Director Gregor Nicholas first made his name with a series of stylish music and dance-based shorts, including 1987's Hey Paris, a collaboration with dancer Douglas Wright. His second feature film Broken English won a high profile international release, and rave reviews in North America.
Gregor Nicholas' work displays a fascination for collisions between cultures, genders and individual frames of film. His feature Broken English is a troubled love story between a Māori and a Croatian immigrant; the 10-minute short Bodyspeak includes a tango, a Samoan dance, and a drum dance from the Cook Islands.
Nicholas began dabbling in film while studying architecture and art history at Auckland University. A member of filmmaking co-operative Alternative Cinema, he screened his early films alongside experimental shorts made by Peter Wells and Alison MacLean. Bodyspeak celebrated the "unique little cultures" within Auckland.
Nicholas followed it with Every Dancer's Dream, a documentary about two top ballroom dancing couples, the film won a silver plaque at the 1984 Chicago Film Festival.
1986 was a breakthrough year for Nicholas. Danny and Raewyn, which portrayed a young couple's decaying relationship, became one of the most acclaimed episodes of anthology television series About Face.
The same year his stylish short Drum/Sing won newspaper headlines, after some viewers reacted negatively after seeing it alongside Geoff Murphy's The Quiet Earth. Acquired by America's Museum of Modern Art for their touring collection, it was the first of two award-winning films that Nicholas built around performances by Kiwi percussion ensemble From Scratch (the second was award-winner Pacific 3-2-1-Zero).
In 1990 Nicholas released his first feature, madcap comedy User Friendly. Reaction was disappointing, although American magazine Variety found it "an exuberant romp". Nicholas turned it around with his next effort, a short film that would score 10 international awards. Avondale Dogs, an evocative mood piece about a boy and his dying mother, was the first Kiwi short to win official selection at the Venice Film Festival. British newspaper The Guardian labelled it one of the 10 best shorts ever made.
In 1997 Nicholas' second feature Broken English won release in England and the United States (under a restricted NC-17 rating), after winning a 28-print release downunder. The film mixed melodrama with hardhitting realism. A strong multi-national cast supported Julian Arahanga and Croatian-born newcomer Aleksandra Vujcic. The Boston Globe found Broken English bold and hardhitting; many American reviewers agreed. New York Times veteran Janet Maslin was one of many to compare the film to Romeo and Juliet, calling the film impassioned and offbeat, and praising Vujcic's "astonishing naturalness".
Though critical reaction down under was more muted, Broken English's success made it the seventh highest-grossing local feature at that time. An American movie project died "a slow protracted death in development".
Nicholas began winning awards for his commercials work in the early 1990s. Since Broken English he has directed advertisements across Europe and in the US, and been nominated for an outstanding advertising Emmy. He also directed the stirring Adidas commercial which intercuts shots of All Black rugby action with Māori warriors performing a haka in volcanic mud.
'Broken English Popular in New York, Los Angeles' - NZfilm Number 58, October 1997, Page 8