David Coulson trained to be a director, but instead discovered a passion for editing. He joined TV One and worked on a range of programmes including Mortimer's Patch, before going freelance in the early 80s. Since then he has won awards for his work in feature films and commercials, and established an ongoing working relationship with Niki Caro, editing all her features from Whale Rider onwards.
Every day I was going to work and looking at performances by an extraordinary collection of high performing international movie actors. That was like, do you have the right stuff? Can you go from a New Zealand environment to something of this scale and pull it off? David Coulson on editing Niki Caro's North Country
Music video director Sam Peacocke's confronting first short film reimagines the events that took place around the robbery of a Manurewa liquor store in 2008, in which owner Navtej Singh was tragically murdered. The film takes a kaleidoscopic perspective on colliding South Auckland lives, notably in an — almost unbearably — tense hold-up scene. Largely shot with non-actors, the production was self-funded. The result was selected for the Melbourne and Berlin Film Festivals; at Berlin it won the Crystal Bear for best short in the Generation 14plus youth section.
Filmed in France, Belgium and New Zealand, The Vintner's Luck (aka A Heavenly Vintage) is a tale of growing grapes and meeting angels. Belgian actor Jeremie Renier (L'Enfant) stars as Sobran, a poor winemaker who one day encounters an angel. The two make a pact. One day each year, as Sobran's fortunes wax and wane, the angel returns to hear more about Sobran's life. Director Niki Caro adapted Elizabeth Knox's bestselling novel with help from US script consultant Joan Scheckel; the film also reunites Caro with Whale Rider discovery Keisha Castle-Hughes, who plays Sobran's wife.
In this short film, a Cook Island school cleaner (Whale Rider's Rawiri Paratene) responds to an unusual graffiti message on a girls’ toilet wall, with life-changing consequences for him and the mysterious author. Paratene's performance won him a Qantas Film and TV Award; the film also won Best Short and Screenplay (Paul Stanley Ward). Tupaia travelled to more than 15 festivals and director Chris Dudman was nominated for a Leopard of Tomorrow (Best Short) at Locarno. Dudman, Ward and producer Vicky Pope teamed up on another short film success, Choice Night (2010).
Christchurch property developer Dave Henderson experienced bankruptcy, accusations of fraud, and 25 plus tax audits. This Kafkaesque comedy is based on his best-selling book about a five-year battle with the tax department, over a $924,000 bill. Kiwi/Scot actor Erik Thomson returned from Australia to play Henderson, while a near-unrecognisable Michael Hurst cameos as MP Rodney Hide. Lumiere reviewer Simon Sweetman praised the “superb” casting, and Thomson’s playful performance. The film is adapted and directed by screen vet Jonothan Cullinane.
Set in the East Coast town of Whāngārā, Whale Rider tells the tale of a young Māori girl, Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes), who challenges tradition and embraces the past in order to find the strength to lead her people forward. Directed and written by Niki Caro, the film is based on Witi Ihimaera's novel The Whale Rider. Coupling a specific sense of place and culture with a universal coming-of-age story, Whale Rider became one of the most successful and acclaimed New Zealand films released internationally. It also won audience choice awards at the Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals.
One of Them! was one of two dramas (alongside Niki Caro movie Memory and Desire) inspired by short stories collected in Peter Wells' 1991 book Dangerous Desires. It was made for TV One as a Montana Sunday drama. Set in Auckland, 1965, One of Them! follows Lemmy and Jamie, two teenage boys coming to terms with their sexuality. In the dark days before gay liberation, bullying and intimidation was rife, and while the boys flaunt their sissyness, their internalised homophobia wreaks havoc on their emotional lives — until they can admit to being "one of them".
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.
Nina (Aleksandra Vujcic) has emigrated downunder from wartime Croatia. When she falls in love with Māori cook Eddie (Julian Arahanga) and marries a Chinese man who is trying to stay in NZ, her domineering father Ivan is furious. The second movie from Gregor Nicholas remains one of the few from NZ in which Pākehā culture hardly features. The result was one of the highest-grossing NZ films of the 1990s. International reviews praised its power and strong cast — especially Croatian discovery Aleksandra Vujcic ("instantly alluring" said Janet Maslin). Vujcic won one of five NZ Film awards.
Two families spend the day at a deserted beach on the hottest day of the summer in this short film which marks a directing debut for long time producer and production manager Dorthe Scheffmann. While husbands and children occupy themselves, Margie (Donogh Rees) discovers a terrible secret about her friend Anne (Elizabeth Hawthorne) and her marriage. Margie’s explosive reaction shatters the languor created by the overexposed footage in this Hamburg Film Festival prize-winner (which was also selected for competition at Cannes and Telluride).
Made for TV ONE’s Montana Sunday Theatre slot, this award-winning one-off drama stars Peter Elliott as a disgraced lawyer, who may or may not have a gambling problem. A down-on-his-luck reporter (Mark Clare) on the trail of the story finds there is more to it than meets the eye, and decides to scam the scammer, with dangerous consequences. Writer/director Jonothan Cullinane went on to make the feature film We’re Here to Help.
Ever wondered why artist Peter Peryer photographed himself holding a chicken? This documentary provides the answer. Directed by Greg Stitt (Just Me and Mario), it traces the path of one of New Zealand's most significant, and intriguing, art photographers — from "crucified Christ to laughing Buddha" — through Catholic themes, to a more minimalist approach. Also showcased are some of Peryer's captivating images: the "bodies of work, families of photos, and images that rhyme". The photographer passed away on 18 November 2018.
Pacific 3-2-1-Zero is a record of a performance of the eponymous work by renowned percussion group From Scratch. The work was devised in 1981 as a protest against nuclear testing and waste dumping in the Pacific. Ring-leader Phil Dadson, his players and their instruments — from whirling PVC pipes to biscuit tin lids — are arranged in the shape of the peace symbol. From Scratch's rhythms are cut with footage and facts of nuclear testing by director Gregor Nicholas to make for a resonant statement. The film won the Grand Prix at Midem’s 1994 Visual Music Awards.
This stylishly high camp melodrama from directors Stewart Main and Peter Wells won acclaim, after debuting at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival. In the imaginary 19th-century town of Hope, draper Dorothea Brooks (Jennifer Ward-Lealand) is desperate to save her sister from the clutches of opium, sex and the dastardly Fraser. She begs hunky migrant Lawrence Hayes to help; but complications ensue. Inspired partly by 1930s and 40s Hollywood melodramas, Desperate Remedies was sumptously shot by Leon Narbey (Whale Rider). Richard King writes about the film here.
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.
Performance group The Front Lawn (Don McGlashan, Harry Sinclair, and later arrival Jennifer Ward-Lealand) stretched all of their prolific talents for their final, 24 minute short film. After he whistles a certain tune, Ben (McGlashan) finds that his partner Linda (Ward-Lealand) no longer seems to be conscious. Then things get stranger: Linda catches up with an old lover (Sinclair) and faces a life-changing dilemma, while her body — awol with a tennis player on Tamaki Drive — has other plans. The surreal romance was made for TVNZ. It won Best Short at the 1990 NZ Screen Awards.
A dog-goddess effigy possessing aphrodisiac powers is the quarry for a cast of oddball pursuers in this caper comedy — from a cosmetics tycoon to a duo of doctors using retirees as guinea pigs in a quest for eternal youth. The dog's handler is geeky Billy, aided by his girlfriend Gus and their bull terrier Cyclops. The chaotic Auckland romp was the debut feature for Gregor Nicholas (he would go on to helm acclaimed short Avondale Dogs and feature film Broken English). This excerpt features a take on Space Odyssey's docking scene, as interpreted by Benny Hill.
Ambitious Jonathan Gunson-created children's series Space Knights pitched the King Arthur myth into a zany sci fi universe of Knights of the Round Space Station, Vader-esque villains, and laser lance jousting. The distinctive look of this early South Pacific Pictures series — like a picture book come to life — was developed by Listener cartoonist Chris Slane, and achieved by using actors in life-size puppet suits and blue screen effects. The series was 22 half hour episodes and screened internationally. The memorable 'Space Junk' theme song was by Dave Dobbyn.
Ambitious kids' sci fi series Space Knights pitched the King Arthur myth into a zany universe of Knights of the Round Space Station, Vader-esque villains, rainbow rocket exhaust, and laser lance jousting. The distinctive look of this early South Pacific Pictures series — like a picture book come to life — was led by cartoonist Chris Slane who achieved it by using actors in life-size puppet suits and blue screen effects. In this excerpt, the evil Mordread creates an android Trojan horse to infiltrate Castle Spacelot. The 'Space Junk' theme song is by Dave Dobbyn.
Director Greg Stitt's 50min short sees actor Mark Hadlow playing Kevin: a pie cart worker obsessed with the singer Mario Lanza. Kevin's idolatry turns into an identity crisis as operatic-scale fantasising clashes with his meek disposition. Further complications arise from a friendship with his brash punk neighbour, and from stage fright ahead of a fundraiser for Kev's Lanza fan club (Lanza also had a noteworthy teenage fan club in Heavenly Creatures). Will Kev get his Susan Boyle moment? The black comedy was written with Scarecrow scribe Michael Heath.
Astronomy-obsessed worrier Richard meets part-Italian Johnny, a man whose idea of a holiday involves breaking into the nearest bach. Pitched at gay and straight alike, the pair's lighthearted but occasionally troubled romance featured extensive footage of central Auckland circa 1988 (courtesy of director Garth Maxwell’s own central Queen Street digs), plus images of space — for Richard a place of both beauty and potential disaster. Beyond Gravity won local theatrical screenings, and a scriptwriting award in France. This excerpt features the opening 10 minutes of the 48 minute film.
In Haka Māori myth is re-told through a series of stirring haka performances. Men stomp, invoke, and do pūkana (tongue out, eyes wide) amidst spitting mud and fire and ... in Paremoremo Prison and under a motorway. These scenes are intercut with archive imagery of post-pākehā Māori life, from first contact to Maori Battalion, urban drift and protest. The film is a tribute to the raw power, and art, of haka. Ultimately the Once Were Warriors-like message "is positive because of the fierce, irresistible pride of the performances." Peter Calder, (NZ Herald, 1989).
In 1987 producer and director Geoff Steven spent six months filming in the United States in a quest to understand what makes such a powerful and influential nation tick. Steven’s intention was to circumvent media stereotypes and the “facades set up by politicians and officials” and to talk to Americans from all walks of life and socio-economic groups. The result was this six part series fronted by journalist and author Gordon McLauchlan who introduces each episode and links the interviews with everyday people shot in their homes, factories and offices.
More everyday Americans are encountered as this documentary series — fronted by Gordon McLauchlan — visits Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky to explore the Bible Belt touchstones of patriotism, mining, religion, guns and country music. Interviewees include a former miner and self confessed mountain man who collects guns and teaches scripture, a new wife and mother trying to settle into life in a smaller town, a truckie and aspiring musician who sees big rig drivers as the last cowboys, and a singer/songwriter looking for that elusive big break in Nashville.
In this episode of his US TV odyssey director Geoff Steven reaches the Deep South. In Memphis, jailer WC Watson introduces his gospel singing family and there are rapturous scenes as they perform at their Beale Street church. In New Orleans, a youth court judge and her lawyer husband attempt to balance jobs and social work with raising their own children. The flipside is provided by descendants of slave owners looking for ways to hold on to their mansions now that the plantations that once supported them have gone.
Sharply contrasting lives in the South-West feature in this episode of director Geoff Steven's USA road trip. Cosmetics millionaire Mary Kay Ash talks about her empire from her pink, Liberace-inspired Dallas mansion; while business efficiency guru Michael George seeks to make American industry more competitive. Meanwhile, in the New Mexico desert, Pueblo Indians attempt to reconcile ancient traditions with the nuclear arms industry that employs them; and, in El Paso, a second generation Mexican-American border guard intercepts illegal immigrants.
This episode of director Geoff Steven's USA road trip is another study in contrasts. In North Dakota, there’s impressive access to an underground missile control room staffed by highly trained officers who hope they never have to do the job for which they've prepared. Nearby, the members of a determinedly pacifist, Christian, socialist Hutterite community make for unlikely neighbours. There's also an exploration of small town values as Gilby celebrates its centenary on the 4th of July — while a John Birch Society member provides a less festive note.
The final episode of director Geoff Steven's USA road trip provides a number of different takes on the American experience. A mother working as croupier in Reno, Nevada, puts a more modern and respectable face on the state’s previously disreputable gambling industry. An 82 year old professional banjo player in Virginia City recalls his days as a cowboy, while a TV reporter still rides the range on his days off. An upmarket health spa is flourishing in Tucson, Arizona; and, in Florida, Miami has been reshaped by a massive influx of refugees from Cuba.
This TV series which attempts to go beyond cliché and stereotype to find real Americans. Presenter Gordon McLaughlan starts at Ellis Island — where late 19th century immigration marked what he calls the beginning of modern America. Interview subjects include a Jesuit priest running a home for street kids in North Bronx, a construction company vice-president of Italian descent, an Ohio auto worker watching on as the rust belt encroaches on industry, and a retired submarine captain who is master of a replica of the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock.
Illustrious Energy sees Chan and his older mate Kim prospecting for gold in 1890s Otago. Marooned until they can pay off their debts and return to China; they’ve been fruitlessly working their claim for 12 and 27 years respectively. Chan faces racism, isolation, extreme weather, threatening surveyors, opium dens and a circus romance. The renowned feature-directing debut of cinematographer Leon Narbey provides a poetic evocation of the Chinese settler experience; especially vivid are Central’s natural details — desolate schist and tussock lands, rasping crickets.
Gregor Nicholas explores the outer edges of obsession in this deliciously fruity comedy. The syncopated medley of music, strange noises and varied eccentrics doing their special thing shares similarities with a fondly-recalled scene in cult film Delicatessen; though Delicatessen was yet to emerge when this short film first debuted. Rushes played in multiple festivals, including the prestigious Clermont-Ferrand. The soundtrack is by ex Techtones guitarist Steve Roach. Director Nicholas followed this with another oddball romp: his feature debut User Friendly.
A talkback radio operator (Lucy Sheehan) is forced to stand in for the regular host when he walks out because of a personal crisis. In between trying to answer calls, organize a replacement and discuss odd topics with a succession of callers, the flustered operator makes a surprising connection with another lost soul. Auckland's urban soul is captured with distinctive assurance in this neglected 48-minute drama from director Alison Maclean — who wrote the script with Geoff Chapple.
On 16 February 1986 a Russian cruise line, the Mikhail Lermontov, struck rocks off Cape Jackson in the Marlborough Sounds. The ship carried 408 mostly elderly Australian passengers, and a crew of 330. The ship drifted and eventually sank in Port Gore; one Russian sailor died. This Lynton Diggle-directed documentary was shot in the months that followed, as the camera followed dive teams into the black depths of the vessel. Their task in hazardous conditions was to salvage oil from the wreck, and preserve Marlborough's coastline.
Peter Wells and Stewart Main’s acclaimed drama screened in primetime and was ground-breaking in featuring AIDS. Wells' script is based on the death of one of his friends — one of the first New Zealanders to die from the disease — but the living are the focus, as Wells creates an intimate “strange and foreign land” occupied by those close to someone who is dying. Andy’s friends confront both their own mortality and the deadly new disease stalking their community, while his conservative family grapples with never having come to terms with his sexuality. The excerpt features the opening 10 minutes.
This Geoff Steven doco follows NZ chefs Stephen Randle and Neville Ballantyne to a bitterly cold northern Japanese winter to compete in an international snow carving contest. Their entry, a sheep dipping scene created out of a 26 tonne block of snow, manages to look even more surreal in the icy Sapporo cityscape than the British team’s London double decker bus. Spirited competition in sub-zero temperatures produces an America’s Cup style rules controversy, but there’s light relief from the hard partying alternative American team from Portland, Oregon.
This first episode from the kidult series pits 12-year-old Terry Teo, sister Polly and brother Ted against a gang of gunrunners led by crime boss Ray Vegas (former Goon Michael Bentine), after Terry skates down the wrong driveway and stumbles on the crims and their illegal arsenal. Terry was fondly remembered by Kiwi kids who grew up in the 80s. Taking cues from the Stephen Ballantyne and Bob Kerr comic it was based on, there are Batman-esque graphics and arcade game-style animated sequences. Sean Duffy’s bald villain is called Curly and the bikie is Billy T James.
In this episode of the kids’ adventure series, 12-year-old hero Terry Teo has stumbled on a gunrunning operation. The baddies — boss Ray Vegas and villainous sidekicks Curly and Blue — are hunting for him; and Terry’s brother and sister are doing their best to help, ending up in Kaupati in the most Kiwi holiday park ever. Meanwhile, more information emerges about the mysterious, but dim, Thompson and Crouch as they report to their boss (played by none other than real life ex PM Sir Robert Muldoon) — and Billy T James is turning out to be a very cultured bikie.
In this episode of the larger-than-life kids' drama series, action moves to the punningly-named town of Kaupati where crime boss Ray Vegas and sidekicks Curly and Blue are expecting a weapons delivery (in well-labelled cardboard cartons). They’ve also abducted Terry Teo after he stumbled on their cunning plan. Meanwhile, Terry’s sister and brother are in pursuit, Thompson and Crouch are looking highly conspicuous in their quest for stealth, the bikies are discussing Hegel — and the Kaupati cop could be the dimmest bulb in the chandelier so far.
In this episode of the beloved 80s kids’ drama, hero Terry Teo has escaped from evil criminal mastermind Ray Vegas. All roads lead to a lovingly realised Kaupati A&P Show (with cameo from radio personality Merv Smith) as Vegas’ henchmen Curly and Blue, Terry’s brother and sister, and Thompson and Crouch pursue him. Curly still has the best outfit and manages to trash another motorcycle — but the bikies are too busy discussing philosophy. Meanwhile, Thompson and Crouch are revealed as government agents (with a cavalier approach to spending taxpayers’ money).
In this episode of the 80s kid’s TV drama, matters are coming to a head. Terry Teo and brother Ted and sister Polly, criminal mastermind Ray Vegas and his henchmen Blue and Curly, government agents Thompson and Crouch, the bikies and the local policeman continue to chase each other around rural Kaupati. What Thompson and Crouch lack in intelligence, they make up for in costume changes; and Spud (Billy T James) is now quoting Byron to his bikies. The constable is dimmer than first suspected — but old salt Captain Shaddock’s aim is true.
The series finale in this 80s children’s drama begins with hero Terry Teo once again in the clutches of the evil Ray Vegas and sidekicks Blue and Curly. While Terry is held hostage by the gang, local cop Sergeant Wadsworth calls for back up — but reinforcements seem to have come from Keystone rather than HQ. Blue reveals an unexpected facility with heavy weaponry and humanity in amongst the pyrotechnics, but will the forces of good, and Polly’s karate skills and commonsense, be enough to get the Teo siblings back home for mum’s roast dinner?
Gritty, award-winning drama, set in Auckland suburbia. Danny and Raewyn's relationship is skating close to the edge. And so are their finances. Though the physical attraction between them remains, Raewyn is growing tired of encouraging Danny to make more effort. Then one night alcohol and memory collide with an order of black-market meat, and everything turns on its head. One of the most acclaimed episodes of the About Face series, Danny and Raewyn won funding after another episode fell through.
The stars in an Auckland harbour master’s eyes are of the cowboy variety in this documentary that goes behind the scenes of the Western Districts' Fast Draw Club. The westie club takes literal inspiration from its name, as its members — from truck drivers to accountants — meet in the basement of a dairy to recreate scenes from the American wild west. Director Greg Stitt aimed to explore, “the fantasies ordinary people need to survive”; and his partly-dramatised doco details the impressive preparation (and passion) that goes into the live shows and stunts.
In Geoff Steven's Kiwi riff on the European art film, a vulcanologist (Brit character actor Nigel Davenport) roams the Volcanic Plateau accompanied by a journalist, a photographer and escapees from a cholera quarantine. Steamy philosophical musings and symbolic intent made for a marked departure from the realism of the NZ feature film renaissance (e.g. Steven’s own Skin Deep). The second feature produced by John Maynard (The Navigator), this moody allegorical tale was co-scripted by Czech writer/designer Ester Krumbachova and Czech-based Kiwi Michael Havas.
A Leon Narbey-directed documentary about English conservationist Richard St Barbe Baker. 'St Barbe' (here aged 92) is interviewed at a South Island station where he presciently warns of desertification and laments the earth being "skinned alive". The visionary tree-planting advocate founded the organisation Men of the Trees (now the International Tree Foundation) to promote reforestation and protect trees, from 5000-year-old bristlecone pines to giant kauri. The film includes the inspiring St Barbe's tree-hugging exercise regime: two minutes morning and night.
Mortimer’s Patch was a popular drama series following Detective Sergeant Doug Mortimer (Terence Cooper) at work in the town of Cobham. Mortimer plays a city cop returning to his rural roots; Don Selwyn is Sergeant Bob Storey. The series was NZ’s first police drama, and a rare local drama to top ratings. Mortimer's Patch was made when the archetype of the ‘community cop’ everyone knew was still a powerful one, and it was a counterweight to the faceless riot policing of the Springbok Tour. Three series were made.
In this fifth episode from his personal examination of New Zealand at the end of the 70s, Ian Johnstone explores the then new suburb of Massey in West Auckland — the latest instalment in what seemed, at the time, like an unending march of urban sprawl (which had already produced seemingly far-flung suburbs like Otara and Porirua). For Johnstone, Massey is an "infestation of houses", bafflingly lacking in community amenities. By turns wry, considered and accusatory, this masterful performance would have made him few friends in town planning circles.
In the third episode of Johnstone’s Journey, broadcaster Ian Johnstone meets three generations of the Wendelken family. The episode is framed around an interview with matriarch Elsie, 85, then living in Timaru — her daughter Rae and grandson Ivan farm nearby. Son John is a public servant in Wellington; granddaughter Anne is a mother in suburban Wellington. Topics span from world wars, depression, farming and inflation, to shifting values. Says Elsie: “There are two things that have been left completely out of today’s young people: one is obedience, and the other is discipline.”