Cinematographer Graeme Cowley created the moody imagery for 80s Kiwi classics Utu and Smash Palace. Elsewhere he played another vital role in the Kiwi film renaissance, by establishing equipment hire company Film Facilities, alongside partner Nigel Hutchinson.
With writing you just need a pen, but with cinema the pen is a lot more sophisticated ... you simply can’t create a story unless you have the right tools. Graeme Cowley, quoted in Duncan Petrie's book Shot in New Zealand
In 1983, director Geoff Murphy stormed out of the scrub of the nascent Kiwi film industry with a quadruple-barreled shotgun take on the great NZ colonial epic. Set during the New Zealand wars, this tale of a Māori leader (Anzac Wallace) and his bloody path to redress 'imbalance' became the second NZ film officially selected for Cannes, the second biggest local hit to that date (after Goodbye Pork Pie). A producer-driven recut was later shown in the US. This 2013 redux offers Utu “enhanced and restored”.
The first single for short-lived Wellington band The Holidaymakers was a cover of a little-known song by American Bill Withers. It spent six weeks at number one and was the biggest-selling single in New Zealand in 1988. On a low budget director Fane Flaws created a beautifully lit video that captures the song’s infectious brightness and warmth. With a collection of lamps the only concession to props or special effects, nothing detracts from the compelling performances by vocalists Peter Marshall and Mara Finau. Sweet Lovers won Best Video at the 1988 NZ Music Awards.
When she made Mauri, Merata Mita became the first Māori woman to direct, write and produce a feature film. Mauri (meaning life force), is loosely set around a love triangle and explores cultural tensions, identity, and a changing way of life in a dwindling East Coast town. As with Barry Barclay's Ngati, Mauri played a key role in the burgeoning Māori screen industry; the production team numbered 33 Māori and 20 Pākehā, including interns from Hawkes Bay wānanga. NZ art icon Ralph Hotere helmed the production design; Māori activist Eva Rickard played kuia Kara.
It's the 1870s, and Māori leader Te Wheke (Anzac Wallace) is fed up by brutal land grabs. He leads a bloody rebellion against the colonial Government, provoking threatened frontiersmen, disgruntled natives, lusty wahine, bible-bashing priests, and kupapa alike to consider the nature of ‘utu’ (retribution). Legendary New Yorker critic Pauline Kael raved about Geoff Murphy’s ambitious follow up to Goodbye Pork Pie: “[He] has an instinct for popular entertainment. He has a deracinated kind of hip lyricism. And they fuse quite miraculously in this epic ...”
After hitting Wellington for a Ranfurly Shield game, two brothers from the sticks (Grant Tilly and Pork Pie's Kelly Johnson) have to sneak their abruptly deceased father back home. If the body isn’t buried there, they won’t inherit the family farm. Set back when "blokes were blokes and sheilas were their mums", director John Reid’s shaggy dog tale — a Weekend at Bernie's, reeking of stale beer and ciggies — both lauds and satirises the Kiwi male. Among the six clips, the final clip sees Tilly's character getting things off his chest, now that Dad is finally unable to answer back.
This documentary sees director Gaylene Preston go behind the scenes during the making of Geoff Murphy's Utu — his ambitious 'puha western' set during the 1870s land wars. “It’s like football innit? You set up the event and cover it …” says Murphy, preparing to shoot a battle scene. In this excerpt, the film’s insistence on cultural respect is conveyed: Merata Mita discusses the beauty of ta moko as Anzac Wallace is transformed into Te Wheke in the make-up chair, and Martyn Sanderson reflects on having his head remade to be blown off: “What’s the time Mr Wolf?”.
Goodbye Pork Pie was a low-budget sensation, definitively proving Kiwis could make blockbusters too. Young Gerry (Kelly Johnson) steals a yellow Mini from a Kaitaia rental company. Heading south, he meets John (Tony Barry), who wants his wife back, and hitchhiker Shirl (Claire Oberman). Soon they're heading to Invercargill, with the police in pursuit. High on hair-raising driving and a childlike sense of joy, the Blondini gang are soon hailed as folk heroes, on screen and off. Remake Pork Pie is directed by Matt Murphy — son of Geoff, who drove the original film.
Smash Palace is a Kiwi cinema classic and launched Roger Donaldson's American career. Al Shaw (a brilliant, brooding Bruno Lawrence) is a racing car driver who now runs a wrecker's yard in the shadow of Mount Ruapehu. His French wife Jacqui is unhappy there and leaves him, taking up with Al's best mate. When she restricts Al's access to his young daughter, his frustration explodes and he goes bush with the girl, desperate not to lose her too. "There's no road back" runs the tagline. New Yorker critic Pauline Kael called the film "amazingly accomplished".
In this children's sci-fi caper, an all-singing all-dancing gang of cronies led by 'evil Eva' (Nevan Rowe) holds Auckland to ransom for $5,000,000. As in Under the Mountain Auckland's volcanoes play a starring role, with Eva threatening to drop a nuclear bomb into the crater of Rangitoto. Who will save the city? A trio of intrepid kids and their DIY anti-gravity machine are on the case. Writers Ian Mune and Keith Aberdein give director Roger Donaldson (and a bevy of industry talent) plenty of goofy 70s fun to play with. Donaldson would shortly helm the acclaimed Smash Palace.
Smith (Sam Neill, in his breakthrough screen role) is devastated when his wife runs off with his best friend Bullen (Ian Mune). Smith escapes to the Coromandel. Meanwhile, the government enlists an anti-terrorist force to crack down on its opponents. Bullen, now a guerrilla, asks Smith to join the revolution. Directed by Roger Donaldson, this adaptation of CK Stead's novel Smith's Dream heralded a new wave of Kiwi cinema; it was one of the 1970s only local films to win a big local audience. This excerpt includes a much talked about scene: a baton charge by government forces.
The Hum is about sailing legend Geoff Stagg, and his yacht Whispers. Directed by Tony Williams and written by Martyn Sanderson, the doco is a paean to the lure of sailing, focusing on Stagg’s colourful personality, and his veteran ocean-racing crew, as they take on the Wellington to Kapiti Island and down to the Sounds race. Fortunately for the film they deliver on reputation. Dolphins, Strait squalls, streaking, ciggies, and some fierce 70s moustaches are all in a weekend’s sailing. Stagg would go on to head renowned Farr Yacht Design (now Stagg Yachts).
Directed by Tony Williams, this documentary is a strong example of how to make engaging television out of a brief that might easily have been overly earnest. Nominally “a history of service clubs in New Zealand”, the footloose film explores a rich variety of organisations created to bring people together: from accordion players and air hostesses to flying saucer believers and Rotarians. The film celebrates a fundamental human need to ‘get together’. Poet Denis Glover provides sardonic commentary. It won the best programme of year Feltex Award.
This film comprehensively surveys Kiwi Olympic success to 1968. Footage includes triumphs from running men Lovelock, Halberg and Snell (trying a celebratory haka), and long-jumper Yvette Williams; and podium efforts from Marise Chamberlain, Barry Magee and John Holland. The John O'Shea-made doco then meets athletes training for the upcoming Mexico Olympics. Reigning Boston Marathon winner Dave McKenzie runs on deserted West Coast roads and Warren Cole rows under snow-capped mountains on Lake Rotoiti. Cole would go on to win gold as bow of the Men's Coxed Four.