Kiwi acting legend Jennifer Ward-Lealand began acting at age seven; her first screen role followed at age nine. Since then she has starred in big screen dramas Desperate Remedies and Vermilion to critical acclaim, and appeared in a long run of television shows, from TV drama Danny and Raewyn to Australian comedy show Full Frontal.
I'm not interested in an actor's delivery of dialogue, that's a stage technique. I'm after subtext and subtlety and body language, and she's got all that. The Footstep Man director Leon Narbey, on Jennifer Ward-Lealand
Movie Vermilion follows composer Darcy (Jennifer Ward-Lealand) over a summer month, as her daughter prepares to marry. Darcy sees colours when she plays musical notes, but after seeing the colour vermilion she is prompted to secretly make her own plans. The exploration of motherhood, family and female friendship marks the feature debut of director Dorthe Scheffmann (Cannes-selected 1995 short film The Beach). The ensemble cast includes Theresa Healey, Goretti Chadwick (Game of Bros), and newcomer Emily Campbell. The production team were 85 per cent female.
The colourful world of competitive kapa haka is the backdrop for this comedy/drama. The Ring Inz captures conflict and aroha for a hapless group of competitors trying to get it together for the national champs. Directed by onetime kapa haka performer Mahanga Pihama (Kia Ora Hola) for Enter the Dragon Productions, the seven-episode series debuted on Māori Television on Thursday nights. The cast mixes new talents with familiar screen faces like Hori Ahipene and Katie Wolfe (who originally joined the show as one of the writing team).
When German director Peter Falkenberg moved to Christchurch in the 1970s, he faced disdain from conservative locals after setting up avant-garde theatre company Free Theatre. The group was still going strong almost four decades later. Director Shirley Horrocks spent six years capturing their colourful and controversial history, and filming them in action. Interviewees in the 76 minute documentary include director Stuart McKenzie, who reflects on how out there the group was in the early 1980s, and founding member Nick Frost, who recalls when people tried to shut them down.
After showing she could definitely generate a headline from an interview (when she quizzed Bachelor winner Art Green on matters sexual, in a 2015 NZ Herald web series) Anika Moa got her own chat show on Māori Television in 2016. The couch interview format saw Moa interview guests and review media in her trademark candid style, from actors Cliff Curtis and Lucy Lawless to politician Chloe Swarbrick. Eleven 30-minute episodes were made for series one; a second series began in 2017. The series won praise for its fresh (non white male) perspective.
A year on from moving in together, three friends and their surrogate flatmate drink and date their way around Auckland in this second series of Auckward Love. Flatmates Alice (Holly Shervey), Vicky (Lucinda Hare) and Grace (Jess Holly Bates), plus friend Zoe (Jess Sayer), face up to the harsh reality that life in your 20s can be full of tough lessons. Grace loses her sparkle when she finds herself in a polyamorous relationship, while Zoe has to compromise with her alcoholic father, played by John Leigh. Jennifer Ward-Lealand also features, as an enthusiastic sex toy shop worker.
In this mockumentary series, two metrosexual Māori males have six months to find a Māori bride in order to win a hefty inheritance. Created by writer Dane Giraud, the show mines comedy from being a modern Māori in the city. NZ Herald reviewer Alex Casey praised it for adding "much-needed fresh perspectives to New Zealand television comedy." The cast of the Kiel McNaughton-directed hit includes Cohen Holloway (Boy), Amanda Billing (Shortland Street), Rachel House (Whale Rider) and Siobhan Marshall (Outrageous Fortune). Jennifer Ward-Lealand narrates.
Born in Buenos Aires, artist Tom Kreisler arrived in New Zealand at age 13, studied painting at Canterbury University, taught art in New Plymouth, and spent time in Mexico. Shocked that he wasn't "in the mainstream canon of New Zealand art", documentarian Shirley Horrocks (Marti: The Passionate Eye) felt that the whimsical, subversive but publicity-shy Kreisler deserved to be better known. So Horrocks interviewed fans and friends of the late artist, and headed to Mexico to find out how the country influenced him. Tom Who? debuted at the 2015 Auckland Film Festival.
This hit Māori Television mockumentary series follows a couple of metro Māori men on a mission to claim a large inheritance…by finding a Māori bride. But in order to do so, the two 'plastic Māori' – property developer Tama Bradley (Boy's Cohen Holloway) and accountant George Alpert (singer/actor Matariki Whatarau) – must get in touch with their culture. In this first episode their unreadiness for the challenge is clear. NZ Herald's Alex Casey praised the show as a "hotbed for humour". Māori Bride was produced by the company behind webseries Auckland Daze and movie Waru.
Supposedly shot in five days on a budget of $423, the first season of award-winning web series High Road introduced audiences to lovable loser Terry Huffer, an ex rocker who DJs from a caravan in Piha. Writer/director Justin Harwood created the role of Huffer for his Piha neighbour Mark Mitchinson (Siege). Two further seasons were funded by NZ On Air. Video on Demand site Lightbox then compiled them into half-hour episodes, and commissioned a fourth. Harwood has played in indie bands The Chills and Luna, and the show's soundtrack offers fans of classic rock much to savour.
Created by Outrageous Fortune’s James Griffin and Rachel Lang, this South Pacific Pictures-produced TV3 dramedy is about a family of Norse gods who wash up in 21st Century New Zealand. Emmett Skilton stars as Axl aka Odin, who must restore his brothers' lapsed superpowers and find his wife Frigg ("no pressure, then"). But he is thwarted by Norse goddesses and Māori deities. The combo of fantastical plot and droll Kiwi bloke banter won loyal fans, who successfully campaigned for a third (and final) season. Johnsons screened on the SyFy channel in the US in 2014.
This Artsville TV documentary plucks its way through a Kiwi-focused history of the ukulele, from Waikiki to Wellington, using the dream of “godfather of Polynesian music” Bill Sevesi as its starting point: namely “that the children would be playing the ukulele all over the country.” Presenter Gemma Gracewood (of the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra) reveals the instrument’s Pacific adoption and burgeoning popularity, and meets acolytes of ‘the uke’: from Herman Pi’ikea Clark to Jennifer Ward-Lealand, to Sevesi strumming with onetime pupil Sione Aleki.
Award winning novelist Emily Perkins presents a series about “books and the people who love them”. The follow-up to her previous series The Book Show — and looking like it might be set in a graffitied bunker in Auckland’s Myers Park — it managed to be chatty without being frivolous, and to take itself seriously without being worthy. Regular features included a panel discussion about the book of the week, a visit to a book group, a guest talking about their favourite book and Finlay Macdonald highlighting a notable New Zealand book, in his ‘Under the Covers’ feature.
Near the end of his life, renowned English composer Edward Elgar composed some of the greatest music of his career. This film examines the idea that Elgar's deeply emotional Cello Concerto in E Minor was provoked by memories of his first great love, Helen Weaver, who emigrated downunder after their relationship ended. After learning that Weaver's son had been killed fighting in France, Elgar was moved to write a war requiem. The award-nominated film mixed interviews, dramatisations, and a performance of the concerto by cellist Lynn Harrell and the NZ Symphony Orchestra.
Solo mum Leeanne Rosser (Jean's Kate Elliott) is rejected by her Christian mother. She tries to stay close to her brother Brent (Jared Turner), unaware of his secret life as a thief. One day a burglary goes wrong, and a woman is badly injured. The incident causes repercussions for all the members of the two families, and relationships begin to fracture. Based on Maurice Gee's novel Crime Story, Fracture was the second feature directed by Larry Parr. Its release was delayed by the collapse of Parr's company Kahukura in 2002. The Press called Fracture "competent, confident and complex".
Early Days Yet, directed by Shirley Horrocks, is a full-length documentary about New Zealand poet Allen Curnow, made in the last months of his life. The poet talks about his life and work, and visits the places of some of his most important poems. It includes interviews with other New Zealand poets about Curnow's significance as an advocate for New Zealand poetry. As Curnow famously mused in front of a moa skeleton displayed in Canterbury Museum: "Not I, some child, born in a marvellous year / Will learn the trick of standing upright here."
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.
Kiwi Buddha follows the journey of seven-year-old Rinpoche as he becomes the first Buddhist High Lama incarnated in the Southern Hemisphere. ‘Venerable Pong Re Sung Rap Tulku Rinpoche', is a schoolboy from Kaukapakapa, north of Auckland. The film documents Rinpoche's journey as he leaves small town New Zealand behind (along with McDonalds and Pokemon) to travel to a monastery in the Himalayas where he will spend his next 20 years studying Buddhism. Kiwi Buddha sold to the National Geographic channel and to 60 territories.
In June 1886 Mt Tarawera spectacularly erupted, and this documentary tells the story of the people who were caught in the catastrophic events. Around 120 people lost their lives, and the internationally famous Pink and White Terraces were destroyed. The documentary features an animated re-creation of the eruption, archival images, interviews with descendants of those involved, and readings from written eyewitness accounts. The author of the book Tarawera, Ron Keam, is also interviewed.
This short film follows a five-year-old child (Elizabeth Morris), after her mother's paranoid delusions reach breaking point and she is put in a mental hospital. Writer/director Belinda Schmid's aim was to show how children can respond to situations partly without emotional upset, "because we have no other measure for the ways things are supposed to be, and partly by coping in ways that help us survive at the time". Jennifer Ward-Lealand plays the mother. Nominated for Best Short at the 2000 NZ Film Awards, The Painted Lady was invited to a number of international film festivals.
Duggan stars John Bach as brooding Detective Inspector Duggan, attempting to solve murders amid the tranquillity of the Marlborough Sounds. New Zealand's answer to Inspector Morse, the show was conceived by Marion McLeod, and scripted by Donna Malane and Ken Duncum. Eleven episodes of the Gibson Group series were made, following on from introductory tele-features Death in Paradise and Sins of the Father. The turquoise waters of The Sounds make for an evocative setting in this sharp, classy Kiwi whodunit. Rachel Davies writes here about Duggan's birth.
Duggan features John Bach in the title role of the brooding detective who solves murders, amid the tranquillity of the Marlborough Sounds. In this excerpt from the first part of two-parter 'A Shadow of Doubt', Duggan finds himself investigating the kidnapping of the daughter of friend Joanne Taylor (Jennifer Ward-Lealand). The suspects includes Joanne's business partner (Andy Anderson). A sharp, stylish Kiwi take on the classic English whodunit, this episode won an award for scriptwriter Donna Malane, and features evocative imagery by cinematographer Leon Narbey.
The light-hearted but star-heavy I'll Make You Happy unapologetically showcases a group of Auckland prostitutes, united by girl power — and a general distaste for their pimp (Michael Hurst). Jodie Rimmer dons many wigs and personas as Siggy, the spunky young sex worker who fends off Hurst's pleading advances, while pulling a nerdy banker (Ian Hughes) into her plans for a game-changing heist. The eclectic soundtrack is heavy on electronica, while the cast includes Rena Owen, Jennifer Ward-Lealand, dancer Taiaroa Royal, and a one-minute cameo by Lucy Lawless.
In the debut feature from writer/director Scott Reynolds, serial killer Simon (Paolo Rotondo) has been locked up for the last five years, and is being interviewed by psychologist Karen Schumaker (Rebecca Hobbs). Narrated flashbacks reveal Simon's past, the demons and bad treatment in his present, and the potential for more killing. The Ugly won rave reviews, awards at fantasy festivals in Italy and Portugal, and over 30 international sales: Variety called the film "a tricky, stylish horror", praising it's suspense, visuals, and casting. The Listener's Philip Matthews found it "genuinely creepy".
Flip & Two Twisters is Shirley Horrocks' documentary about New Zealand-born artist Len Lye. Motion maestro Lye's international reputation rests on his work as a filmmaker and kinetic sculptor, and his lively contributions to the London and New York avant-garde. The documentary explores Lye's career and ideas, with the help of historical footage and excerpts from his films. It includes footage of Lye in typically exuberant form outlining his process, introduces many of his kinetic works, and documents how some of his most ambitious plans are being realised in New Zealand.
Directed by Annie Goldson (Brother Number One), this 1995 TV documentary explores the story of Cecil Holmes, who won Cold War notoriety in 1948 when he was smeared as a communist agent, while working as a director for the National Film Unit. This excerpt — the opening 10 minutes — revisits the infamous snatching of Holmes' satchel outside Parliament, his Palmerston North upbringing, war service, and the founding of the Government's National Film Unit. There are excerpts from a 1980 interview where Holmes describes his inspirations (including UK film Night Mail).
Letter to Blanchy was a gentle back-blocks comedy co-written by A.K. Grant, Tom Scott and comedy duo, McPhail and Gadsby (who also starred). Each episode centred on the bumblings of a trio of mates living in a fictional small town: intellectual Derek (McPhail), rough-diamond Barry (Gadsby) and tradesman Ray (Rowley). The show's narration comes from a letter written to Blanchy, a friend living in the relative sophistication of Christchurch. The series was adapted for a theatre tour in 2008.
This short film marked the directorial debut of actor Michael Hurst. It screened at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival in a showcase of Kiwi shorts. The title comes from country music legend Hank Williams; more Americana staples — strangers, trains, road trips — are relocated to 1953 New Zealand. The marriage of a salesman and his wife has ended in tears. With skilful use of flashbacks, Hurst follows their respective paths with some mysterious travelling companions: Hank Williams and a railways inspector. A passing interest in Kiwi rail history will add context to the conclusion.
A trio of future Kiwi screen stars smoke, smoulder, steal — and worse — in Scott Reynolds' serpentine short noir. Kane (Marton Csokas) and his Zambesi-clad woman on the side (Danielle Cormack) set about ripping off Kane’s rich wife (Jennifer Ward-Lealand) with bloody results. Writer/director Scott Reynolds and longtime partner in crime, cinematographer Simon Raby, serve notice of their talents — and inspirations — with heady lighting, deliberately shonky back projection, and opening titles right out of Hitchcock. Muso Greg Johnson supplies the horns.
This stylishly high camp melodrama from directors Stewart Main and Peter Wells won acclaim, after debuting at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival. In the imaginary 19th-century town of Hope, draper Dorothea Brooks (Jennifer Ward-Lealand) is desperate to save her sister from the clutches of opium, sex and the dastardly Fraser. She begs hunky migrant Lawrence Hayes to help; but complications ensue. Inspired partly by 1930s and 40s Hollywood melodramas, Desperate Remedies was sumptously shot by Leon Narbey (Whale Rider). Richard King writes about the film here.
This TVNZ ‘home show’ explores 90s grand designs and their architects, renovation dilemmas and Kiwi personalities in their houses. This debut episode is presented by actor Jennifer Ward-Lealand and builder (and future Dunedin mayor) Dave Cull. Ward-Lealand visits architect Roger Walker in his pastel pink and green Tinakori Road home, intros a “70s Cinderella” bathroom do-up, and drops in on DJ Kevin Black’s arts and crafts-style mariner’s cottage. Cull tests a non-stick frying pan and a barn house. Date stamps include denim shirts and a saxophone theme tune.
Shortland Street is a fast-paced serial drama set in an eponymous inner city Auckland hospital. A South Pacific Pictures production, the iconic show is based around the births, deaths and marriages of the staff, family and patients. Screening five days a week on TV2 it is New Zealand’s longest running drama. Characters and lines from the show have entered the culture, most famously, "you're not in Guatemala now, Dr Ropata!". This 2007 promo, set to the theme song, collects together highlights from the first 15 years of the show.
One of a select few Kiwi dramas about filmmaking, The Footstep Man centres on a man whose job is creating footsteps and sound effects for movies. Lonely, toiling under a demanding director, Sam (Brit Steven Grimes) gets trapped between real life and reel life. Cinematographer Leon Narbey’s second movie is a portrait of the strange pressure cooker of creating films, a luminous film within a film — with Jennifer Ward-Lealand as muse to painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec — and a reminder that for all the technology involved, moviemaking is about the human touch.
By 1990, Billy T James, NZ’s most loved comedian, was recovering from a heart transplant - and trying his hand as a sitcom actor. His career was based on one liners and stand-up gags - but this Billy T James Show was a series of 26 half hour family based comedies with a clear debt to The Cosby Show. Billy was cast as a radio DJ with an Australian wife (Ilona Rodgers) and two daughters - but the trademark giggle was absent, the humour was gentler and the series never captured the public imagination. It was to be his last TV series — Billy T James died in 1991.
Performance group The Front Lawn (Don McGlashan, Harry Sinclair, and later arrival Jennifer Ward-Lealand) stretched all of their prolific talents for their final, 24 minute short film. After he whistles a certain tune, Ben (McGlashan) finds that his partner Linda (Ward-Lealand) no longer seems to be conscious. Then things get stranger: Linda catches up with an old lover (Sinclair) and faces a life-changing dilemma, while her body — awol with a tennis player on Tamaki Drive — has other plans. The surreal romance was made for TVNZ. It won Best Short at the 1990 NZ Screen Awards.
Director John Laing followed acclaimed romance Other Halves with an equally stylish but very different big city tale: a thriller in which three orphans plan an international heist to avenge the killing of one of their fathers. The expected diet of shootings, skulduggery and globetrotting accents is enlived by side trips to Geneva, songs from romantic interest Jennifer Ward-Lealand, and a cast of villains to die for (Peter Bland, Ian Mune, Anzac Wallace, Grant Tilly). When Dangerous Orphans was sold in Europe it set an early record for a New Zealand film.
This Wellington-set 80s TV series sees real estate agent Selwyn, TV producer Nardia (early turns from Temuera Morrison and Jennifer Ward-Lealand) and art student Ben (Kerry McKay) as a young trio united by a mysterious invitation. At an antique shop dinner the three adopted children discover that they share a colourful birth mother, before becoming players in a game for a legacy of $250,000 (and more existential prizes). This first episode features ouija boards and a funeral at Futuna Chapel; alongside 80s knitwear, a saxophone score and du jour animated titles.
Gritty, award-winning drama, set in Auckland suburbia. Danny and Raewyn's relationship is skating close to the edge. And so are their finances. Though the physical attraction between them remains, Raewyn is growing tired of encouraging Danny to make more effort. Then one night alcohol and memory collide with an order of black-market meat, and everything turns on its head. One of the most acclaimed episodes of the About Face series, Danny and Raewyn won funding after another episode fell through.
Pioneering soap opera Close To Home first screened in May 1975. For just over eight years, middle New Zealand found their mirror in the life and times of Wellington’s Hearte clan. At its peak in 1977, nearly one million viewers tuned in twice weekly to watch the series, which was co-created by Michael Noonan and Tony Isaac. They initially only agreed to make it on condition they got approval for The Governor. The popular family saga carved a regular niche for local drama on screen; the demands of creating a regular show helped develop the skills of Kiwi actors and crew.
After a young woman (Denise Maunder) falls pregnant, she decides to go against the tide of advice from her family and unsympathetic welfare authorities by keeping her baby. Misery and hardship ensues. Director Paul Maunder brought kitchen sink drama to NZ television with this controversial National Film Unit production. The story can claim to have effected social change, stirring up public debate about the DPB for single mothers. Keep an eye out for a young Paul Holmes as a wannabe lothario. Maunder writes about making it in this piece. Costa Botes writes about it here.