Intrepid cinematographer Jacob Bryant has shot everywhere from Iraq and Afghanistan to the mean streets of Auckland (Super City). His work with leading documentary makers has been nominated for multiple screen awards. An episode of TV show Ends of the Earth shot in Afghanistan won Bryant a 2007 Qantas Award; he also shared a Documentary Edge gong for filming Finding Mercy in Zimbabwe.
Jacob Bryant, a massively experienced and intrepid cinematographer, manages to make Finding Mercy look incredible, hidden-camera footage included. Gemma Gracewood, reviewing Finding Mercy in Metro Magazine, April 2013
This feature documentary from director Pietra Brettkelly (A Flickering Truth) follows Chinese fashion designer Guo Pei as she aims to join the exclusive world of Paris’s Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. Brettkelly traces the designer’s Cinderella story from Mao’s China to Paris fashion shows and the Met Gala fundraiser event in New York, beginning with pop star Rihanna modelling a 27kg canary yellow gown in 2015. Yellow is Forbidden was selected for the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival (the first Kiwi film to screen in its main competition) and the NZ International Film Festival.
Emma Davies Dixon summarises her husband Scott's need for speed in this documentary about the IndyCar driver: "...unless he's going really fast, he doesn't feel alive." Dixon has won the IndyCar World Championship several times, making him one of New Zealand's most accomplished professional racing drivers. Directed by Bryn Evans (Hip Hop-eration), Born Racer - The Scott Dixon Story follows Dixon during the 2017 IndyCar season, and includes home movies of Dixon racing as a child. The documentary includes Dixon crashing spectacularly in the Indy500.
This feature documentary follows All Black Richie McCaw on his 2015 quest to become the first skipper to defend the Webb Ellis Cup. Directors Justin Pemberton (The Golden Hour) and Michelle Walshe were given unprecedented access to the subject to create a portrait of McCaw the person, and chronicle the psychology of achievement in international sport. McCaw got involved as a chance to “inspire some young kids”, ending his policy of keeping “the private stuff private”. The film's opening day set a Kiwi record for a local documentary; in its first week, it beat all competition.
The Five Eyes spy network was set up after WWll to monitor and share intelligence between the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia and NZ. According to this interactive documentary, the network sought a new justification for its existence after the Soviet Union's collapse, and found it in digital communications. Narrated by Lucy Lawless, I Spy aims to inform viewers about just what their local intelligence agencies are up to. Interviewees include journalist Nicky Hager and former NSA and CIA director Michael Hayden. I Spy was funded by a joint Canadian-NZ Digital Media Fund.
When the Taliban attempted to destroy reels upon reels of historic Afghan film, a group of brave archivists hid the films away in a few dusty sheds in the middle of the desert. When German-based Afghani filmmaker Ibrahim Arafy returned to the Middle East to track down and restore the long hidden films, Kiwi filmmaker Pietra Brettkelly joined him, to tell the story of the archive's restoration under immensely trying conditions. Working with unskilled labourers amidst ongoing conflict, Arafy’s team do their best to save an integral part of their nation’s culture.
In November 2010, 29 miners died in the Pike River disaster. In 2014 Wellington’s Orpheus Choir invited singer Dave Dobbyn to compose a musical tribute to the victims. Dreams Lie Deeper followed Dobbyn to Greymouth to meet with mourning families, and visit the mine. This excerpt shows the premiere of Dobbyn's song ‘This Love’ in Wellington on 10 May 2014, to a standing ovation. The film screened on TV One on the fourth anniversary of the disaster. Sunday Star Times critic Grant Smithies called it “one hell of a documentary. Raw, touching and blessedly unsentimental.”
He Toki Huna sets out to provide an independent overview of New Zealand’s involvement in Afghanistan (the longest overseas war in which NZ has played a role). The documentary follows journalist Jon Stephenson conducting eyewitness interviews in Afghanistan, and poses provoking questions about Kiwi troops' involvement in a conflict that co-director Kay Ellmers calls an “ill-defined war against an unclear” enemy. Ellmers and Annie Goldson made the Moa Award-winning film for Māori Television, alongside an extended cut which played at NZ’s 2013 Film Festival.
Comedian (and rooster) Oscar Kightley fronts this 2013 beginner’s guide to the Chinese zodiac. His mission: to explore the 12 oriental star signs. As the Kiwi population heads towards one in six being of Asian origin, Kightley surveys a cavalcade of contemporary Kiwi personalities for their views on stargazing, from his Harry co-star Sam Neill to lawyer Mai Chen. This excerpt is a potted history of the oriental zodiac, aided by animation; then it's enter the dragon. Made for TV3’s Inside New Zealand documentary strand it was directed by bro’Town creator Elizabeth Mitchell.
This acclaimed TV series heads to Aotearoa’s heartland, dispensing with narration or a city slicker presenter so that local personalities can represent themselves. The opening episode travels to the West Coast to meet the 'Coasters' who live there: from publicans, prospectors and bushmen, to sheila truck drivers, knitting drag queens and musical theatre directors. The Dominion Post’s Karl du Fresne wrote of the show: "Producer Melanie Rakena has done a superb job seeking out engaging characters with interesting stories and allowing them to tell them in their own way."
At the age of eight, filmmaker Robyn Paterson (white) and her best friend Mercy (black) greeted Comrade Robert Mugabe with flowers at a Zimbabwe air-force base. They became poster children of the new Zimbabwe. But the country was soon to descend into turmoil under Mugabe’s rule, and Paterson’s family was forced to flee to New Zealand. This documentary traces Paterson’s return to her birthplace a generation later, and a high-risk undercover search to find the fate of her childhood friend. Mercy won Paterson the Best Emerging Director Award at 2013 DocEdge Festival.
This homegrown Erin Brockovich story follows former Whakatane sawmill worker Joe Harawira and his long battle to reveal the impact that workplace toxins have had on his community. In the 80s after being afflicted by health issues, Harawira noticed co-workers getting sick. In 1988 he helped found SWAP (Sawmill Workers Against Poisons) and began investigating the effects of exposure to dioxins, a by-product of timber treatment. The Joe versus the mills crusade screened on Māori Television, and won Best Popular Documentary at the 2012 NZ Television Awards.
Gerard Smyth's acclaimed documentary about the Christchurch earthquakes is the story of people coping — for better or worse — with the huge physical and emotional toll that the quakes, and continuing aftershocks, inflicted on them, their homes and their city. It began as a home movie while the devastation of September was surveyed (with thanks given that no-one had been killed); but, as shooting of the recovery continued, the February quake compounded the destruction and claimed 182 lives (including their researcher and 16 colleagues at CTV).
The 1978 death of Kerry Hamill in Khmer Rouge prison S21 provided a tangible link for New Zealanders to a genocide that claimed two million Cambodian lives. Thirty years later, this acclaimed documentary by filmmaker Annie Goldson follows Hamill’s brother Rob — an Olympian and Trans-Atlantic rowing champion — as he attends the war crimes trial of Comrade Duch, one of the architects of the slaughter. Hamill is there to make a victim impact statement, but also to understand how his brother died, confront the man responsible, and discover if forgiveness is possible.
This 2011 TV One series sees wry but winning host Marcus Lush explore the North Island from Auckland up. Jafa Lush said his motivations were to "see where I was from, what I liked and didn't like and what had changed." The Herald’s Deborah Hill Cone praised the show for its "gorgeous" cinematography (by Jacob Bryant), and for making everyday Kiwi characters look "otherworldly and cinematic and heroic". The series was another successful collaboration between JAM TV and host Marcus Lush, adding to Off the Rails, ICE, and lauded 2009 sister series South.
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.
Actor Madeleine Sami transforms into five very different Aucklanders in this Taika Waititi directed comedy series. Cheerleader Pasha is desperate to hang on to her youth; Linda tries too hard with her middle-aged clique; Azeem the Iranian taxi driver is obsessed with Māori culture; homeless Georgie makes a shock discovery, and gym instructor Jo secretly loves a female colleague. Rachel House, Rose McIver and Antonia Prebble appear in this series opener. Super City creator Sami (The Breaker Upperers) co-wrote the scripts, and won an Aotearoa award for Best Actress.
This 2011 series has idiosyncratic host Marcus Lush roving over the northern tip of the North Island (from Auckland up). The first episode finds the self-confessed Jafa exploring all things Manukau Harbour: “this is something I’ve always wanted to do – arrive in Auckland by ship!”. Lush meets lighthouse lovers, learns about shipwrecks and World War II Japanese subs, goes shark tagging, travels by waka to a small island, and talks Mangere Bridge with comedian Jon Gadsby. North was the follow-up to JAM TV’s award-winning 2009 series South, also fronted by Lush.
Creating and playing all of the main characters in Super City made for a "physically exhausting" experience for Madeleine Sami. But the hard yakka paid off, with the first season winning Sami a best actress gong and rave reviews. The show weaved the storylines of very different Aucklanders (five in season one, and four new characters in season two): including a ditzy Indian cheerleader, an Iranian male taxi driver obsessed with Māori culture, and a homeless woman. Taika Waititi (Boy) directed the first series; Oscar Kightley (Sione's Wedding) took over for season two.
Rachel Lang and Gavin Strawhan created Go Girls out of a desire for an upbeat show about "people who liked each other". Audiences liked the characters too: the show ran five seasons, after introducing us to a group of 20-something friends, each aiming to make a major life-change in the next year. Over five series various romantic adventures ensued, and the core cast of Anna Hutchison, Alix Bushnell, Bronwyn Turei, Jay Ryan and Matt Whelan were joined by others — before finally departing altogether, with one final season revolving around a new cast of wanna bes.
Go Girls starts from a twist, a beach and a promise. The twist is that this femme-dominated tale is narrated by a male (Jay Ryan). The promise involves four friends having a drink on the beach, and agreeing to make a major life-change within a year. Amy (Anna Hutchison) wants to be rich; whacky bartender Britta (Alix Bushnell) seeks fame; straight-talking Cody (Bronwyn Turei) wants a hubbie. The intentionally "optimistic, kind" hit show stretched to five seasons. In the backgrounder, co-creator Rachel Lang writes about the show's origins and difficult, rain-sodden birth.
Following award-winning and high rating collaborations exploring trains (Off the Rails) and Antarctica (ICE), Jam TV reteamed with presenter Marcus Lush to explore the southern tip of the South Island. Over seven 30 minute episodes, the Bluff-based Aucklander mixed wry observation and self-deprecation with clear affection for the stories, wildlife, geography and characters of his (then) adopted hometown, and its environs. At the 2010 Qantas Television Awards, Lush won Best Presenter and Melanie Rakena won Best Director – Entertainment / Factual.
Host Marcus Lush called this 2009 series a "love letter" to the characters and stories of the south. In this first episode he sleeps over on Dog Island (where he learns a lighthouse doesn’t have curved beds). Then it’s down to Stewart Island to join "Robin’s teepee cult" and meet Mason Bay whānau, and back to the Aucklander's adopted hometown of Bluff to chat with artistic beachcombers. South continued JAM TV’s winning collaboration with Lush (Off the Rails, ICE). At the 2010 Qantas Awards, the series collected gongs for best presenter and for director Melanie Rakena.
Barefoot Cinema looks at the "art and life" of Alun Bollinger, whom Peter Jackson calls "the finest lighting cameraman that the country has ever produced." Goodbye Pork Pie, Vigil, Heavenly Creatures ... the path of the man known as 'AlBol' is like a screen industry growth chart. But the film is as much an affectionate account of the values and family of a "greenie good keen man", shaped around his four decades-long relationship with wife Helen. In this excerpt, 'AlBol' nails down iron in the rain at his West Coast home, and he and Peter Jackson reflect on their collaborations.
The 'art star' is renowned contemporary artist Vanessa Beecroft; this film follows her from Africa to New York and Europe in her efforts to adopt two orphaned Sudanese twins. How the process impacts on her art and personal life, and the contradictions of her mission, are provokingly documented by director Pietra Brettkelly. Art Star won best doco, director and editing at 2009's Qantas Film and TV Awards and was selected for multiple festivals, including Sundance. LA Times: "a brutally honest, remarkably self-critical reflection on foreign adoption".
This is the Christmas episode of comedian Te Radar's green living series. In this excerpt, he prepares lunch for 17 family members, using only food he has hunted or grown himself. The turkey shoot (with a little help from his long suffering neighbour) reveals him to be a better shot than a spotter. Then it's on to preparations for lunch, which include removing "organic matter" from the dining area. His young nephews and nieces are given a glimpse of the wonder of new life, but are not spared the harsh realities of just where lunch is coming from.
Idiosyncratic TV host Marcus Lush — continuing his ratings-winning collaboration with Jam TV — goes further off the rails and further south in this five-part series about the history, environment and wildlife of Antarctica. In this short excerpt Lush disrobes for the camera to experience a Scott Base three-minute shower. He also interviews the Curator of Antarctic History at Canterbury Museum who contextualises Captain Scott's 1912 expedition to the Pole that departed from Lyttelton harbour as being "very similar to blasting off to the moon from Hagley Park".
This Chong-Nee music video pays tribute to a young pole dancer who is a "master of her game". Skater turned TV presenter (Target) and nightclub operator (The Pony Club) Brooke Howard-Smith plays a fan paying for a visit, while Dei Hamo grabs a comfortable seat nearby to provide guest vocals. Musician and producer John Chong-Nee had collaborated with Dei Hamo before this track — the pair worked together on 'We Gon Ride', which topped the Kiwi singles charts for five weeks in late 2004.
Marcus Lush travels from the vast Kaingaroa Forest to New Zealand's busiest rail junction (at Hamilton), in this instalment of his popular show about the country's railways. Along the way, he meets a legless train accident survivor turned motivational speaker; potter Barry Brickell and his 3km narrow gauge railway at Driving Creek in the Coromandel; and a collector with more than 2,700 rail related items. There's also a visit to Waihi. Transformed into a boomtown by gold and rail in the 1870s, it was home to the might and power of the Victoria stamper battery.
Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt ventures into the wilds of Borneo for this full-length Intrepid Journeys episode. His time in the jungles of Malaysia's Sabah region proves to be both beautiful and frightening; his sleeping arrangements are "pure unadulterated hell". After pushing himself to the limit climbing Mount Kinabalu and encountering a lethal pit viper snake, Shadbolt is moved by visits to sea turtles on Turtle Island, and the Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Sepilok. Orangutans are endangered in the area because they are losing their forest habitat to palm oil plantations.
In this full-length Intrepid Journey actor/director Katie Wolfe takes her "appalling sense of direction" to China, a country caught between old ways and new. Wolfe travels by plane, boat, cyclo and train, which she calls "the perfect way to travel". She does three days in the Blade Runner-like cityscapes of Shanghai, where she meets an 86-year-old dancer, and visits the Forbidden City of Beijing. Wolfe also heads up the Yangtze River, visiting ghostly cities and apartment blocks, drained of people by major dam construction — before stumbling upon a most effective way to haggle.
Hugh Sundae travels to the world's second-largest landlocked country: Mongolia. Normally unenthusiastic about travel or partaking in foods doused in yak butter, Sundae discovers that the presence of a camera adds courage to his journey. The courage proves helpful while sharing accommodation and food in a series of gers (also known as yurts) — portable houses used by the nomads of Central Asia. Sundae's trip includes camels, wrestling, Mongolian throat singing — plus trying to survive a meal made from sour milk and curd, without causing offense.
Jon Gadsby visits Myanmar (formerly Burma) and discovers an achingly beautiful country. But behind endless golden temples and scenes from Kipling, Gadsby finds "a place of contradiction" where many live in abject poverty, controlled absolutely by their military government (most famously the ongoing house arrest of democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi). When Gadsby visits, it is not a country to be travelled to lightly. He finds the locals to be open and willing to play host; yet he is struck overall by their "sad beauty".
In Peru, beauty and poverty go hand in hand. Westie comedian Ewen Gilmour begins his Peruvian journey in Lima, the capital - which he describes as a "sprawling, largely chaotic urban mess". Locals offer drugs and warn of muggers, but there are lighter moments when Gilmour entertains an enthusiastic audience in the city's historic centre, despite speaking only un poco Español. Later the former stonemason is impressed by the precision stonework in the ancient hilltop city of Machu Picchu, and visits locals who live on floating islands of reeds, on Lake Titicaca.
Actor Danielle Cormack travels through Jordan and Syria, and discovers a different reality from western perceptions of the Middle East. Cormack engages with countries awash with ancient history, warm people and picturesque vistas. Highlights of Cormack's trip include visiting the natural wonders of the Dead Sea and the desert valley of Wadi Rum. She stays in a Bedouin tent, and witnesses the man-made spectacles of Petra — the ancient rose city carved out of stone — Roman amphitheatres, and the Crusader castle of Crac des Chevaliers.
Marcus Lush goes "right up the guts" of the North Island from Wairarapa to Gisborne, in this episode of his award-winning romance with New Zealand's railways. He meets railcar restorers and recounts the murders by rail porter Rowland Edwards in 1884. Particular praise is reserved for the "spectacular and beautiful" Napier to Gisborne line (now mothballed) with its viaducts at Mohaka and Kopuawhara. The latter is on the site of a flash flood that killed 21 workers in 1938; it inspires an idiosyncratic Lush demonstration of Aotearoa's then 10 worst disasters.