After completing a philosophy degree at Canterbury University, Gillian Ashurst set off for five years overseas, including a journalism diploma in London. Back in New Zealand, she studied filmmaking. Her second short film, alien on earth tale Venus Blue (1998), was invited to 12 international festivals, including Sundance. Follow-up Sci-Fi Betty won further film fest invites. Ashurst's first, and so far only feature — road movie Snakeskin — won six NZ Film and Television Awards in 2001, including Best Film. She has since written and directed documentaries on scientists Ernest Rutherford and William Pickering.
...Snakeskin crackles with the joy of filmmaking. Its director and writer, Gillian Ashurst, shows her love of film in every scene as she picks apart favourite genres and makes them her own... Timothy O’Brien reviews Snakesin in The Dominion, 19 October 2001
For her first feature, writer/director Gillian Ashurst wanted a “big wide road movie; big skies; big long roads.” Cruising the Canterbury landscapes are small-town dreamers Alice (Heavenly Creature Melanie Lynskey) and Johnny (future Almighty Johnson Dean O’Gorman). But the duo’s adventures go awry after encountering a charming American cowboy. Reviews were generally upbeat: praising the talented cast, plus Ashurst’s ability to mix moods and genres. Snakeskin won five awards at the 2001 NZ Film and TV Awards, including best film and cinematography.