Donogh Rees began her long theatre and screen career after graduating from Auckland’s Theatre Corporate. Fresh from 1982’s Pheno was Here, the first of many shorts, Rees stole the screen as the image-obsessed Constance, for director Bruce Morrison. Since an award-winning turn as the injured writer in Alison MacLean’s Crush, her roles include three years on the nursing staff of Shortland Street, and Marilyn Waring in Fallout.
... thanks to a magnificently realised performance by Rees, the film's stab at the tone of the great post-war melodrama is an almost total success. London's Time Out, reviewing Constance
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.
An affectionate documentary about painter Rita Angus. Angus was well known for her enigmatic self portraits, and this Gaylene Preston-directed documentary explores the relationship between the work and biography. It gathers together new material about Angus's life, as well as interviews with a group of friends who knew her, and a new generation of appreciators including biographer Jill Trevelyan. Many of her paintings are also featured, evocatively shot by Alun Bollinger; actress Loren Horsley captures an uncanny likeness as a young Angus.
This short film follows the experience of a five-year-old child (Elizabeth Morris), after her mother's paranoid delusions reach breaking point and she is put in a mental hospital. Writer/director Belinda Schmid's aim was to show how children can respond to situations partly without emotional upset, "because we have no other measure for the ways things are supposed to be, and partly by coping in ways that help us survive at the time". Jennifer Ward-Lealand plays the mother. The Painted Lady was invited to multiple film festivals, and nominated for Best Short at the 2000 NZ Film Awards.
City Life follows a tight-knit group of apartment-dwelling twenty-somethings (lawyers, bartenders, drug dealers, art dealers, et al) on the emotional merry-go-round of urban living. Created by James Griffin, the television series was an effort to create popular drama relevant to contemporary Auckland city life and to appeal to a Gen X demographic – to inject Melrose Place into Mt Eden. A bevy of Kiwi acting talent drink, dramatise and prevaricate to a soundtrack of contemporary NZ pop.
City Life screened from 1996 to 1998 and made a direct appeal to New Zealand's Gen X apartment-dwelling demographic. Following the lives of a tight-knit group of friends, and featuring racy shots of Auckland's K-Road and nightlife set to contemporary NZ pop music, City Life was NZ's answer to Melrose Place. In this excerpt from the first episode, the friends are thrown into conflict when one of their own (played by Kevin Smith) decides to marry outside the circle. Complications ensue when Smith shares a brief, but notorious, screen kiss with Charles Mesure.
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).
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).
Written by Tom Scott and Greg McGee, South Pacific Pictures-produced Fallout was an award-winning two-part mini-series dramatising events leading up to NZ’s 80s anti-nuclear stand. PM Robert Muldoon (Ian Mune) calls a snap election when his MP Marilyn Waring crosses the floor on the ‘no nukes’ bill, but his gamble fails, and David Lange's Labour Party is elected. Lange (played by Australian actor Mark Mitchell) is pressured from all sides (including a bullish US administration) to take a firm stance on his anti-nuclear platform. He finally accepts there is no middle ground.
Written by Tom Scott and Greg McGee, Fallout was an award-winning two-part mini-series about the events leading up to New Zealand's 80s anti-nuclear stand. In part two, the new Lange Labour government narrowly averts an economic crisis; and under political pressure Prime Minister Lange asserts ‘no nukes’ independence at the risk of spurning the country's traditional allies. In this excerpt, Lange speaks at the Labour Party annual conference, then travels to meet with US political officials and British PM Margaret Thatcher (veteran actress Kate Harcourt).
Written by Tom Scott and Greg McGee, Fallout was an award-winning two-part mini-series about the events leading up to New Zealand's 80s anti-nuclear stand. In this first episode Labour sweeps into power with an anti-nuclear platform. Upon taking office, David Lange (played by Australian actor Mark Mitchell) faces pressure to live up to his campaign rhetoric. In this excerpt, we see the parliamentary cut and thrust leading up to the election, with National MP Marilyn Waring defying Muldoon (Ian Mune) to cross the floor on the Nuclear Free New Zealand bill.
Shortland Street is a fast-paced serial drama set in an inner city Auckland hospital. The long-running South Pacific Pictures production is based around the births, deaths and marriages of the hospital's staff and patients. It screens on TVNZ’s TV2 network five days a week. In 2017 the show was set to celebrate its 25th anniversary, making it New Zealand’s longest running drama by far. Characters and lines from the show have entered the culture — starting with “you’re not in Guatemala now, Dr Ropata!” in the very first episode. Mihi Murray writes about Shortland Street here.
Marlin Bay was a drama series following the comings and goings of a far-north resort and casino. Andy Anderson, Ilona Rogers, Don Selwyn, Pete Smith, Katie Wolfe and others made up the cast of earthy locals, wealthy foreigners, and city weekenders. Created by writer Greg McGee, Marlin Bay was one of the first primetime drama series from South Pacific Pictures. Kevin Smith received a 1995 Best Supporting Actor nod for his role as villain Paul Cosic.
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.
This dramatised documentary looks back to 1955, when a female bottlenose dolphin began appearing regularly in Hokianga Harbour, close to the town of Opononi. Opo became a national celebrity, but died in controversial circumstances on 9 March 1956, the suspected victim of bombing by local fisherman. Directed by Steve La Hood (Numero Bruno, Swimming Lessons), the film recreates events of the summer and explores the belief of local Māori that Opo was a messenger sent by Kupe to unite the people. It includes interviews and extensive archival footage of Opo.
Donogh Rees stars as Jo, a wife on the brink of madness in this short film from Christine Parker (Channelling Baby). Jo, who struggles to deal with raw meat in the kitchen, lapses into a dream-state and fantasies about fronting a girl group (featuring backing singers costumed as the Virgin Mary, a dominatrix and a Barbie doll). Flashbacks show her partner James (Alistair Browning) arriving home drunk and she goes alone to a dinner party where the host asks about his absence. The story is based on Waiting for Jim, an original story by author Frances Cherry.
This Depression-era road movie tails teen runaway Kate (Greer Robson) as she tags along with World War I veteran Patrick (Aussie actor Peter Phelps) — himself on the run after assaulting a repo man. The odd couple relationship grudgingly evolves as they oft-narrowly escape the law and head north across the southern badlands. Director Sam Pillsbury's on the lam tale won wide praise, with Kevin Thomas in the LA Times calling it "pure enchantment". Robson's award-winning turn as the scamp followed up her breakthrough role in Smash Palace.
Nola Luxford was one of the first Kiwi actors in Hollywood and a fondly remembered wartime club hostess. This documentary — made before renewed attention thanks to Carole Van Grondelle's definitive bio Angel of the Anzacs — sees Luxford bypass troubled times and adoration from author Zane Grey to recall decades in America. These encompassed pioneering radio work in the 30s and 40s, a film career, and most poignantly, her legendary World War II Anzac club that welcomed 35,000 soldiers to New York. There are also clips from her 1925 silent film The Prince of Pep.
Pioneering poet, author and journalist Robin Hyde was originally Iris Wilkinson. Directed by Tony Isaac (The Governor), this ambitious co-production for television mines quotations from Wilkinson's writing to dramatise her life. In a parallel plotline, a writer, actor and director wrestle with how to capture Iris on screen. For Australian Helen Morse (Picnic at Hanging Rock) playing Iris was a privilege — and her "most difficult" role to date. Morse concluded that Iris was "extraordinarily vulnerable emotionally". This excerpt includes a cameo by the writer's real life son Derek Challis.
Constance centres on a young woman who attempts to escape the staid world of 40s Auckland, by embracing glamour and passion. After meeting a photographer, her aspirations of stardom are brutally fractured. Directed by Bruce Morrison, the movie echoes the style of Hollywood melodrama, while simultaneously critiquing the dream. Donogh Rees was widely praised in the title role as a protagonist who lives in a fantasy world, with one review describing her as “New Zealand’s answer to Meryl Streep”. New York's Time Out called the film "lush and exhilarating".
One of those Blighters began life as a doco on Taranaki novelist Ronald Hugh Morrieson, but after interviews with many who knew him, morphed into something more offbeat: a semi-fictionalised tale of Morrieson’s mates reminiscing about his departure, interwoven with highlights from his tales of drunkards and con artists. The dramatisations are from his four novels - all became movies - plus one posthumously published short story. Amidst a cast packed to the rafters with carousing Kiwi screen legends, fellow multi-talented muso Bruno Lawrence plays Morrieson.
In this 1982 short film, Harry (Goodbye Pork Pie's Kelly Johnson) and Pheno (Donogh Rees) are bored Wellington rebels on a crime spree: tagging, stealing art and hijacking a bus to the badlands of nearby Makara Beach. It was the era of Muldoon, Springbok Tour protests, spacies and dole queues. The film captures the disillusionment of its youth, especially in the outcome of the duo's pursuit by a tyro cop (Duncan Smith). Johnson was fresh from Pork Pie, and Donogh Rees a young actor on the rise. Director Richard Riddiford went on to helm features Arriving Tuesday and Zilch.
Blam Blam Blam’s second hit from 1981 was angular and artsy, hook-filled but unsettling: all qualities captured in a theatrical video, directed by Andrew Shaw. Clowns, magicians, fire-eaters and trick cyclists join the band, while actors play out the saga of ‘Don’t Fight It, Marsha’. The actors — including Phillip Gordon (Came a Hot Friday), Michael Hurst and Donogh Rees (Constance) — were directed by Harry Sinclair, who would later join Blam band member Don McGlashan in The Front Lawn. The Len Lye-style scratch effects were by Jenny Pullar, the Blams’ lighting designer.