On stage, actor George Henare has played everyone from Lenin and King Lear, to Snoopy and Dracula. On screen, his extensive resume spans 70s TV landmark The Governor, 90s classic Once Were Warriors, and an award-winning role on 2010's Kaitangata Twitch.
Actors tend to throw themselves into any situation deeper than other people, to analyse each experience. George Henare
Action movie The Dead Lands joins the short list of screen tales set in Aotearoa, before the pākehā. James Rolleston (star of Boy) plays Hongi, the son of a Māori chief. After the massacre of his tribe, Hongi sets out into the forbidden Dead Lands, hoping to enlist the help of a legendary warrior (Lawrence Makoare). The Anglo-Kiwi co-production marked new screen territory for director Toa Fraser (No. 2) and writer Glenn Standring (fantasy Perfect Creature). After debuting at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival, The Dead Lands topped the Kiwi box office and won three Moa awards.
When Mount Tarawera erupted on 10 June 1886, it took over 100 lives. It was also thought to have destroyed the Pink and White Terraces on Lake Rotomahana, then hailed as the eighth wonder of the natural world. This documentary follows a team of New Zealand and American scientists — led by Kiwi geologist Cornel de Ronde — as they scour the lake floor, to see if any traces of the legendary structures remain. Also examined are the area's history, and the lead-up to the eruption. In 2018 de Ronde robustly criticised a theory that the remains of the terraces were now partly on land.
This docudrama follows an imaginary news reporter who travels back in time to cover the days leading up to the Treaty of Waitangi’s signing on 6 February 1840. Dropping the usual solemnity surrounding Aotearoa’s founding document, it uses humour and asides to camera to evoke the chaos and motives behind the treaty. Written by Gavin Strawhan, with input from novelist Witi Ihimaera, What Really Happened screened on TVNZ for Waitangi Day 2011. Its nominations at the Aotearoa TV Awards included Best Drama, director (Peter Burger) and actor Jarod Rawiri (who played Hōne Heke).
Kaitangata Twitch follows the adventures of 12-year-old Meredith (Te Waimarie Kessell) who faces mysterious happenings on Kaitangata island. Meredith is the only one who can apprehend the island's 'twitch' and prevent tragedy repeating. The Māori Television series was adapted from a Margaret Mahy story by long-time collaborator, director Yvonne Mackay, and was filmed in Mahy's Governors Bay hometown. Newcomer Kessell stars alongside Charles Mesure and George Henare (in a Qantas-winning turn). Twitch sold to ABC Australia and won international awards.
Kaitangata Twitch follows 12-year-old Meredith, who sees eerie visions as a Governors Bay island is drilled for mining. The Māori Television series was adapted from a Margaret Mahy story by long-time collaborator Yvonne Mackay. Mahy makes a rainbow-wigged cameo in this episode where the locals protest a subdivision, and Meredith apprehends the island's 'twitch'. Newcomer Te Waimarie Kessell stars, with Charles Mesure and George Henare. The mix of the Māori concept of wairua with a willful 21st Century teenage heroine won a Remi Award at Worldfest-Houston 2010.
After success with short films (This is Her, Redemption) director Katie Wolfe made the transition to longer length story-telling with this 2010 drama. With This is Her writer Kate McDermott she adapted the Witi Ihimaera novel about a 40-something man confronting his double life, and the impact that his coming out as gay has on his wife, kids, and whānau. A key change was turning the book’s Pākehā protagonist to a successful Māori businessman (Calvin Tuteao). It screened on TV One on 23 January 2010 and at festivals internationally (where it was entitled Kawa).
Long isolated, New Zealand contains a world of Alice Through the Looking Glass natural oddities: birds, insects and plants like nowhere else. Scientist Jared Diamond remarked "it is the nearest approach to life on another planet". Palaeontology (from Professor Michael Archer) and Māori myth (told by Hirini Melbourne) reveal these 'Ghosts of Gondwana'. Then cutting edge camera techniques (earning a Merit Award at 2002 International Wildlife Film Festival) delve into a night world of bat-filled tree trunk saunas, “demon grasshopper” wētā, and furry kiwi with chopstick bills.
When his father dies, soldier Will Bastion (Temuera Morrison) returns home after 20 years. Tradition dictates he take on the mantle of tribal chief, but he's not interested. His brother Kahu (Lawrence Makoare) seizes the opportunity, but he's a drug-dealer with grand plans to get stolen land back. Worried about Kahu's provocative approach, Will must choose whether to face off against his brother. Melding horseback action and indigenous land rights, Crooked Earth marked the first NZ film for director Sam Pillsbury since 1987's Starlight Hotel. Variety called it "handsomely mounted and compelling".
A TV network hires actor Kevin Smith to front a documentary about a town divided by an unusual discovery. Gooey Duck — a shellfish with reputed aphrodisiac qualities — has appeared off Ureroa. The quota is owned by a local couple but the rest of the town, big business, the government and the local iwi all have their own ideas. Smith's involvement gets complicated when he innocently consumes the mollusk while watching Prime Minister Jenny Shipley on TV. Writer Stephen Sinclair satiries television, celebrity, gender, politicis, small town New Zealand and penises.
With its mix of quirky characters, lush scenery, and medical drama, Mercy Peak proved to be a winning formula. Produced by John Laing for South Pacific Pictures, and starring a host of NZ acting talent (Tim Balme, Jeffrey Thomas, Renato Bartolomei, et al), Mercy Peak follows the highs and lows of Dr Nicky Somerville (Sara Wiseman), who leaves the big city after discovering her partner’s infidelity. Taking up her new role at the hospital in the tiny town of Bassett, Nicky soon learns that life is full of complexities no matter the population.
This TV drama follows a whānau taking a claim to the Waitangi tribunal, over plans by a Pākehā neighbour to build a resort on disputed land. Ngā Tohu jumps between the present day and 1839/40, when Māori chiefs were canvassed to support the Treaty of Waitangi and a settler makes an equivocal land deal with Chief Tohu (George Henare). The exploration of the Treaty's evolving kaupapa is effectively humanised by an age-old love story, and it scored multiple drama gongs at 2000's TV Awards. Director Andrew Bancroft wrote the teleplay with playwright Hone Kouka.
Over four seasons, Street Legal’s slick Kiwi take on urban crime and law genres racked up a stack of award nominations - including a 2003 NZ TV Award for best drama series. Although initially wary that the Auckland setting might alienate viewers, writer Greg McGee chose a Samoan lawyer (Jay Laga’aia) as his main character, to exploit the show’s inner-city Ponsonby setting (where cafe society bumps into Pacific Island immigrant culture). Other key characters included Silesi’s lawyer ex-girlfriend Joni, and her new partner Kees, an overstressed sergeant.
Greenstone is the tale of a beautiful, missionary-educated Māori woman (Simone Kessell) whose romantic life is subject to the shifting loyalties of her father, Chief Te Manahau (George Henare). The cross-cultural elements of this ambitious colonial bodice-ripper were reflected off-screen as well: created by Greg McGee in response to a call by TV One for a local drama 'saga', the series saw major English creative input through being developed as a co-production with the BBC. After the withdrawal of BBC funding, the Tainui Corporation helped fund the eight-part series.
One of the most successful television shows shot on Kiwi soil, The Tribe was the brainchild of British-born Raymond Thompson. In a future where the adults have been wiped out by a virus, the children that remain have formed into competing tribes, some of whom live to terrorise. Running five seasons, The Tribe sold to more than 120 territories, and the cast toured performances from the soundtrack for overseas fans. The cast were almost entirely New Zealanders, as were most of the crew. Sequel The New Tomorrow, following descendants of the original characters, screened in 2005.
This documentary about Māori writer Witi Ihimaera features him in conversation with filmmaker Merata Mita. Ihimaera traverses his life and writing career, emphasising the importance of family (particularly his mother and grandmother) and his overriding Māori identity. Aileen O'Sullivan's film features a star-studded assemblage of local literature — Keri Hulme, Albert Wendt, publisher Geoff Walker — and a dramatised excerpt from his novel Bulibasha ( featuring Rena Owen, Michael Hurst and Rawiri Paratene), shot roughly two decades before 2016 movie adaptation Mahana.
"Maybe if we looked after our living as well as we do the dead, he'd still be here." After returning to his marae from the city, Mana (Cliff Curtis) finds himself caught up in arrangements for a tangi. But when another local commits suicide, Mana finds himself caught between traditional values and his own sense of right. Meanwhile in the forest, it seems that other powers may have the final word. The short film also features George Henare. It was written and directed by former DJ and commercials director Poata Eruera.
Once Were Warriors opened the eyes of cinemagoers around the globe to an unexamined aspect of modern New Zealand life. Director Lee Tamahori's hard-hitting depiction of domestic and gang violence amongst an urban Māori whānau was adapted from the best-selling Alan Duff novel. The film provided career-defining roles for Temuera Morrison and Rena Owen as Jake the Muss and Beth Heke. It remains NZ's most watched local release in terms of bums on seats. Among a trio of backgrounders, Riwia Brown writes about adapting Duff's book for the screen.
Māori Battalion - March To Victory tells the story of the New Zealand Army's (28th) Māori Battalion, which fought in campaigns during World War ll. Director and writer Tainui Stephens sets out in the feature-length documentary to tell the stories of five men who served with the unit, and also "capture how they felt about it". Narration by actor George Henare, remembrances, visits to historic sites, archival footage, and graphic stills create a respectful and stirring screen testament to the men who fought in the Battalion. Stephens writes about the film in the backgrounder.
Comedy series Porters featured an impressive cast. George Henare, Peter Bland (star of Came a Hot Friday), Bill Johnson (Under the Mountain) and Stephen Judd (Bridge to Nowhere) starred as a cynical team of hospital porters who share no love for their boss (Roy Billing). In the hope of lifting the standards of Kiwi comedy, the makers of this 80s television series imported Emmy award-winner Noam Pitlik (Barney Miller, Taxi) from the US to direct. The series made comedy from hospital romances, missing patients and union representation. Only six episodes were made.
Created by actor/writer Jonathan Hardy, comedy series Porters was based around a group of porters working in a big city hospital. This episode features an early screen appearance by Rima Te Wiata (Hunt for the Wilderpeople); she guest stars as a worried nurse who calls on junior porter Peter (Stephen Judd from Bridge to Nowhere), after hearing some strange noises on the night shift. An encounter in the mortuary awaits. The episode also includes appearances by fellow porters George Henare, Peter Bland and Bill Johnson, with Roy Billing playing their long-suffering boss.
There's panic on the streets as 19-year-old tearaway Ska (Matthew Hunter) comes to terms with love and death in Auckland's 80s urban underworld. After an ultimately tragic attempt to 'rescue' his prostitute sister, Ska plots revenge at a rock gig ... with riotous results. Directed by Bruce Morrison when broken glass was still on the ground from the Queen Street riot, the film was inspired by a story from 16-year-old Richard Lymposs. In this teen spirit-infused excerpt, street-fighter Ska saves rich girl Stacy (Kim Willoughby), and meets her classy parents.
This documentary follows the efforts of the New Zealand rowing eight to win gold at 1984’s Los Angeles Olympics. The eight, coached by the legendary Harry Mahon, had won the past two world champs and were expected to repeat the triumph of the 1972 Kiwi eight at Munich. Amongst training at home, the infamous six minutes of pain — the “erg test” — is featured; one of the most demanding trials in sport. The action then shifts to LA for the Olympic finals. The film offers a gripping insight into the extreme lengths the amateur athletes go to in their quest for gold.
The Silent One is a mythological children's drama about the friendship between a deaf mute boy, Jonasi, and a rare white turtle. The boy's differences lead to suspicion from his Rarotongan village. When the village suffers drought and a devastating storm, the boy and turtle (also considered an ill omen) are blamed and ostracised. Adapted by Ian Mune from a Joy Cowley story, the beloved film was the first New Zealand dramatic feature to be directed by a woman (Yvonne Mackay). In the excerpt here, Jonasi is excluded from a boar hunt and first meets the turtle.
Witi Ihimaera was the first Māori writer to publish a book of short stories (Pounamu Pounamu) and a novel (Tangi). In this wide-ranging Kaleidoscope profile Ihimaera (here in his late 30s) talks about being “the boy from the sticks made good”, and conforming to expectations: “do I want to be the literary voice of the Māori people? No”. He discusses editing influential anthology Into the World of Light and the camera accompanies him on a Wellington circuit, as he roller-skates, and visits Newtown’s Black Power HQ. George Henare reads excerpts from Ihimaera’s work.
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.
Kidult drama Gather your Dreams follows Kitty (Kerry McGregor), an aspiring performer travelling with her family's vaudeville troupe in 1930s NZ. In this episode, the troupe competes for viewers with boxing promoter Ted Crawley (George Henare) at a Depression relief camp. Troupe patriarch Wallace (Terence Cooper) plots to best Crawley by managing "Haggis the brawling Scot" (actor's agent and On the Mat legend Robert Bruce’s acting debut). But the 'worker's hope' turns out to be a stooge with a glass jaw. Will coaching from Kitty save the day? The show must go on!
The Mackenzie Affair told the story of colonial folk hero James Mackenzie: accused of rustling 1000 sheep in the high country that would later bear his name. This fifth and final episode sees the manhunt for Mackenzie over, with ‘Jock’ facing a sentence of hard labour and provoking sympathy from equivocal sheriff Henry Tancred. Adapted from James McNeish’s book, the early co-production (with Scottish TV) imported Caledonian lead actor James Cosmo (Braveheart, Game of Thrones) and veteran UK TV director Joan Craft. It was made by Hunter’s Gold producer John McRae.
The Governor was a television epic that examined the life of Governor George Grey in six thematic parts. Grey's "Good Governor" persona was undercut with laudanum, lechery and land confiscation. NZ TV's first (and only) historical blockbuster was hugely controversial, provoking a parliamentary inquiry and "test match sized" audiences. It won a 1978 Feltex Award for Best Drama. Auckland Star reviewer Barry Shaw trumpeted: "It has made Māori matter. If Pākehā now have a better understanding of the Māori point of view [...] it stems from The Governor.
TV drama The Governor examined the life of Governor George Grey in six thematic parts. Grey's 'Good Governor' persona was undercut with laudanum, lechery and land confiscation. NZ televison's first historical blockbuster was hugely controversial, provoking a parliamentary inquiry and "test match sized" audiences. It won a 1978 Feltex Award for Best Drama. In first episode 'The Reverend Traitor', Grey arrives to colonial troubles: flag-pole chopping Hōne Heke, missionary Henry Williams, and rebellious Te Rauparaha. Writer Keith Aberdein goes behind the scenes here.