Former Mutton Birds guitarist David Long has composed music for TV, a wide range of documentaries, and dramatic features (Two Little Boys, Russian Snark). After co-writing the score for 1993 feature Absent Without Leave, he went solo to compose for Home Movie and a trio of ensemble TV dramas, in the process winning screen awards for both Insiders Guides. He is also an award-winning music producer (Fur Patrol).
For me colour and texture are really important, like a tone, your guitar tone. It's not just the note that you play, it's the sound of it. David Long
Director Vea Mafile'o's Tongan father Saia drives this deeply personal film. Vea raises thorny questions about the relationship between money and the church in Tongan culture, questions that caused her Kiwi/Tongan family pain. Pensioner Saia Mafile'o's dedication to raising large amounts of money for Misinale (an annual church celebration) upset his children and splintered his marriage. Mafile'o returns to Tonga with her father and siblings, to attend the Misinale and learn why the financial sacrifice matters to him. The documentary debuted at the 2019 Berlin Film Festival.
Toa Fraser's second English-set film (following 2008's quirky drama Dean Spanley) dramatises a real life siege at the Iranian Embassy in London, when gunmen held 26 people hostage in April 1980. Fraser and Dead Lands writer Glenn Standring take many angles on the tense six day siege: from politicians favouring a more aggressive approach than their lead negotiator, to the SAS team ready to storm the building, to BBC reporter Kate Adie (Bright Star's Abbie Cornish) covering events live on television. The film's international sales included a deal with Netflix.
Bruce McLaren was one of the icons of motor racing in the sport's 60s ‘golden age’ – he won four Grand Prix, and joined fellow Kiwi Chris Amon to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The McLaren team he founded became one of the most successful in Formula One. In this documentary, director Roger Donaldson returns to the tarmac where he has made a mark before — Smash Palace, his fictional story of a race car driver, and two films inspired by Invercargill's DIY racing legend Burt Munro. Stuff reviewer James Croot called McLaren "engrossing, enlightening and surprisingly emotional".
Where There is Life follows the journey of Margaret Lee, her husband Stephen and their daughter Imogen, after Margaret is diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease in late 2010. Directed by Gwen Isaac, the documentary intimately follows a family struggling with the impact of the degenerative condition, as they confront the question "how should we live when we are dying?" Imogen was 10 when a defiant Margaret was diagnosed, and Stephen became her full-time carer. The film gets three screenings in August 2017, in the Wellington leg of the NZ International Film Festival.
Described as "visually ravishing" (The Herald's Peter Calder), "strikingly beautiful"(Metro) and "pure social-commentary gold"(The Listener), The Ground We Won is a movie about men, rugby and the heartland. After discovering small town Reporoa en route to their earlier documentary How Far is Heaven, Christopher Pryor and Miriam Smith felt it the perfect place to chronicle the changing face of small town rugby. The film premiered in April 2015 during an autumn offshoot of the NZ International Film Festival; it was judged Best Documentary at the 2017 New Zealand Film Awards.
The first animated feature made and originated in New Zealand, 25 April tells the story of the country's involvement in an ill-fated mission to take a piece of Turkish coastline during World War I. 2700 Kiwis died and ‘ANZAC’ became a symbol of national identity. Director Leanne Pooley mines archive war diaries, and uses graphic novel style recreations from Flux Animation to evoke the the perspective of six participants. 25 April debuted at the 2015 Toronto Film Festival. Alongside the excerpt, a short making of video shows how facial motion capture fed into the film's distinctive look.
This documentary questions New Zealand’s involvement in the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence alliance. The examination of contemporary intelligence gathering takes in NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden, entrepreneur-in-exile Kim Dotcom, and NZ Prime Minister John Key. It is framed around the 2008 sabotage of a Blenheim spy station by a priest, a teacher and a farmer: the 'Waihopai three' cut open a plastic dome protecting a satellite dish, in protest at the base’s role in the US-led 'War on Terror'. Directors Errol Wright and Abi King-Jones made 2011 terror raids documentary Operation 8.
Moa-nominated for Best Documentary, this full-length title chronicles two decades of political football between New Zealanders hoping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and followers of the business as usual approach. Co-directing with his longtime editor Abi King-Jones, Alister Barry (The Hollow Men) continues his patented approach of melding new interviews with raids on the news archives. Critic Graeme Tuckett argued that the film makes “a compelling case that although the science was settled by 1990, we’ve allowed politics and corporations to mute our response to a very real crisis”.
Gardening with Soul follows four seasons in the life of irresistible gardening nun Sister Loyola Galvin. Director Jess Feast (Cowboys and Communists) unearths sage gems from the nonagenarian on everything from compost to Catholic Church sex abuse scandals. The cycles of Wellington’s weather are charted via its influence on Loyola’s Island Bay garden, from the 2011 snow to flax-drunk tui. Feast worked with editor Annie Collins to piece together a paean to a life lived with zest and compassion. Soul won the Best Documentary at the 2013 Moa (NZ Film) Awards.
Family, friends and former foe joined Helen Clark before the cameras for this TV3 documentary, which charts her journey from Vietnam protestor through low-polling Labour Party leader, to long-reigning PM and the UN. In this excerpt, Clark and biographer Denis Welch recall how after becoming opposition leader, Clark was advised to make various changes to her hairstyle and presentation. Featuring appearances by John Key, Don Brash and media-shy husband Peter Davis, the two-part doco was helmed by Dan Salmon and artist/director Claudia Pond Eyley.
Director Alyx Duncan set out to make an experimental documentary about her childhood home. What eventually resulted was this acclaimed and award-winning "fictional essay", her first full length feature. Blurring the line between documentary and drama, she cast her conservationist father and Chinese born step-mother as characters partially based on themselves. As they journey from a small NZ island to a big Chinese city, Duncan examines their cross cultural relationship and explores nostalgia, childhood, dreams, environmentalism, globalisation and the meaning of home.
Directed by Robert Sarkies (Scarfies, Out of the Blue), and written with brother Duncan (from the latter's novel) Two Little Boys is a tale of the misadventures of two Invercargill bogans. When a Scandinavian tourist fatally meets Nige's fender, Nige (Conchord Bret McKenzie) runs to best mate Deano (Aussie comedian Hamish Blake) for help. "Trouble is, Deano's not really the guy you should turn to in a crisis." Mateship is challenged by security guard flatmate Gav, a rogue sea lion and some dunderhead decision making. The black comedy opened in NZ on Sept 20 2012.
Rest for the Wicked showcases an all-star A-team of older Kiwi actors — among them John Bach, Bruce Allpress, and Gloss boss Ilona Rodgers. Gravel-voiced Tony Barry (the man who uttered the immortal line "goodbye pork pie") stars as Murray, a retired detective going undercover in an upmarket rest home. Frank hopes to catch his longtime nemesis (Bach). Instead he finds himself in the company of the randy, and the unexpectedly dead. The "sweet, rather knowing little movie" (Linda Burgess in The Dominion Post) marked the feature debut of advertising veteran Simon Pattison.
In this short film, 14-year-old Jimmy (Waka Rowlands) faces a tough decision: stay in his abusive home to protect his younger siblings, or escape to start a new life of his own. Written and directed by Sam Kelly, Lambs was inspired by true stories. It competed at the 2012 Clermont-Ferrand and Berlin Film Festivals, and won the Jury Prize and Audience Award at the 2012 NZ Film Festival; judge Roger Donaldson raved: “It reminded me of Once Were Warriors in the best possible way.” Lambs was one of the first products of the NZ Film Commission’s ‘Fresh Shorts’ funding scheme.
This made-for-the-wee-kids series follows SpottyWot and DottyWot, two playful aliens exploring life on earth. In this episode, a chase around the farm sees the two stumbling upon a sheepdog helping a farmer herd his sheep, which gives DottyWot an idea about how cleaning up could be turned into a game. The CGI-animated WotWots appeared on more than 70 episodes, and screened in many countries. The show was produced by Pūkeko Pictures, a partnership between children’s author Martin Baynton, and Weta co-founders Richard Taylor and Tania Rodger.
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 the Clermont-Ferrand (in competition) and BFI London film festivals, and won Best International Short at Geneva.
Writer Stephen Sinclair’s feature directing debut was inspired by a Russian couple who sailed to Aotearoa in a lifeboat. From there, he created this witty and unusual love story about Mischa (Stephen Papps) — an uncompromising filmmaker fallen on hard times — and his wife, looking for a country more appreciative of his art. But Mischa also has to reconcile his art with his humanity — with help from his neighbour (Stephanie Tauevihi, in an award-winning performance). The 15 minute making of documentary offers a cautionary tale for creatives looking to work with poultry.
Scriptwriter Philippa Boyens has described Alice Sebold's bestselling book The Lovely Bones as "brutal, surprising, gorgeous". A tale of murder and how the victim's family and friends try to deal with it, the story is told from the perspective of the victim — 14-year-old Susie Salmon. For the movie adaptation. Peter Jackson and his Weta FX team engaged in more Heavenly Creatures style world-building, rendering an afterlife for Susie that "alters and shifts" with her mood. Time praised the film's "gravity and grace", plus Saoirse Ronan's BAFTA-nominated performance as Susie.
This award-winning telefilm imagines the effects of a major earthquake on New Zealand’s capital city, and how its citizens react to chaos, death, isolation and tsunami. It was completed in 2008 — before Christchurch took Wellington’s mantle as NZ's shakiest city, and made Aftershock's imagined scenes a reality. Aftershock was produced for TV3 by The Gibson Group, and written by veteran screenwriter Graeme Tetley (Out of the Blue, Vigil). The following week saw the debut of Aftershock - Would You Survive?, which put a real-life family through a three-day survival test.
On 1 July 2001, John Scott and his partner Greg Scrivener were killed in their home in Suva. John, from an old European-Fiji family was the Director-General of the Fiji Red Cross and worked as a go-between in the hostage crisis during the 2000 coup. The documentary traces the colourful story of the Scott family, the political crises that have marked Fiji's recent history, the killings and their aftermath, and the complex mix of tribal authority and democracy. It won best documentary and camera gongs at 2008 Qantas Film and Television Awards.
In this documentary children's author Margaret Mahy is interviewed at her Governors Bay home by friend and fellow author Elizabeth Knox. Many of Mahy's beloved storybook characters also appear to put her on the spot about their origins. In this excerpt, the famous lion from A Lion in the Meadow thanks her for making him yellow, and Mahy talks about eating porridge thrice a day as a young solo mum. Yvonne Mackay directed this seamless mix of real life and Euan Frizzell-created animation. Read more about the doucmentary here.
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).
This Alister Barry-directed documentary is about the National Party and the 2005 election; it was made in conjunction with Nicky Hager’s book written from leaked party e-mails. Barry follows novice MP, and then leader, Don Brash through a hyper-charged era in NZ politics as National attempts to reconcile a political agenda with electability, and to unseat Helen Clark’s Labour government. Speechwriters, advertising agencies, pollsters and party donors all feature, as do Brash’s infamous Orewa speeches, Exclusive Brethren “attack” pamphlets and Iwi/Kiwi billboards.
30 Arthur Street was a Wellington musical institution. For more than 18 years the building was used as rehearsal space and studio, in which time 20 plus albums and nine feature film scores were partly or wholly recorded there. Directed by Plan 9 composer David Donaldson, this impressionistic documentary chronicles some of the building's musical history, plus its destruction to make way for a bypass. Among the musicians featured are Toby Laing from Fat Freddys Drop, drummer Anthony Donaldson, and ex-Mutton Bird David Long.
Billy Apple: enigma, con man, or artist? Being Billy Apple looks at one of New Zealand's most controversial contemporary artists: a man who changed his name, then turned himself into a brand. Director Leanne Pooley (The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls) follows Apple's life, and looks at his work in the context of the development of conceptual art overseas. This opening excerpt from the 70-minute documentary sees Apple talking with the filmmaker about whether it is important his face is even seen on screen.
The Hothouse centres on five flatmates. Three are in the police force, the fourth is a lawyer, and the fifth is the wildcard: "ultimate hedonist" Levi (Kip Chapman). Series creator David Brechin-Smith explores what happens when outwardly good people "either break the law, or their morality is compromised in some way". The Hothouse was nominated for a run of 2007 Qantas TV Awards for acting; director Nathan Price and cinematographer Simon Baumfield won gongs. The cast includes Ryan O'Kane, Tania Nolan and Hannah Gould. The series ran for one season on TV One in 2007.
Created by David Brechin-Smith (The Insiders Guide to Happiness), TV drama The Hothouse explores good times, bad decisions, and the line between right and wrong. This first episode introduces the show's flatmates — three cops, a lawyer, and the new arrival: Levi (Qantas Award nominee Kip Chapman), a cocky drug dealer for whom rules are to be broken. Levi leads Daniel (Ryan O'Kane) to a strip club, and Daniel wonders if he can live with a girlfriend whose work involves helping the criminals he has to deal with in his job. Nathan Price won a Qantas TV award for his direction on the series.
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.
This documentary looks at the new right ideology that transformed public education in the 80s and 90s and the schism it caused with teachers. Interviews with parents, teachers and unionists are cut together with archive footage of treasury officials and politicians advocating that schools be run as businesses. There are vexed board of trustees' meetings, an infamous deal between Avondale College and Pepsi, and teachers take their opposition from the classroom to the streets. The film is the third in Alister Barry's series critical of neo-liberal reform in NZ.
Sedition - The Suppression of Dissent in World War II New Zealand chronicles the experiences of Kiwi pacifists during wartime. New laws affecting meetings, mail and media coverage meant that talking about pacifism could result in arrest, and imprisonment. By June 1940, holding more than one copy of a 'subversive' magazine could mean nine months hard labour. Ironically many of the MPs backing the laws had earlier been imprisoned for their anti-war beliefs; while Christian Pacifist Society leader Ormond Burton was twice decorated for bravery during World War I.
The second, but prequel, series to The Insiders Guide to Happiness is chaos theory in action: seven young strangers whose lives intersect are linked together by a bizarre incident. Produced by the Gibson Group, The Insiders Guide mix of meta-tangle story-telling with fresh shooting and faces, saw Love become a hit with the same youth demographic as Happiness. The show went on to win a clutch of Screen Director's Guild Awards and most of the major drama gongs at the 2006 Qantas Film and TV Awards, including Best Drama, Director, Script, Actor and Actress.
The second, but prequel, series to The Insiders Guide to Happiness is chaos theory in action: seven young strangers are linked together by a bizarre incident. In this excerpt from Episode Six, Marty's (Louis Sutherland's) travel writing isn't going anywhere, Nicole (Kate Elliott) gets "wild and crazy and bad" for Halloween, and there's baking romance, sun bed sex, and scratchy shoplifting. The series won several Screen Director's Guild Awards and a clutch of gongs at the 2006 Qantas Film and TV Awards, including Best Drama, Director, Script, Actor and Actress.
The Insiders Guide to Happiness follows the interconnecting lives of eight 20-something characters — one of them dead — as they search for happiness. Dramatic, comic, sexy, surreal, the drama won critical acclaim and was a ratings success. An ambitious chaos theory-derived 'meta' concept is underpinned by strong performances from the ensemble of burgeoning acting talent, and stylishly-shot Wellington city locations. The Gibson Group production won seven awards at the 2005 NZ Screen Awards, including Best Drama and Best Director (Mark Beesley)
This series follows the interconnecting lives of eight 20-something characters — one of them dead — as they search for happiness. An ambitious 'meta' concept, strong performances from the ensemble cast and stylishly-shot Wellington locations won the Gibson Group drama awards and acclaim, particularly from its targeted youth demographic. In this excerpt from Chapter Eleven, Lindy accepts a job in Toronto but fails to tell boyfriend William; Barry and James discuss Chaos Theory and relationships; and Sam uses flowers in an attempt to fix things with Tina.
Haunting Douglas is a documentary portrait of dancer and choreographer Douglas Wright. It weaves interviews with footage of past performances, and extracts from his autobiography; from drug addiction and illness, to determination and triumph on the New York stage with the Paul Taylor Dance Company. Award-winning director Leanne Pooley captures Wright's resilience: "I need to make things to feel that I can cope with whatever reality is. For me, dancing, performing for people, is the ultimate mystery and the ultimate joy." Wright passed away in November 2018.
Monstrous spiders, dragon-aided epic battles, endangered hobbits and final farewells ... the finale of the Lord of the Rings trilogy boldly upped the ante. Although the first two films had excited viewers, critics and accountants, Return of the King sealed Peter Jackson's place in movie legend. Reviewers praised it with gusto and the film won a staggering 11 Oscars, a total matched only by Titanic and Ben-Hur. Return anointed a Hollywood empire in the Wellington suburb of Miramar. The box office figures weren't half bad, and nor was the effect on New Zealand tourism.
The second Lord of the Rings installment sees hobbit Frodo Baggins continuing his mission to destroy the ring. Meanwhile the Fellowship is breaking apart, and an epic night battle ensues at Helm's Deep. The film marked a star turn by Gollum, the emaciated Andy Serkis-voiced creature whose realisation was a cinema landmark and a triumph for the design and special effects team. Alongside praise for the film's pace and spectacle, The Two Towers broke international opening records, before going on to outgross Fellowship of the Ring, and win two technical Oscars.
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.
Dancer Shona McCullagh’s award-winning debut short film offers a joyful fingers-up to gravity, dialogue, and the idea that nuns never get up to anything exciting. Two nuns flip twist and fly from bedside to beachside, turning a moving train carriage into a jungle gym (in-between desperately seeking solace from the call of nature). The footloose dance film did some travelling of its own: invited to over 30 festivals, including prestigious dance film festivals, and Edinburgh, Clermont-Ferrand, and Sundance (where it played before Kiwi feature Scarfies).
Intergenerational warfare, mad aunts, bored teens, affairs, abortions and the ache of regret are on the menu in place of sausage rolls in Home Movie. A christening is the crux around which a family does its best to pull apart at the seams. Performances and a script attuned to the details of domestic disturbance don't hold back (America's Funniest Home Videos this ain't). Directed and written by Fiona Samuel, it was part of TV One's Montana Sunday Drama series. It won best actor, actress and TV drama at the 1998 NZ Film and TV Awards. Samuel writes about making Home Movie here.
In 1992 Australian soap star Craig McLachlan (Neighbours) landed in NZ, to tackle one of his only starring roles in a movie to date. McLachlan plays Ed — a WWll soldier who goes AWOL — in a story 74-year-old writer James Edwards drew from his own life. When Ed is shipped overseas with no leave, he feels obliged to make sure that his recently pregnant wife Daisy (Katrina Hobbs) is OK before he departs. But then the days become weeks. For director John Laing the road movie offered a chance to explore changing gender roles, as women discovered life beyond house and family.