Geoff Steven's career spans documentary, experimental film and photography. In 1978, he directed acclaimed feature Skin Deep, the first major investment by the newly established NZ Film Commission. Steven followed it with Strata and a long run of documentaries, before time as a TV executive at both TV3 and TVNZ. He now heads the Our Place World Heritage Project.
No more castor oil documentaries! Geoff's motto during his reign at TVNZ
The opening episode of the Prime TV series celebrating 50 years of New Zealand television travels from an opening night puppet show in 1960, through to Outrageous Fortune five decades later. It traverses the medium's development and its major turning points (including the rise of programme-making and news, networking, colour and the arrival of TV3, Prime, NZ On Air, Sky and Māori Television). Many of the major players are interviewed. The changing nature of the NZ living room — always with the telly in pride of place as modern hearth — is a story within the story.
This TV documentary sees director Peter Wells look at his life “through pansy-tinted glasses”. Motivated by the anniversary of his brother’s 1989 death (from AIDS) Wells’ film charts his path to becoming a pioneering gay filmmaker and writer: from growing up fascinated by colour and the glamour of royalty in conservative Port Chevalier in the 1950s, to baking, and deciding to come out when he was drafted to fight in Vietnam. As befits an artist whose credits include Desperate Remedies, the treatment is distinctive: a mixture of documentary, (aptly) flowery home movie, and quiet reflection.
In the first all celebrity version of Touchdown reality TV hit Treasure Island, 14 marooned contestants must provide food, water, fire, and shelter for themselves on a Fijian island, as they compete to find treasure and avoid elimination. Presented by Pieta Keating — who was runner-up on the original Treasure Island — the "household names" include Olympians and All Blacks (Frank Bunce), model Nicky Watson, actors and TV tradesman John Cocks. Hunger and cheating suspicions soon exacerbate tensions between the teams.
Presented by Jayne Kiely, this series catches up with couples from earlier reality series Weddings (1999), to see what married life has delivered. This episode revisits Barbara and Stu, who decided he wanted to cross-dress for the wedding; Christian couple Michael and Fiona, who believed in abstinence until marriage; and Chris and Jackie (whose mother was terminally ill). Affairs, death, the weight of reality TV stardom and nightclub ownership all provide challenges to true love. The original Weddings series (also presented by Kiely) followed couples on their journey to the altar.
In this documentary, writer and adopted Cantabrian Joe Bennett explores the north/south divide, where the dividing line is the Bombay Hills — Jafa being an acronym for a somewhat impolite term for Aucklanders. Bennett is in sparkling form, mischievously stirring the pot of regional prejudice as he travels the country, asking exactly what non-Aucklanders think about the inhabitants of the City of Sails. The deep south has never looked so hardy, cold or desolate; meanwhile the congested motorways of Auckland appear to be paved with lattes and cellphones.
This is the third documentary made about the remarkable life of Shelly West (Michelle Belesarius) who was crippled by rheumatoid arthritis as a child and blind since she was 20. After giving birth against medical odds, Shelley, and husband Dion, bring their new daughter Michela home; but they find parenting fraught with money worries and, for Shelly, the ongoing challenge of bonding with her daughter. To augment their finances, she writes a book and takes up public speaking — but a steadily weakening heart requires potentially life threatening surgery.
Aotearoa is the last big land mass on earth discovered and settled by people (orthodox history suggests Māori arrived around 1280). Directed by Mark McNeill, this Greenstone TV documentary examines controversial evidence put forward to claim an alternative pre-Māori settlement — from cave drawings and carvings, to rock formations and statues. Historians, scientists, museum curators, and amateur archaeologists weigh up the arguments, DNA, carbon, and oral stories of the early Waitaha people, to sift hard fact from mysticism and hope.
This award-winning documentary is an account of the last days and sinking of Russian cruise liner Mikhail Lermontov. On 16 February, 1986, she ran aground on rocks in the Marlborough Sounds. Passengers were successfully evacuated, but a Russian crew member lost his life, and several were injured. Evidence is given by those who were there, with a particular emphasis on presenting the stories of the Russian crew, who were largely unavailable to the media at the time. A minute into clip nine, one young Russian agent bears a striking similarity to Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Filmmaker Stewart Main traverses India seeking enlightenment. There he meets ex-pat Kiwis who seem to have found it, which only leaves him feeling trapped in a life of the senses. Especially when he falls for his Indian sound recordist, Sreenu. Or so he would have us think. Made for TVNZ's Work of Art documentary slot, Main's startling, provocative film explores the cracks between the divine and the sensual, documentary and fiction. Director Andrew Bancroft writes about the result in this backgrounder.
Each episode of Going Going Gone introduces sellers as they head to auction, and then sees if buyers agree with their valuations when the items go under the hammer. This opening episode heads to Turners for a classic car auction, and follows a woman selling off her antique family furniture, as her heirlooms are assessed then presented for sale by auctioneer James Parkinson. The show ends with a teaser: the arrival of a bejewelled solid gold bull at Webb’s auction house. The long-running popular factual show was made by Greenstone Productions for TVNZ.
Rotorua may be famous for its picture perfect scenery, but dig a little deeper under the boiling mud and you'll find a history bubbling with warfare, adventure and romance. This TV One documentary, presented by Te Arawa's own Sir Howard Morrison, traces the iwi's origins —from a fight over a beloved dog in Hawaiki, to the shores of Maketū in the Bay of Plenty. Morrison travels around the Rotorua region visiting important historical sites like Mokoia Island and his home marae at Ōhinemutu, on the shores of Lake Rotorua. Paul Gittins (Epitaph) directed the one-off special.
This Philip Temple-scripted episode of Our People, Our Century covers stories of New Zealanders and their turangawaewae: a piece of land they call their own. The importance of the land to farming families, and to the economy of NZ is explored through the eyes of three families. Elworthy Station in South Canterbury is being farmed by a 5th generation Elworthy. Two elderly ladies reminisce on their childhood in remote Mangapurua, near Raetihi in the central North Island. And a Māori family in Taranaki reflects on their decision to sell the family farm.
This episode of the six-part Our People, Our Century series explores the mix of cultures that Aotearoa-New Zealand has become. In these excerpts, a Chinese Kiwi family speaks of the racism they experienced, from the poll tax of the 1890s to their relative isolation — despite living in downtown Wellington. Artist Trevor Moffitt describes his father's “heavy silent disapproval” at his artwork; Moffitt went on receive acclaim for paintings that explore themes of New Zealand identity. Finally, mixed marriages between Māori and Pākehā shed some light on biculturalism.
This episode of the Kiwi social history series explores the importance of the ‘cradle to grave' beliefs about education, health and social welfare that have underpinned NZ governance since the 1930s. But radical reforms toward the end of the 20th century were more focused on individual opportunity than the wider social contract. Excerpts here use influential unionist James ‘Big Jim’ Roberts and generations of his family to chart social change. Written by feminist Sandra Coney, this episode also provides an overview of the monumental change in the lives of women.
New Zealand is a nation that has been scarred by war: from the horrendous loss of lives at Gallipoli to the decimation of the 28th Māori Battalion, Kiwis have gone to war in their 1000s, and many have not returned. This Our People, Our Century edition explores the experiences of soldiers, and the families who waited at home. It also examines the long tradition of protest against war, from the anti-Vietnam movement to the more recent anti-nuclear protests. The script by Philip Temple, won a best documentary script award at the 2000 NZ TV Guide Television awards.
Taking in depression and prosperity, this edition of the Kiwi social history series explores the boom and bust cycles of the economy. Stories include TJ Edmonds, of baking powder fame, who made his fortune by hawking his wares around Christchurch before opening his iconic factory. Factory workforces expanded, and with them unions. Worker dissatisfaction with pay and conditions led to the Queen Street riot of 1932, a defining moment in NZ history retold here by protest leader Jim Edwards' son. Edwards’ real estate agent granddaughter is also interviewed.
This turn of the century comedy series follows the daily life of fictional colonial Māori chief Te Tutu (Pio Terei). In the first episode, 'Welcome', it’s 1838 and Te Tutu meets a shipload of newly-arrived New Zealand Company settlers. Ngāti Pati elders debate whether or not to eat them. Tama (Dalvanius) wants to, but Te Tutu pushes for the vegetarian option by outlining the threat of Pākehā diseases to Māori private parts. The boys can’t decide but when Tama’s wife arrives everything is ka pai, and the kōrero turns to real estate. The script is by series creator Ray Lillis.
This turn of the century comedy series was a satirical look at colonial life through the eyes of moderately hapless Māori chief Te Tutu (Pio Terei). Complications from over-fishing of kai moana (seafood) are the main plot spurs of this second episode. Meanwhile a newcomer to Aotearoa – Herrick's brother, an English army toff played by Charles Mesure (Desperate Housewives, This is Not My Life) – attracts the attention of Hine Toa (Rachel House), and hatches an evil plan (‘MAF’: Murder All Fishes). Meanwhile the patronising Vole continues his campaign of colonisation.
This turn of the century comedy series is a satirical look at colonial life through the eyes of Māori chief Te Tutu (Pio Terei). In this third episode, Te Tutu interrogates efforts by the settlers to mine for gold, and has designs on Vole's stove. Objects of ridicule include Pākehā and Māori cuisine; settler lust for “a useless, worthless, dangerous, coloured stone”; and patronising colonialism: “what’s the story with those beads and blankets? Haven’t they got any cash?” Meanwhile hangi pits are causing a spate of injuries. Michael Saccente has a guest role as an American miner.
Religion is the subject of this fourth episode of the series satirising colonial relations between Māori and Pākehā. Chief Te Tutu (Pio Terei) is disturbed by the bells ringing from the new church being built by settler Henry Vole, and goes to investigate. He finds a tohunga dressed like a tui. Te Tutu’s interpretation of the scripture leads to complications. Meanwhile Mrs Vole (Emma Lange) continues to do all the work while the Pākehā blokes chinwag. John Leigh (Sparky in Outrageous Fortune) guest stars as an Anglican minister under pressure from Vole to spice up his sermons.
In the tradition of Billy T's 'first encounter' skits, this series used satire to examine pre-Treaty of Waitangi relations between tangata whenua and Pākehā settlers. The topic of this fifth episode is health. After Te Tutu (Pio Terei) wakes with a bad back, his daughter Hine Toa (Rachel House) suggests trying out some alternative medicine: Pākehā bedding. Newly arrived Nurse Veruca (a cameo from Susan Brady) clashes with comical tohunga Tu Meke (William Davis) and stirs up symptoms in Henry Vole. Terei has commented that the show's take-no-prisoners humour was ahead of its time.
This topic of the sixth episode of this Māori/Pākehā satire is 'war'. Irish Colonel North (played by veteran actor Ian Mune) and his British Army soldiers arrive, on their way north to fight Hōne Heke — provoking chief Te Tutu (Pio Terei) and Ngāti Pati into action. Te Tutu’s warmongering with the settlers includes mooning, flagpole-felling and insulting Mr Vole's long-suffering wife (Emma Lange). When the signals aren’t picked up, a stolen rooster gets things moving. A fierce haka is answered by a traditional English song: 'Old Macdonald had a farm'.
The final episode of the first season of this colonial comedy tackles the Treaty, as settler Henry Vole argues that his land (purchased off a bloke he met at a bar in Tauranga) is fairly his. The pros and cons of a treaty are debated: “where all Māori may benefit from the administration that gave us the 18 hour working day for children”. Te Tutu counters with a Martin Luther King dream: “where the English are not marginalised in Aotearoa simply because they are a minority … where the English language won’t be lost because we’ll have Pākehā language nests …”
This 2000 reality show involved contestants completing challenges and overcoming a planted double agent, in order to avoid elimination and win a $30,000 cash prize. “All they have to do is survive the show and unmask the mole,” says host Mark Ferguson (Spin Doctors, Shortland Street). In this first episode, the group travel to Queenstown to tandem bungee jump, pack each other’s bags, complete a brain teaser, and eat ... before the first elimination. The Kiwi version of a 1998 Belgian format made a 2016 NZ Herald list of New Zealand’s worst ever reality shows.
Bill Ralston examines more family business empires in part two of Old Money. With varying mixes of vision, hard work and eccentricity, the Hudsons (biscuits), Sargoods (merchants), Hallensteins (clothing), Hannahs (shoes) and Shacklocks (ironmongers) made fortunes that gave their families grand houses and gracious lifestyles. Some of the brands have survived and their legacies include 65,000 items gifted to Otago museum by the Hallensteins and Downstage’s theatre endowed by Hannah money. (Robert Hannah was the maternal great-grandfather of director Jane Campion.)
This Bill Ralston-fronted two part documentary looks at Auckland’s great family business empires: the Nathans (merchants and brewers), Myers (brewers), Wilsons and Hortons (newspapers) and Winstones (construction). With fortunes made in the pioneering days of the 19th Century, they created products that became household names and dynasties that dominated local commerce. Most failed to evolve and were picked off by the corporate raiders of the 1980s, but they left behind a legacy of fine homes, major buildings and community bequests.
Haunui Royal directs this 1999 documentary on the people who live in the Far North, and their guardianship (kaitiakitanga) connection with the land and sea. Royal looks at how this traditional ownership is under pressure: from urban sprawl, pollution, and changing land use. Kaitiaki include farmer Laly Haddon, fisherman Rick, paralegal Ani Taniwha (whose work with ōi (shearwater) helped deepen her connection to the land); Ngāti Kuri members looking after Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Reinga), and a group of rangatahi from Auckland.
An urban Maori trust, Te Whanau o Waipareira has developed from modest beginnings as a vegetable selling co-op into the biggest employment and training organisation in West Auckland. This documentary by Toby Mills and Aileen O'Sullivan examines its operations through the eyes of four people who have had their lives turned around by its all encompassing social, health, justice and education programmes. Interviewees include Pita Sharples and trust CEO John Tamihere (who recounts early struggles to be accepted by government, council and business sectors).
There are trials and tribulations at both ends of the spectrum in these excerpts from the debut episode of this long-running real estate reality series. It features house prices that now seem almost quaint. A young couple, trading down to a cheaper property, are looking at a house long on what is euphemistically described as "potential". But can they get it at the right price? Meanwhile, Michael Boulgaris, the crown prince of NZ real estate, works an auction floor attempting to get top dollar for a client, selling what she hopes is a million dollar arts and crafts house.
In this episode of the real estate reality series, super salesman Michael Boulgaris has talked a restaurateur into selling his penthouse apartment — but the price has to be right and Boulgaris needs to find active buyers for the auction. Meanwhile, an Auckland woman is on a challenging quest to find an apartment big enough to house her super-sized 6'8" New York fiancée; and there are sellers, not buyers, getting cold feet in another Boulgaris transaction (while he waits on the national listings see if he’s still number one, and refurbishes his office).
Blokes 'n' Sheds is a documentary where you'll find the content is exactly as titled: a tour of selected New Zealand blokes in their sheds, with the affable Jim Hopkins as tour guide. Based on Hopkins' best-selling book Blokes and Sheds (1998) the television version was made with the direct uncomplicated style that is a hallmark of Dunedin's Taylormade Productions. The contents of the sheds in question include vintage cars, oversize traction engines, a self-designed plane, and an old paddle-boat from the Whanganui River.
Barry Crump's iconic deer hunting yarn A Good Keen Man captured Kiwi imaginations. Published in 1960, it quickly sold 300,000 copies, and with Crump cast as an "ironic, laconic sort of super-bushman", made him a legendary literary figure. This excerpt from the award-winning documentary looks at Crump's upbringing and early success as a writer. The full 72-minute documentary covers everything from his fractured family relationships, violence, a life-changing incident on a bush camp, and discovering religion, to the ads for Toyota that reignited Crump's profile in the 80s.
This documentary is a view into the crucible that forged museum Te Papa, which opened on Wellington's waterfront in February 1998. Fascinating fly-on-the-wall moments are captured as a new kind of national museum is conceived. This excerpt features a board meeting where Saatchi & Saatchi present branding options. As political, ideological, creative and commercial considerations collide, the frustrations of decision making by committee are palpable: the body language, tears, cautions, grumbles, and finally, smiles, as they settle on the contentious thumbprint logo.
Hosted by Jason Gunn, this popular late 90s teen talent quest became a pop culture marker for young Kiwis of the era. In this 1999 grand final at Te Papa’s marae, judges King Kapisi and Stacey Daniels assess the year's finalists. They include 11-year-old Hayley Westenra performing ‘The Mists of Islay’, which Westenra would later record after finding global fame as a classical crossover singer. The international guest is another young prodigy: violinist Vanessa Mae. Future Sticky TV/C4 presenter Drew Neemia was one of the members of house troupe The Super Troopers.
The search for a New Zealand Spice Girls is underway in the first episode of this pioneering reality series. Manager Peter Urlich (formerly of Th' Dudes) and record company executive Mark Tierney (ex-Strawpeople) hold public auditions to find an all-female pop group for their record deal and TV series. The good, the bad and the unfortunate are out in full force. After an exhaustive selection process, Urlich and Tierney whittle down the talent to 15 hopefuls. The format for the show sold to multiple countries.
This documentary follows the experiences of two groups at the 1999 Sweetwaters music festival: six teens (including actor Kate Elliott and future advertising producer Nigel Sutton), and a group of 30-somethings (many of them veterans of the 1980s era Sweetwaters). By the end of the festival some hangovers are being nursed, mostly spirits remain undimmed. English singer Elvis Costello drops the on-stage bomb that artists haven't been paid, Chris Knox notes the "money fiasco" his own way, and the festivalgoers rate how the weekend went.
This high-rating 1999 documentary follows Gary McCormick to Ireland to investigate "those strands which tie" Kiwis to the Emerald Isle, from Dublin to the north, where his forebears originated in the 1870s. He meets locals, (musicians, tinkers, playwrights, scuba divers) and Kiwi expats, and talks The Troubles, Celtic Tigers, and why Irish emigrated to Aotearoa. Irish Connection was another collaboration between McCormick and director Bruce Morrison (Heartland, Raglan by the Sea). Companion title The London Connection saw McCormick examining Kiwi links to London.
This 1999 documentary see presenter Gary McCormick exploring the lives of New Zealand expats living in London. London Kiwis – including MTV Europe head Brent Hansen, Angel at My Table actor Kerry Fox, chef Peter Gordon, house-boaters Karyn Hay and Andrew Fagan, and drunk backpackers at The Church – reflect on their overseas experience and the meaning of home. Produced alongside a companion documentary on Kiwis in Ireland, London Connection was a further collaboration between McCormick, director Bruce Morrison and producer William Grieve (Heartland).
In the first of this two-part documentary about Kiwis and cars, actor Rima Te Wiata sets off on a road tour of New Zealand. Starting in the South Island, Te Wiata learns about the first bus tours to Aoraki, which were handled by the Mount Cook Motor Company. Then she travels to Westport via the infamous Hawks Crag, and hears from locals about the difficulties and dangers of transit before the introduction of cars. A trip back up the country takes Te Wiata to Northland, where the locals suggest they may have been better off when the primary mode of transport was by boat.
In this second part of a documentary on Kiwis and cars, host Rita Te Wiata explores motoring in the latter half of the 20th Century. She begins in Christchurch where Ford V8s were a vehicle for post-war romance, then heads to Tahuna for beach racing. Te Wiata pockets the licence she supposedly got in part one and heads to Raglan to look at the car-enabled freedom of the 60s and 70s: surfing, fishing, caravans. While downsides are mentioned (motorways, pollution, accidents), mostly it’s a paean to petrolhead passion. The tour ends with a cruise up Queen St in a muscle car.
Ron Morrison is secretly dreading the ‘dating years’. Rebecca and Kevin have their home, their dog and more love to share, possibly with a baby. Holly Morrison isn’t that bothered with boys yet, but she is determined to pass her South American dance exam. This high-rating documentary examines the physical and emotional challenges of being a ‘little person’— someone living with achondroplasia, the most common cause of dwarfism. Ron, Holly, Rebecca and Kevin are determined to grasp opportunities, although Ron’s conflict of emotions is especially poignant.
Flatmates observes six Kiwi 20-somethings as they share a house for three months: four students (one a Miss Howick beauty contestant), a confident young gay financial consultant, and a cameraman (also one of the show's directors). In this first episode the flatties move in, go shopping, have a party, and end up calling the police after partygoers get out of control. Flatmates was one of a number of 90s reality shows observing 'homelife' as created for the cameras. It was broadcast on the now-defunct TV4. Straight-talking student Vanessa became a minor local celebrity.
Pioneering reality TV show Flatmates trained its cameras on the home life of a bunch of young Gen X/Gen Y Kiwis. In this second episode the flatmates clean up after a party gone wild — the landlord ain't happy — and discuss flat finances, chore rosters, gender politics, and Anzac Day. Christian mourns his first love, a Finnish exchange student. Meanwhile Vanessa's pronouncements on apt lecture-wear reveal why she became a minor celebrity (she later co-hosted youth show The Drum). And cameraman/flattie Craig finds the courage to reveal a complicating crush.
The third slot of this 90s reality show mixes a beauty contest with the follow-on from Craig’s cliffhanger romantic revelation at the end of the previous episode. In pieces to camera the flattie/cameraman, his new girlfriend Vanessa and the other flatmates discuss what the burgeoning relationship means. Meanwhile the flatties watch the Warriors lose, Geoffrey gets a bit tiddly, and Christian ends the episode recalling Vanessa’s embarrassingly loud off-stage behaviour while Natasha was competing for the title of Miss Howick 1996.
“After the trouble at Miss Howick I realised that life with Vanessa was going to be a roller coaster.” These immortal lines from flatmate and cameraman Chris Wright open the fourth episode of the 1997 ‘docu-soap’. Sexual strife is in the house: Craig is having doubts about whether his relationship with Vanessa is monogamous; Christian gets a rejection letter from Finland; Natasha appears to have a tiff with Nick; and too much drinking at Ceilla’s 21st results in conflict. Elsewhere, the flatties face up to vomit, cleaning, freeloading boyfriends and a game of hacky sack.
In this final episode of the 90s ‘docu-soap’, reality bites for the household of young Aucklanders. Vanessa demands to talk to cameraman/boyfriend/flattie Craig off-camera, and Craig's refusal to do so fails to help things. Geoffrey can’t remember vomiting in the bathroom; there’s frisbee in Cornwall Park and moments of romance; Christian gets a letter from his on/off Finnish girlfriend, and flunks chemistry at uni. But no flat lasts forever and Natasha packs up (taking her freeloading boyfriend with her), before the rest of the flatties go their separate ways.
These excerpts from part one of Tom Scott’s award-winning series on the life of Edmund Hillary look at his early years. Ed reflects on his youth as a gangly Auckland Grammar student, beekeeping, and a school trip to Ruapehu that sparked a “fiery enthusiasm” for alpine adventure. Coupled with a young man’s frustration with his “miserable, uninteresting life”, this passion for the hills soon led to a solo ascent of Mount Tapue-o-Uenuku as an RNZAF cadet — famously climbed on a weekend’s leave from Woodbourne base— and a 1947 ascent of Mount Cook, with his mentor Harry Ayres.
This documentary tells the story of four men men who survived 119 days adrift at sea in an upturned trimaran. John Glennie's boat Rose Noelle capsized in the Pacific in June 1989, and washed up four months later on Great Barrier Island. Director Mark Beesley mixes raw interviews and spare reenactment to convey the physical and emotional ordeal; the quartet were sometimes trapped inside a cramped section of the boat for days on end. The epic survival-at- sea tale won Best Documentary at the 1997 TV Awards. The story was later retold in 2015 telemovie Abandoned.
Created by Dave Armstrong and Kerry Jimson, The Semisis was a satirical take on a contemporary Samoan-Kiwi family. In this opening episode, the Semisis handle eviction by heading to a campground with all their belongings. There romance buds, the palagi next door neighbour (Brian Sergent) proves unwelcoming, and the South African camp commander is even worse. The over the top Semisis family began as part of 90s TV sketch show Skitz; Armstrong consulted with cast members and a group of young Samoans from Porirua, while writing the scripts.
'Going, Going, Gone ...' was the ominous title for the opening episode of one of NZ television's most celebrated failures. With her mother on an archaeological dig in Malaysia, Melody (Belinda Todd) is babysitting her brother and sister and counting down to a much anticipated holiday of her own. But will Mum make it back in time (or will she only ever be a voice on the phone)? Will her brother survive his first date? And will her sister get to the big Slagheap concert? And who thought it was good idea for Brendan (Allan Brough) to wear that shirt?
This documentary tells the heart-wrenching story of Eve van Grafhorst, who contracted HIV from a blood transfusion after she was born three months premature. 1980s' attitudes to HIV saw Eve banned from her pre-school in Australia, leading her family to settle in New Zealand, where Eve became a high profile poster child for AIDS awareness. This award-winning film chronicles Eve’s medical struggles, her HIV AIDS awareness work, and her astonishing bravery in the face of illness and death. Eve died peacefully in her mother’s arms in 1993, at the age of 11.
In the late 1980s, Kiwi John Britten developed and built a revolutionary racing motorcycle. He pursued his dream all the way to Daytona International Speedway in Florida. In 1991 the underdog inventor came second against the biggest and richest manufacturers in the world. Britten: Backyard Visionary documents the maverick motorcycle designer as he and his crew rush to create an even better bike for the next Daytona. After arriving in Florida, another all-nighter is required to fix an untested vehicle with many major innovations. Costa Botes writes about the documentary here.
Brian Edwards was working as a television reporter when the Wahine sank on 10 April 1968 in Wellington Harbour. Twenty-five years later Edwards presented this TV3 documentary about the tragedy, which remains New Zealand's worst modern maritime disaster. Wahine - The Untold Story interviews passengers and crew, and features harrowing rescue footage and stills. Interviewees criticise the way the evacuation was handled — "we'd been lied to continually" — while helmsman Ken MacLeod remembers the challenges of trying to keep the Wahine on course.
At any one time between mid 1942 and mid 1944, between 15,000 and 45,000 US servicemen were camped in NZ preparing for, and recovering from, war in the Pacific. The marines brought colour and drama to the austerity of home front life. Fifty years later this TV documentary used interviews, reenactments and archive material to explore the “American invasion”. Sonja Davies recalls a Wellington street fight kicked off by a racist insult directed at Māori, and her wartime pregnancy and romance (1,500 marriages ensued from “when the Americans were here”).
Cowboys of Culture is director Geoff Steven's personal perspective on the Kiwi cinema renaissance of the 1970s. It traces the development of the local film industry from the ‘she'll be right' days when filming permits were unknown, and all that was needed to get a picture up were a Bolex camera, enthusiasm and ingenuity. Raw they might have been, but the films (Wild Man, Sleeping Dogs, Goodbye Pork Pie, Smash Palace) represented a vital new cultural force. The film features interviews with the major players, and clips from their movies.
Lew Pryme's life was a wild ride that took in everything from rock and roll to rugby before it was cut short by AIDS in 1990 (he was 51). This moving documentary interviews an ailing Pryme reflecting on his journey and (still secret) sexuality; it follows him from Waitara to becoming one of the most popular hip-swinging music stars of the 60s. He went on to manage singers Mark Williams, Rob Guest and Tina Cross; and in the early 80s he became the first executive director of Auckland Rugby Union, introducing cheerleaders and 'pizazz' to Eden Park.
In more repressed times, Carmen was one of NZ's most colourful and controversial figures. Geoff Steven's doco traces the life story of the transgender icon who was born Trevor Rupe in Taumarunui in 1936 and went on to be a dancer, sex worker, madam, cafe owner — and one of the few non-MPs to appear before the Privileges Committee. Steven shines a light on a bygone era of gay culture but avoids the temptation to focus on the seedy — opting, instead, for extended fantasy sequences (featuring Neil Gudsell aka Mika) to illustrate key moments in Carmen's life.
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).
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.
Katherine Mansfield, a rare New Zealand writer to achieve international renown, left for Europe as a 19-year-old. This documentary examines her complicated relationships with her family and homeland, her turbulent personal life, her writing — credited with changing the course of the English short story — and her early death in France in 1923, at age 34. Shot in five countries and presented by Catherine Wilkin, it includes excerpts from interviews with her companion, Ida Baker (from 1974) and biographer Claire Tomalin. Ilona Rodgers reads from Mansfield’s writings.
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.
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.
After being fired from his first New Zealand film Under the Southern Cross in the late 1920s, American director Alexander Markey returned to make Hei Tiki. Following a sometimes tense shoot, mostly around Taupō, he departed Aotearoa, leaving badwill and fears he'd stolen a number of taonga in his wake. Inspired partly by Māori legend, Hei Tiki sank quickly when finally released in 1935. This documentary features extensive clips from the movie, plus interviews with surviving cast and crew — including co-star Ben Biddle, and pioneering cameraman Ted Coubray.
Tattooing — "The world's oldest skin game" — is the subject of this documentary made by Geoff Steven who scored a major coup when he obtained the services of Peter Fonda as his presenter. Shot in NZ, Samoa, Japan and the United States, it traces the history of tattooing from Ancient Egypt through its tribal importance in the Pacific, to a counter culture renaissance that began in the 1960s. Leading practitioners (including superstar Ed Hardy) are interviewed and observed at work, while their clients wince their way towards becoming living canvasses.
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.
Sensuous expressions of landscape and the human form made Edward Bullmore (aka Ted Bullmore) a pioneer of surrealism in New Zealand art. This Kaleidoscope report interviews the painter’s colleagues and family, and surveys the artist’s life and career: from an unlikely mix of Balclutha farm boy, Canterbury rep rugby player and Ilam art student, to success in 60s London – exhibiting with René Magritte and Salvador Dali, and having his works used by Stanley Kubrick in film A Clockwork Orange – before returning to teach in Rotorua (and obscurity), and his untimely death in 1978.
Poet, activist and soon-to-be Mayor of Waitemata, Tim Shadbolt explores the often-maligned art of graffiti in this 1981 special for documentary slot Contact. Shadbolt searches for wit and inspiraton from school desks and court holding cells, to the bathrooms of trendy restaurants. Some of these scribbled sentiments — like “Rob Muldoon before he robs you” — have passed into legend. The best material however, comes from a group of high school girls, encouraged by their right-on English teacher during a class of well-supervised rebellion: “castrate rapists — have a ball!”
Founded in 1977 by ex-vacuum salesman Bert Potter, Centrepoint was an alternative lifestyle settlement that promoted intimate communal living, along with personal and sexual freedom. This documentary observes members' struggles to reconcile the values of their new home with the outside world. Director Geoff Steven threatened to take his name off the credits, in a successful bid to avoid the cutting of emotional scenes of 'encounter group' style psychotherapy. Potter and others were later convicted for a spate of child sex abuse and drugs charges.
Expat Kiwi Rewi Alley became one of the best known foreigners in 20th Century China and advocate for the Communist Revolution. When China was under siege from Japan in the late 1930s, Alley instigated an industrial co-op movement he termed ‘gung ho' (work together). Its success led to the phrase entering the global idiom. For this documentary a Geoff Steven-led crew travelled 15,000km in China in 1979, filming Alley as he gave his account of an engrossing, complex life story. Co-writer Geoff Chapple later wrote a biography of Alley.
A bold reveal of a rose tattoo opens this 1980 documentary on contemporary Kiwi tattooing. Then, a potted history of the practice punctuates visits to parlours on K Road and Hastings, plus the studios of industry legends Steve Johnson and Roger Ingerton. Interviews with tattooists and their canvases roam from stigma, the perils of permanence, and motivations for inking; to design tropes (sailors, serpents, swallows) and tā moko. Commissioned by TVNZ for the Contact documentary slot, the Geoff Steven film chronicles a time when “folk art has become high art.”
Filmed on a 15,000 km journey through China in 1979, this documentary captures a country in transition: one where billboards are emerging on the streets of Shanghai, while commune workers still toil in the countryside. The film compiles images of people and landscape to observe China's then-recent emergence from the repressive Cultural Revolution; including memories from long-term resident, Kiwi Rewi Alley. Named after a description by Alley of China, it was made alongside companion documentary: Gung Ho: Rewi Alley of China.
Off the Edge was director Michael Firth's ode to the exhilaration of adventuring on the spine of New Zealand's Southern Alps. Something of a snowy Endless Summer, the film follows an American and a Canadian as they ski, hang glide, climb and delve beneath glaciers, in the Aoraki-Mt Cook area. Thrilling footage amidst spectacular scenery was shot over two seasons, where extreme weather and geography meant few chances for second takes. The film was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary in 1977. The Los Angeles Times called it "beautiful and awesome".
“When old and young come together to do this, it shows the strength of their convictions.” This film is a detailed chronicle of a key moment in the Māori renaissance: the 1975 land march led by then 79-year-old Whina Cooper. A coalition of Māori groups set out from the far north for Wellington, opposed to further loss of their land. This early Geoff Steven documentary includes interviews with many on the march, including Eva Rickard, Tama Poata and Whina Cooper. There is stirring evidence of Cooper’s oratory skills. Steven writes about making the film in the backgrounder.
In the one channel days of the early 1970s, the Survey slot was the place to find local documentaries. Topics ranged across the board, from social issues (alcoholism, runaway children) to the potentially humdrum (an AGM meeting) to the surprisingly experimental (music film The Unbelievable Glory of the Human Voice). After extended campaigning by producer John O’Shea, emerging independent filmmakers, including Tony Williams and Roger Donaldson, joined the party — bringing fresh creativity and new techniques to the traditional gentle, narration-heavy doco format.