māori and Pacific Island kids is provoking and affecting. Filmed over six months on the trail of Peach's beat, the film received applause at 2008 NZ Film Festival screenings and made many annual 'best of' lists. The NZ Herald called it a: "very moving report from education's frontline ... a compelling watch".
Against the backdrop of Colonel Gaddafi’s attempted reconciliation with the West, this Pietra Brettkelly-directed doco captures a bizarre manifestation of the new international face of Libya: the predominantly Muslim country’s first beauty contest. In these excerpts, 24 unsure models arrive in Tripoli. As devout Muslim women watch on, and an English journalist struggles to contain incredulity, political realities emerge (eg military fatigues will be replacing bikinis). But will a requirement for contestants to wear Gaddafi t-shirts be a step too far for some?
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.
Kiwi comedy-drama Being Eve "tacked the trails and tribulations of everyday adolescent life" (as website The Spinoff put it). It launched the career of Fleur Saville, starrig as amateur teen anthropologist Eve. In this excerpt from episode 10 of series one, Eve grapples with the day-to-day stuff of negotiating relationships (now that Matt is her boyfriend, does she have to sit next to him in every class?). Friends and family expose their relationship-challenging racial prejudices. Rated best drama at the 2002 NZ TV Awards, Being Eve was nominated for an International Emmy.
For her first feature, writer/director Gillian Ashurst wanted a “big wide road movie; big skies; big long roads.” Cruising the Canterbury landscapes are small-town dreamers Alice (Heavenly Creature Melanie Lynskey) and Johnny (future Almighty Johnson Dean O’Gorman). But the duo’s adventures go awry after encountering a charming American cowboy. Reviews were generally upbeat: praising the talented cast, plus Ashurst’s ability to mix moods and genres. Snakeskin won five awards at the 2001 NZ Film and TV Awards, including best film and cinematography.
Lucinda (Danielle Cormack) lives a fairytale life with dairy farmer Rob (Karl Urban), and his 117 cows. But after a freak car accident she decides to test Rob's love for her by trying to make him angry. He passes her tests until a quilt goes missing from their bed; the price of getting it back is high. Harry Sinclair's follow-up to Topless Women Talk about their Lives is quirky and romantic, but not especially fantastical — yet it won a trio of awards at specialist fantasy film festivals overseas. The fulsome soundtrack is performed by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra.
Drawing from Dimmer's debut album I Believe You are a Star, this early video effortlessly channels the minimalist cool that would be a Dimmer trademark. The set is dark, dominated by a red-lit sign likely inspired by Elvis' iconic 1968 comeback special. The vocals are provided by four males in white suits — including a pint-sized version of Dimmer founder Shayne Carter, and, briefly, his late father. The first, long in gestation Dimmer album signalled a new stage in Carter's career, with sparse grooves dominating over guitars.
Director Stewart Main talked to artist Pat Hanly about life as painter and activist for 1998 documentary Pacific Ikon, from which this excerpt is taken. Interviewed at his Mt Eden home, Hanly discusses his painting career and inspirations — both political and personal. Also interviewed are his wife Gil, who supported him personally and financially, and children Ben, Tamsin and Amber. Like his work, Hanly is ebullient, energetic and articulate, At one point he says: "We are awaiting death with interested anticipation. Some of my best friends are dead." Hanley died in September 2004.
When Love Comes features Rena Owen as a once were famous singing star who returns to NZ, in need of reinvention. Staying with a close gay friend (Simon Prast), she is reenergised after meeting a wastral songwriter (Dean O'Gorman) and two loved up young musos (Sophia Hawthorne and Nancy Brunning, the former in her big screen debut). Invited to a slew of North American festivals — including Sundance and Toronto — Garth Maxwell's sun and song-lashed tale won stateside praise for its "energetic direction" (The Hollywood Reporter) and impassioned performances.
A group of 20-somethings revolving around pregnant Liz (Danielle Cormack) confront a Generation X medley of 'births, deaths, and marriages' in Harry Sinclair’s debut feature, developed from the eponymous TV3 series. They experience, "the agony of failed love and ambiguous love, the agony of loneliness, the ecstasy of sex and the discovery of maturity" (Australian critic Andrew L Urban). In this excerpt from the well-received film the cast faces vexing coathangers, skirts, rubber gloves and panic attacks. NSFW caution: features actual Teutonic topless women.
In the second episode of Harry Sinclair’s late night TV3 micro-series, Liz (Danielle Cormack) and Neil (Joel Tobeck) watch the sun rise from a Karangahape road carpark; but, romantic as this could be, it seems Neil has no more chance of keeping up with Liz than her less than inspiring boyfriend Ant (Ian Hughes). Meanwhile, back at home, Ant is making scones and entertaining some random visitors — larger than life drag queens (and K Road identities) Buckwheat and Bertha. But baking is a step too far for a hungover Liz ... and her mother is on the phone.
This is the first four minute episode of the late-night TV3 micro-series, written and directed by Harry Sinclair. As wannabe air hostess Liz (Danielle Cormack) and her aspiring scriptwriter boyfriend Ant (Ian Hughes) are getting ready for a night-out, the hapless Ant seems oblivious to the fact that he’s wearing out his welcome — and the hairbrush remedy for his 'itchy mouth' does little to heighten his allure. Meanwhile, Neil (Joel Tobeck) ponders one of the great male mysteries. The soundtrack is 'Into You', courtesy of Flying Nun act The JPS Experience.
Luscious fruit, truckies, and Lucy Lawless feature in this Christine Parker short. Sal (Tania Simon) is gifted a peach and meets a saucy tow truck driver (Lawless) en route home to her toddler, and domestics with boyfriend Mog (Joel Tobeck). Mog’s truckie mates arrive for beers, including the nameless driver, whose presence (and peach-eating advice) stirs up desire. “Watch it rot, or taste it when it’s ripe.” A roster of leading NZ film talent worked with Parker on the film, and Lawless' turn hints at the cross-sexual appeal of her breakthrough role on Xena - Warrior Princess.
Directed by Annie Goldson (Brother Number One), this 1995 TV documentary explores the story of Cecil Holmes, who won Cold War notoriety in 1948 when he was smeared as a communist agent, while working as a director for the National Film Unit. This excerpt — the opening 10 minutes — revisits the infamous snatching of Holmes' satchel outside Parliament, his Palmerston North upbringing, war service, and the founding of the Government's National Film Unit. There are excerpts from a 1980 interview where Holmes describes his inspirations (including UK film Night Mail).
The feature film Topless Women Talk about Their Lives evolved out of this late night, low budget, TV3 micro-series about the lives, loves and travails of a group of 20-something Aucklanders. It was written and directed by former Front Lawn member Harry Sinclair with a cast including Danielle Cormack and Joel Tobeck. Each four minute episode was shot over a weekend with actors not sighting scripts until just before the camera rolled. Music from Flying Nun bands featured prominently; the women remained fully clothed despite the tantalising titular promise.
A social cricket match in Cornwall Park needs a third umpire after an errant bogan dog swallows the ball in this short film. As the men in white struggle to field the ball, a statistics-obsessed sport crosses absurd boundaries. A line-up of contemporary NZ comedic talent features on the field, as well as New Zealand Black Caps cricketers (and 1992 World Cup bowlers) Chris Pringle and Willie Watson. Bradman was directed by Peter Tait (actor in classic shorts Singing Trophy and Kitchen Sink). The song ‘Bradman’ by Aussie singer Paul Kelly scores the film.
Crush is a tale of simmering sexuality set in Rotorua. Moral or sexual ambiguity pervades the narrative of conflicted desire. Its mix of blocked-up writer, spurting mud-pools, infatuated teen, eel farm, American femme fatale (Marcia Gay Harden), noir motels, limp pongas and wheelchairs, plays out in a symbolic NZ landscape not seen before (or since). Director Alison Maclean's debut feature (which she co-wrote with Anne Kennedy) played in competition at the Cannes Film Festival.
One of a select few Kiwi dramas about filmmaking, The Footstep Man centres on a man whose job is creating footsteps and sound effects for movies. Lonely, toiling under a demanding director, Sam (Brit Steven Grimes) gets trapped between real life and reel life. Cinematographer Leon Narbey’s second movie is a portrait of the strange pressure cooker of creating films, a luminous film within a film — with Jennifer Ward-Lealand as muse to painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec — and a reminder that for all the technology involved, moviemaking is about the human touch.