John Bates is a documentary director whose low profile and natural modesty belies his talent. His award-winning documentaries range across many iconic New Zealand people and events, including the 1951 waterfront dispute, the 1975 Māori Land March, late photographer Robin Morrison, and the history of television itself. 

Documentaries that search for (and stay loyal to) the truth are essential in a world that gives credence to “alternative facts”. John Bates

Hikoi - The Land March

2016, Director - Television

Inconceivable

2016, Editor - Television

Murupara Dreaming

2015, Director - Television

Keeping it Pure

2014, Director, Producer - Television

Through the Lens - The First 10 Years of Māori Television

2014, Story Editor - Television

This 2014 documentary celebrates Māori Television’s first decade. It begins by backgrounding campaigns that led to the channel (despite many naysayers). Interviews with key figures convey the channel's kaupapa – preserving the past and te reo, while eyeing the future. A wide-ranging survey of innovative programming showcases the positive depictions of Māoridom, from fresh Waitangi, Anzac Day, basketball and 2011 Rugby World Cup coverage, to Te Ao Māori takes on genres like current affairs and reality TV (eg Native Affairs, Homai Te Pakipaki, Kai Time on the Road, Code, and more).

Christine Hellyar - Artist and Naturalist

2013, Co-Director, Producer - Television

50 Years of New Zealand Television

2010, Director, Producer - Television

This major documentary series chronicles the first half century of Kiwi television. Made for the Prime network (after being declined by TVNZ), it examines the medium’s evolution across seven episodes. After an opening 70 minute overview, individual programmes covered the stories of sport, entertainment, drama and comedy, protest coverage, New Zealand identity and Māori television — with an impressive array of interviews, and 50 years worth of telly highlights. John Bates was nominated for Best Documentary Director at the 2011 Aotearoa Film and TV Awards.

50 Years of New Zealand Television: 1 - From One Channel to One Hundred

2010, Director, Producer - Television

The opening episode of the Prime TV series celebrating 50 years of New Zealand television travels from an opening night puppet show in 1960, through to Outrageous Fortune five decades later. It traverses the medium's development and its major turning points (including the rise of programme-making and news, networking, colour and the arrival of TV3, Prime, NZ On Air, Sky and Māori Television). Many of the major players are interviewed. The changing nature of the NZ living room — always with the telly in pride of place as modern hearth — is a story within the story.

50 Years of New Zealand Television: 2 - The Whole World's Watching

2010, Director, Producer - Television

The birth of television in the 1960s meant that suddenly protests and civil unrest could be broadcast directly into Kiwi homes. This episode of 50 Years of New Zealand Television looks at many of those events — involving everything from the Vietnam War and the Springbok tour, to Bastion Point and the Homosexual Law Reform Act. It also examines how being televised altered their impact. Interviews with both protestors and reporters provide a unique insight into what it was like to be living through extraordinary periods of New Zealand history.

50 Years of New Zealand Television: 3 - Let Us Entertain You

2010, Director, Producer - Television

This edition of Prime TV’s history of New Zealand television looks at 50 years of entertainment. The smorgasbord of music, comedy and variety shows ranges from 60s pop stars to Popstars, from the anarchy of Blerta to the anarchy of Telethon, from Radio with Pictures to Dancing with the Stars. Music television moves from C’mon and country, to punk and hip hop videos. Comedy follows the formative Fred Dagg and Billy T, through to Eating Media Lunch and 7 Days. A roll call of New Zealand entertainers muse on seeing Kiwis laugh, sing and shimmy on the small screen.

50 Years of New Zealand Television: 4 - Winners and Losers

2010, Director, Producer - Television

This fourth episode in Prime’s series on Kiwi television history series charts 50 years of sports on TV. Interviews with veteran broadcasters are mixed with clips of classic sporting moments. Changes in technology are surveyed: from live broadcasts and colour TV, to slo-mo replays and CGI graphics. Sports coverage is framed as a national campfire where Kiwis have been able to share in test match, Olympic, Commonwealth and World Cup triumphs and disasters — from emotional national anthems and inspirational Paralympians, to underarm deliveries, snapped masts and face-plants.

50 Years of New Zealand Television: 5 - Telling Stories

2010, Director, Producer - Television

From early teleplay The Evening Paper to the edgy Outrageous Fortune, this episode of 50 Years of New Zealand Television talks drama and comedy. Key players, from actors to executives, recall a host of signposts in the development of storytelling on Kiwi TV screens. John Clarke recalls 1970s sitcom Buck's House; Paul Maunder remembers the drama that likely helped introduce the DPB; and TV executive John McRae recalls worries about the projected cost of global hit Hunter's Gold, and mentioning the word 'placenta' on the first episode of Shortland Street.  

50 Years of New Zealand Television: 6 - A Sense of Identity

2010, Director, Producer - Television

When TV began in New Zealand in 1960, posh English accents on screen were de rigueur. As veteran broadcaster Judy Callingham recalls in this sixth episode of Kiwi TV history: "every trace of a New Zealand vowel was knocked out of you." But as ties to Mother England weakened, Kiwis began to feel proud of their identity and culture. John Clarke invented farming comedy legend Fred Dagg, while Karyn Hay showed a Kiwi accent could be cool on Radio with Pictures. Sam Neill and director Geoff Murphy add their  thoughts on the changing ways that Kiwis saw themselves.

50 Years of New Zealand Television: 7 - Taonga TV

2010, Producer - Television

This edition in Prime’s television history series surveys Māori programming. Director Tainui Stephens pairs societal change (urbanisation, protest, cultural resurgence) with an increasing Māori presence in front of and behind the camera. Interviews with broadcasters are intercut with Māori screen content. The episode charts an evolution from Māori as exotic extras, via pioneering documentaries, drama and current affairs, to being an intrinsic part of Aotearoa’s screen landscape, with te reo used on national news, and Māori telling their own stories on Māori Television.

Crime and Punishment

2008, Director, Producer - Television

Beyond the Darklands

2008 - 2009, Director, Producer - Television

Reflections - Gretchen Albrecht

2006, Co-Director, Producer - Television

From the late 1980s, Gretchen Albrecht's richly-coloured large abstract paintings made her reputation in New Zealand. This documentary (made for TV One's Artsville series) traces the development of Albrecht's work from her art school years, through to a developing interest in sculpture. Interspersed with commentary from family, collectors, writers, and art historians, Albretcht discusses her life, and the ideas and influences that inform her work. In the studio, her working methods are revealed as she is capturing creating new work.

Contemplating The Landscape - Stanley Palmer in Karamea

2005, Director, Producer - Television

Missing Out

2004, Producer - Television

New Faces Old Fears

2004, Co-Director, Producer - Television

Nominated for a Qantas Media Award, this documentary examines prejudices against Asians in New Zealand, amidst the context of burgeoning immigration (80,000 ethnic Chinese and 20,000 Koreans have arrived in NZ since 1988). Directors John Bates and Manying Ip look back at the history of Asian settlement in Aotearoa, from colonial xenophobia and the poll tax inflicted only on Chinese migrants, through ‘ching chong Chinaman’ abuse, to the present day — where 21st century migrants face struggles with discrimination, language barriers and integrating in their new home. 

Gang Girls

2003, Consulting Director - Television

Gang Girls tells the story of seven women who have spent time in New Zealand’s most notorious gangs. The expose of gang women in Aotearoa features hard-hitting and emotional interviews. Winner of a Qantas Media Award for Best Documentary and nominated for three NZ Television Awards, it was produced by Claudette Hauiti's Front of the Box Productions. The company went on to to make two half-hour documentaries on teenage girl gangs: Gang Girl – Tarnz Story and Mob Daughters.

1951

2001, Director, Producer - Television

In 1951, New Zealand temporarily became a police state. Civil liberties were curtailed, freedom of speech denied, and people could be imprisoned for providing food to those involved. This documentary tells the story of the infamous lockout of waterside workers, and the extended nationwide strike which followed. There are interviews with many who were involved, from workers to journalists. 1951 won Best Documentary at the 2002 New Zealand Television Awards, and John Bates (50 Years of Television) was named Best Documentary Director. 

Coca-Cola Christmas in the Park

2000, Post-Production Director - Television

Every year around Christmas time, the Auckland Domain is lit up for a star-filled night of free Christmas celebrations. Hosted by Jay Laga’aia, this 2000 edition of the concert has “more than 300,000 people” gathered for an evening of songs, carols and fireworks. Kicking off with a Christmas rap from Anthony Ray Parker and kids, the celebrations go long into the night. Stepping up to the mic are everyone from Tina Cross, Frankie Stevens and Ainslie Allen, to the cast of Shortland Street and Mai Time. The evening is capped off with a fireworks display and the arrival of Santa Claus.

Waipu - The Search for Paradise

1999, Director, Producer

Motormania

1998, Director - Television

In this two-part documentary celebrating 100 years of cars in New Zealand, actor Rima Te Wiata (Hunt for the Wilderpeople) sets out to find out what makes motoring such a beloved Kiwi pastime. Part one sees her looking at the early impact of cars, with interviewees reminiscing about the first time they saw a motor vehicle and the changes they brought about. Part two fast forwards into the second half of the 1900s: Te Wiata admires the freedom that cars brought in the 60s and 70s, learns about the Ford V8s of postwar New Zealand, and takes a cruise in a muscle car.

Motormania - Episode One

1998, Director - Television

In the first of this two-part documentary about Kiwis and cars, actor Rima Te Wiata sets off on a road tour of New Zealand. Starting in the South Island, Te Wiata learns about the first bus tours to Aoraki, which were handled by the Mount Cook Motor Company. Then she travels to Westport via the infamous Hawks Crag, and hears from locals about the difficulties and dangers of transit before the introduction of cars. A trip back up the country takes Te Wiata to Northland, where the locals suggest they may have been better off when the primary mode of transport was by boat.

Motormania - Episode Two

1998, Director - Television

In this second part of a documentary on Kiwis and cars, host Rita Te Wiata explores motoring in the latter half of the 20th Century. She begins in Christchurch where Ford V8s were a vehicle for post-war romance, then heads to Tahuna for beach racing. Te Wiata pockets the licence she supposedly got in part one and heads to Raglan to look at the car-enabled freedom of the 60s and 70s: surfing, fishing, caravans. While downsides are mentioned (motorways, pollution, accidents), mostly it’s a paean to petrolhead passion. The tour ends with a cruise up Queen St in a muscle car.

In Deep Water

1997, Director - Television

An Immigrant Nation - Hoots Mon, The Scots in New Zealand

1996, Director, Producer - Television

Bagpipes, haggis, and the heartbreak of leaving home; Hoots Mon examines those who have migrated from Scotland to Aotearoa. In the 1840s a group of Scots settlers started a new life in Dunedin, after breaking off from the Church of Scotland. Ayrshire-born director John Bates talks to some of their descendants, and heads to the far north to interview others with Caledonian roots, in Waipu. Alongside some impressive Richard Long camerawork, the interviews include composer Steve McDonald, whose ancestral research has inspired several Celtic-themed albums. 

Banned - A History of Censorship in New Zealand

1994, Director, Producer - Television

Sense of Place: Robin Morrison, Photographer

1993, Director, Producer - Television

Director John Bates' 1993 documentary examines the life and work of photographer Robin Morrison, who captured iconic images of everyday New Zealand life and landscape. Part biography, part travelogue, the film goes on the road with Morrison to revisit some of his best-loved locations. Stunningly shot by Stuart Dryburgh (The Piano) before Morrison died on 12 March 1993, Sense of Place won Best Documentary at the 1994 New Zealand Film and Television awards, and a certificate of merit at the 37th San Francisco International Film Festival.

The Dutchman - The Making of an Opera

1992, Director, Producer - Television