John Gilbert has edited images of hobbits, disabled lovers, and heroic conscientious objectors. Along the way he has done time at TVNZ, edited over 20 feature films, and cut a clutch of classic short films. In 2017 Gilbert won his first Academy Award — for Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge — after having been previously nominated for The Fellowship of the Ring.
...you've got to have a strong spine to a film, and story and character is what tends to capture an audience, and then you can attempt to look at doing it well, in a colourful, entertaining way. But you've got to make that backbone first. That's what editing's all about. John Gilbert, in a May 2011 interview with website Den of Geek
Iaheto Ah Hi's play Tautai involved an urban car thief emulating his Tokelauan fishing ancestors — only instead of hunting sharks, he hunted cars. Twelve years and 27 drafts after first seeing the play, director Michael Bennett and co-writer Gavin Strawhan intertwined Tautai's story with seven other characters, each impacted by one moment of violence. Praising the "excellent ensemble" and Don McGlashan score, Herald reviewer Peter Calder argued that Matariki delivers "a touching series of intersecting stories about the fragility of life and the redeeming power of love".
The second feature film directed by writer Anthony McCarten (Ladies' Night) is a small tale with some big themes. Set in a New Plymouth car yard, the film chronicles an endurance contest in which a car will be awarded to the person who manages to keep their hands on it the longest. As night falls, solo mother Jess (Melanie Lynskey) finds herself fending off the attentions of an obstinate competitor (Craig Hall), with a much harsher vision of the world than hers. Inspired by similar real-life contests, McCarten based the film on his novel Endurance.
Inspired by the ageing Burt Munro — who took his home-engineered motorbike to America, and won a land speed record — this passion project was Roger Donaldson's first locally made film in two decades. Variety called it a "geriatric Rocky on wheels”; Roger Ebert praised Anthony Hopkins' performance as one of the most endearing of his career. The result sold to 126 countries, spent five weeks in the Australian top six, and became Aotearoa's highest-grossing local film — until Boy in 2010. Alongside an excerpt and making of material, Costa Botes writes about the film here.
Serial Killers pokes fun at a group of characters that write for a Shortland Street-esque TV soap called Heart of Hearts. Around the "table of pain" sit irrational Pauline (Robyn Malcolm, who claimed a 2005 Qantas Award for her performance), in the midst of a messy divorce from series co-creator Alan (John Leigh); boozy ex-nurse Simone; name-dropper Matt (Oliver Driver); and ditzy ingénue Elaine. Created by prolific writer James Griffin (Outrageous Fortune, Gloss, Mercy Peak, Shortland Street etc) and based on his award-winning play, it screened in 2005.
One summer’s day, teenaged Jayde (Atarangi Manley) and Wiremu (Darcey-Ray Flavell-Hudson) tag along with their older siblings on a trip to a local swimming hole; young passions ignite by the Rotorua hot pool. Later, tragedy occurs and Jayde faces lost innocence and the ritual of tangi while bearing a secret. Michael Bennett’s short — cutting between Jayde’s experience of the day and its aftermath — was shot in his Te Arawa home environs. It won selection for the 2005 Berlin Film Festival; 'Mu' was an early role for Flavell-Hudson (Mt Zion, Ghost Chips ad fame).
Working from a kind of 'play within the play' premise, comedy series Serial Killers, cleverly satirises the lives of a group of TV soap writers, actors and the industry they all work for. Featuring Pauline (played by Robyn Malcolm) the permanently stressed-out screenwriter of Heart of Hearts, and her ex-partner/co-worker Alan (John Leigh), these excerpts from the 2005-screened series include the pair trying to reason with their producer (a preternaturally calm Tandi Wright) who demands the writers re-introduce a character they'd formerly killed off.
One night at the pub Melanie (Rachel Blake) meets a handsome stranger (Sam Neill) and accepts his invitation to go back to his place. When they board his boat she finds out that this is further than she thought (a shack on a deserted island). Once they arrive he treats her like a princess - however it slowly dawns on her that she's been kidnapped. Terrified, she also knows that he's her only way off the island. As events play out in Gaylene Preston's twisted fairytale, Melanie's feelings change from anger and fear - to desire.
Actor Wi Kuki Kaa (1938 - 2006) plays Tiare, a Vietnam War veteran who is dislocated by his experiences of war, and homelessness. He wanders the city streets, collecting ephemera in plastic bags. Nancy Brunning plays his daughter, who, with her own daughter, visits their reluctant koro (old man) to convince him to visit his ancestral home. The result is a moving story about a man jolted to find his turangawaewae (place to stand), and the whanau that helps him get there. Directed by Peter Burger, the film was selected for Critics' Week at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival.
The Fellowship of the Ring was the film that brought Peter Jackson's talents to a mass international audience. A year after its release, the first instalment of his adaptation of Tolkien's beloved tale of heroic hobbits was the seventh most successful film of all-time. Critic David Ansen (Newsweek) was one of many to praise the fan-appeasing Frodo-centric take, for its "high-flying risks: it wears its earnestness, and its heart, on its muddy, blood-streaking sleeve." At 2002's Academy Awards, Weta maestro Richard Taylor became the first Kiwi to win two Oscars on one night.
Over four seasons, Street Legal’s slick Kiwi take on urban crime and law genres racked up a stack of award nominations - including a 2003 NZ TV Award for best drama series. Although initially wary that the Auckland setting might alienate viewers, writer Greg McGee chose a Samoan lawyer (Jay Laga’aia) as his main character, to exploit the show’s inner-city Ponsonby setting (where cafe society bumps into Pacific Island immigrant culture). Other key characters included Silesi’s lawyer ex-girlfriend Joni, and her new partner Kees, an overstressed sergeant.
Duggan features 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, scripted by Donna Malane and Ken Duncum, and produced by The Gibson Group; the series followed on from introductory tele-features Death in Paradise and Sins of the Father. The turquoise waters of The Sounds (shot in a number of episodes by Leon Narbey) make for an evocative setting in this sharp, classy Kiwi whodunit.
After her son Kamal Bamadhaj — a New Zealand Malaysian student of history and Indonesian politics — was shot dead in the Dili massacre in East Timor in 1991, New Zealander Helen Todd decided to pursue a law suit against the Indonesian general she believed was responsible. Her personal and political campaign for justice would eventually span five continents and four years. The documentary from director Annie Goldson (An Island Calling) won acclaim, and a number of awards at international film festivals.
One of a trio of late 90s Kiwi crime-based pilots, Street Legal was the only one that would successfully spawn a series - four series, in fact (though Kevin Smith vehicle Lawless saw two further tele-movies). The Street Legal pilot provides a stylish big city template for the show to come, as Auckland criminal lawyer David Silesi (Jay Laga-aia) enlists the help of an over- enthusiastic journalist (Sara Wiseman) in the hope of winning an out-of-court settlement over a hit and run case. Meanwhile Silesi's lawyer girlfriend smells something fishy - with good reason.
This bawdy backblocks comedy follows the efforts of a couple of middle-aged siblings to adjust to life after the death of Mother (Dorothy McKegg). The brothers dim (Mark Hadlow, Sean Duffy) are lost without Mum's cooking and her advice on Judy Bailey’s attractiveness and getting too close to goats … until the hired help (Alison Bruce) arrives. The short film was the first production of Big House, a collaboration between director Mike Smith and editor John Gilbert. Invited to the revered Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival in 1999, it inspired a hit TV series of the same name.
"I hope you're braver than your brother." A young schoolboy (James Ordish) finds his day plunging into nightmare, when he gets called in for a session with the school dental nurse. The nurse (a sly performance by future casting director Tina Cleary) seems to take pleasure in other people's pain. Directed by cinematographer Warrick ‘Waka' Attewell (Starlight Hotel), this short film for the dental wary was written by Ken Hammon, who was part of the team behind Peter Jackson's debut feature, splatter flick Bad Taste.
The first movie written and directed by playwright Anthony McCarten is a portrait of a family melting down under the media spotlight. The comedy/drama stars Danielle Cormack in two roles — as a swimmer on the cusp of Olympic glory, and as the twin sister back home, looking on as her family descends into spats and bickering as they find the pressure to perform too much to bear. Via Satellite showcases a topline cast, including Tim Balme, Rima Te Wiata, and a scene-stealing and heavily-pregnant Jodie Dorday, who won an NZ TV and Film Award for her work.
Two young men (played by Kingpin's Faifua Amiga and Michael Sengelow) spend an afternoon drinking, boasting about their sexual prowess, scaring some roving evangelists — and accidentally summoning Satan, after their turntable starts playing records backwards. Satan (played for some of the time by screen legend Ian Mune) promises them everything they desire, so long as they can offer him the blood of a virgin in an hour. A comedy featuring possessed voices, jokes about bodily fluids and a Devil who can change genders. Note: some content may offend.
Are workplaces a chance for mutual gain, or is it only the higher ups that benefit? Dean Parker's award-winning script for this Sunday TV drama certainly doesn't duck the awkward questions. Joel Tobeck and Luisa Burgess play Bosco and Selena, who get factory jobs as assembly workers, get it on, then take opposing sides on motivational talks by management. Conscious the story would be punctuated with advertisements, Parker decided to counterattack by slipping in occasional clips from an interview with legendary unionist Jock Barnes. Later Parker turned the film into a play.
After a run of hit short films involving creatures on the run, Chicken marked the feature debut of director Grant Lahood. Brit Bryan Marshall stars as Dwight, a fading pop star who fakes his own death as a career move. Meanwhile a crazed fowl rights-activist (Cliff Curtis), angered at Dwight's promotions for fried chicken, plots revenge. Though the romantic black comedy tanked at the box office, the story and performances did receive some positive notice with Metro reviewer Rick Bryant finding it "very funny ... very enjoyable".
A behind the scenes look at the work of a veteran actor, Ian Mune, as he prepares to tackle one of the most difficult leading roles in classical theatre. "If you're gonna climb hills, why not Everest?" he says. The unorthodox approach of Theatre At Large directors, Christian Penny and Anna Marbrook seems to err on the side of playfulness. But viewers are shown there is a method to their madness, when telling sections of the bard's drama are enacted in beautifully lit tableaus.
Peter Jackson’s fifth feature is a playful blend of comedy, thriller and supernatural horror and was an effective Hollywood calling card for Weta FX. Frank Bannister (Michael J Fox) resides in Fairwater, where he runs a supernatural scam. Aided by some spectral consorts, he engineers hauntings and “exorcises” the ghosts for a fee. When a genuine spook starts knocking off the locals, the FBI suspects Frank is the culprit. To clear his name, Frank must deal to the real perpetrator – none other than the Grim Reaper ...
Swimming Lessons is the story of jaded swimming coach Jim Sadler (Marshall - Came a Hot Friday, The Navigator - Napier) and a spirited seven-year-old delinquent who comes under his instruction. The troubled Samoan boy is a potential champion, but the challenges of training him force the coach to confront his own failings in life: one as seemingly straight as the pool's lane line. Directed by Steve La Hood, Swimming Lessons won two NZ TV Awards. It screened as part of Montana Sunday Theatre and was the TV producing debut for Philippa Campbell.
This acclaimed Gibson Group series was set behind the scenes on a current affairs programme. Katie Wolfe plays stroppy journalist Amanda Robbins, hired for her tabloid style in a bid to raise the show's ratings. In this excerpt from episode two, a surrogate pregnancy turns into a nasty custody battle. Amanda chases the story, whatever the cost (journalistic ethics included) and acquaints herself with the surrogate. But then her in-house rival Liz (Jennifer Ludlam, who won a TV award for this episode) gets a scoop interview with the parents of the disputed child.
This series centred on a weekly TV current affairs programme in mid-90s Wellington. Katie Wolfe stars as stroppy journalist Amanda Robbins: lured back from Australia for her tabloid style in an effort to boost the show's ratings. Tackling timely storylines and shot ‘handheld’ in the NYPD Blue-inspired style, the TV3 series was well reviewed but faced its own ratings struggles (a later series screened on TV One). It was Gibson Group’s second foray into producing a TV drama series, after Shark in the Park. A pre-Lord of the Rings Fran Walsh was a series writer.
This tale of a girl, her dog and a strange old man sees the tomboyish Daphne gleefully ruining a wedding, before her imagination unleashes monstrous forces. Made under the umbrella of Peter Jackson's company Wingnut Films in the early days of FX maestros Weta, Dirty Creature features contributions from many longtime Jackson cohorts, including Weta's Richard Taylor. Directed and co-written by Grant Campbell (who worked on Bad Taste), the film shares the anarchic, child-like spirit — plus a little of the crimson food colouring — of Jackson's early features.
This film documents Miranda Harcourt taking her stageplay Verbatim (written by Harcourt and William Brandt) to prison audiences. The play is a six-character monologue made up of accounts of violent crime, all performed by Harcourt. Director Shirley Horrocks captures the reactions of the prison inmates watching their own lives unfold on stage. Harcourt’s powerful performance is augmented with revealing testimonies of the broken men and women who agree to be interviewed. The documentary won the premier prize at the 1993 Media Peace Awards.
In director Garth Maxwell’s 1993 gothic horror twins Jack and Dora (late US actor Alexis Arquette and Kiwi Sarah Smuts-Kennedy) are separated while young; their adult reunion sees them battling the trauma of their past while being pursued by Jack’s sadistic step sisters. Complete with ESP,and a steam-driven hypnosis machine, Maxwell makes an exuberant and surreal contribution to the cinema of unease. New York Times’ Stephen Holden lauded the heady head-spinner as “a superior genre film” with a “feverish intensity that recalls scenes from Hitchcock and De Palma.”
This documentary follows two young people with significant disabilities — Miles Roelants and Shelly West (real name Michelle Belesarius) — as they move into a flat together and face considerable challenges. Shelly is blind with rheumatoid arthritis, and Miles has spina bifida. The film provoked public debate at the time of screening about disabled peoples' right to live ‘normal’ lives. This was the first of several documentaries about Belesarius including the high-rating Shelly Has A Baby and Mum, Dad and Michela. She died in 2010.
Marlin Bay was a drama series following the comings and goings of a far-north resort and casino. Andy Anderson, Ilona Rogers, Don Selwyn, Pete Smith, Katie Wolfe and others made up the cast of earthy locals, wealthy foreigners, and city weekenders. Created by writer Greg McGee, Marlin Bay was one of the first primetime drama series from South Pacific Pictures. Kevin Smith received a 1995 Best Supporting Actor nod for his role as villain Paul Cosic.
Crush is a tale of simmering sexuality set in Rotorua. Moral or sexual ambiguity pervades the narrative of conflicted desire. Its mix of blocked-up writer, spurting mud-pools, infatuated teen, eel farm, American femme fatale (Marcia Gay Harden), noir motels, limp pongas and wheelchairs, plays out in a symbolic NZ landscape not seen before (or since). Director Alison Maclean's debut feature (which she co-wrote with Anne Kennedy) played in competition at the Cannes Film Festival.
At any one time between mid 1942 and mid 1944, between 15,000 and 45,000 US servicemen were camped in NZ preparing for, and recovering from, war in the Pacific. The marines brought colour and drama to the austerity of home front life. Fifty years later this TV documentary used interviews, reenactments and archive material to explore the “American invasion”. Sonja Davies recalls a Wellington street fight kicked off by a racist insult directed at Māori, and her wartime pregnancy and romance (1,500 marriages ensued from “when the Americans were here”).
Donogh Rees stars as Jo, a wife on the brink of madness in this short film from Christine Parker (Channelling Baby). Jo, who struggles to deal with raw meat in the kitchen, lapses into a dream-state and fantasies about fronting a girl group (featuring backing singers costumed as the Virgin Mary, a dominatrix and a Barbie doll). Flashbacks show her partner James (Alistair Browning) arriving home drunk and she goes alone to a dinner party where the host asks about his absence. The story is based on Waiting for Jim, an original story by author Frances Cherry.
This thought provoking documentary tracks severely disabled Miles Roelants from his 21st birthday through a year that culminates in him meeting his hero, actor Michael J Fox, in Los Angeles. Roelants was born with spina bifida and his own interviews with his parents and siblings candidly confront the challenges faced by families with a disabled child. Also featured is Shelly West (real name Michelle Belesarius) who is blind with rheumatoid arthritis; despite that she is planning a trip to Italy. Miles Turns 21 was the first of a series of docos featuring the pair.
Why did the snail cross the road? This debut short from Grant (Singing Trophy, Lemming Aid) Lahood provides the answer in a four minute time-lapse adventure. With the world whizzing by at 'snail’s pace' (filmed from the snail's temporal — and aural — point of view), the mollusc-on-a-mission faces skaters, high heels, cars and Doc Martens in its epic quest for an iceberg lettuce (displayed outside Patel's Dairy, Berhampore). Snail's Pace gained festival screenings and TV sales around the world, and launched then-lighting cameraman Lahood’s directorial career.
Although The Tumbleweeds toured beyond Otago only occasionally, they provided many New Zealanders with their first exposure to country music. Almost 40 years into the band's career, Stephen Latty (Opera in the Outback) got some of their songs and memories down for this half-hour film. The band describe influences, costumes, and their own mid-tour double wedding. Country music expert Garth Gibson praises the "quite famous harmony sound" of sisters Myra and Nola Hewitt. Then The Tumbleweeds hit the road for Gore's Gold Guitar Awards, to perform 'Maple on the Hill'.
In the 1930s aviatrix Jean Batten broke solo distance flying records and achieved international fame. Directed by her biographer, Ian Mackersey, Garbo of the Skies chronicles Batten's life through archive footage, interviews, narration from her unpublished memoirs and reconstructions of her epic flights. The film also reveals a lonely private world: a domineering mother, romantic tragedy, an itinerant fall into obscurity, and death in a Majorcan hotel (a mystery solved by research for the film). It screened on TVNZ, and sold to Discovery Channel and the BBC.
Opera in the Outback offers a wry, fly on the wall view of the lead-up to a most unusual event: the first concert by Kiri Te Kanawa in the Australian outback. Kiwi director Stephen Latty and writer Michael Heath realise the people are the story, from affable locals to those preparing for 9000 joyful, sometimes drunken arrivals. The inhabitants of Beltana — population roughly 12 — risk building a new racetrack for visitors less operatically inclined, while Australian National Railways send all the rolling stock they can. Some of the Kiwi film crew were awake for 52 hours, trying to capture it all.
A big smoke cousin to Mortimer's Patch, Shark in the Park was NZ's first urban cop show and first true genre police drama. Devised by Graham Tetley, it portrayed a unit policing Wellington's inner city under the guidance of Inspector Brian "Sharkie" Finn (Jeffrey Thomas). With its focus on the working lives of the officers, it was firmly in the mould of overseas programmes like The Bill and Hill Street Blues. The first of three series was the last in-house production for TVNZ's drama department. The other two were made independently by The Gibson Group.
The zenith of Don McGlashan and Harry Sinclair's legendary Front Lawn collaborations, this iconic Kiwi short follows two men and one woman on a rainy night at a deserted bar. Pivoting on amnesia and woven together by music, two timeframes are seamlessly combined and a darkly humorous plot unfolds. The film had a wide international release (Ireland to Norway, Germany to the USA) and was a finalist in the inaugural American Film Festival.
This documentary comprehensively traces the history of skiing and winter sports in New Zealand. From Mannering and Dixon, who used homemade skis in an almost-successful ascent of Mt Cook and the hut-building pioneers of recreational ski clubs in their pre-Gore-tex garb, to commercial ski fields and lifts, superb archive footage shows the advances. New Zealand teams at the Winter Olympics in Oslo in 1952 and Sarajevo 32 years later had come some way from the days when carrier pigeons were used to report snow conditions from Canterbury's ski fields to Christchurch.
The Haunting of Barney Palmer is a fantasy film for children about a young boy who is haunted by his great uncle. Young Barney fears that he has inherited the Scholar family curse; a suite of 80s-era effects ramp up the supernatural suspense. The film was a co-production between PBS (United States) and Wellington's Gibson Group, which resulted in Ned Beatty (Deliverance, Network) being cast. It was written by Margaret Mahy, based on her Carnegie Award-winning novel The Haunting, and an early fruitful collaboration between her and director Yvonne Mackay.
Musician Petunia (Jennifer Ludlam) and daughters Polly and Patch are tiring of their lives as land yachting "gypsies of the motorway" in the first episode of this hyperactive children's fantasy drama written by Margaret Mahy. Their salvation could be a magic house owned by Crocodile Crosby — a used car dealer with ambitions to be a pirate — but a devious land agent (Michael Wilson) and a dastardly wealthy couple stand in the way. All powerful narrator Paul Holmes orchestrates the action which features extensive use of music and period video special effects.
Petunia and her daughters Patch and Polly have moved into their decidedly unconventional dream house in the second episode of this surreal children's fantasy drama written by Margaret Mahy and directed by Yvonne McKay. Their idyllic new life of music making is soon shattered by their home handyman neighbour from hell Branchy (Grant Tilly). But he has problems of his own with the unwelcome arrival of his three long lost, grasping and perpetually hungry sons. Special guest Jon Gadsby contributes an energetic performance as pie magnate Chicken Licken.
Director Grahame McLean uses the notorious (then recent) 'Mr Asia' drug smuggling saga as fodder for this Wellington underbelly tale. Hello Sailor’s Harry Lyon headlines as a musician and ex-con who partners with a beautiful journo to investigate a global drug syndicate, in between nightclub sessions with fellow musos Beaver and Hammond Gamble. High on 80s guitar licks, Should I be Good? was made in the tax break era without Film Commission investment. McLean followed it right away with The Lie of the Land, becoming a rare Kiwi to make two movies back to back.
The Silent One is a mythological children's drama about the friendship between a deaf mute boy, Jonasi, and a rare white turtle. The boy's differences lead to suspicion from his Rarotongan village. When the village suffers drought and a devastating storm, the boy and turtle (also considered an ill omen) are blamed and ostracised. Adapted by Ian Mune from a Joy Cowley story, the beloved film was the first New Zealand dramatic feature to be directed by a woman (Yvonne Mackay). In the excerpt here, Jonasi is excluded from a boar hunt and first meets the turtle.
Mitch (Keith Aberdein) moves to Tongariro National Park to help wrangle wild horses threatening ecology and traffic. He meets Sara, who shares an obsession for a fabled silver horse. They clash with rangers and deer recovery guns-for-hire (Bruno Lawrence is the black-clad villain) determined to eradicate the horses, and a showdown on the Desert Plateau ensues. In the notoriously fraught production a stable of Kiwi acting legends perform a melange of western and freedom-on-the-range genre turns (with the conservationists oddly set up as the bad guys).
In this tale of an English servant woman doing it hard down under, Lizzie (Sarah Peirse, who won a Feltex) finds herself trapped on a rundown Canterbury sheep farm alongside three men: one mean, one silent, and one simple-minded (Bruno Lawrence, in one of his favourite roles). Directed by David Blyth between his edgy debut Angel Mine and splatter-fest Death Warmed Up, this pioneer tale was written by English author Elizabeth Gowans. Newbie scribe Fran Walsh later extended the film to tele-movie length, from its original incarnation as A Woman of Good Character.
Anthropologist Max Scarry goes missing in Fiordland, while searching for a fabled Māori tribe. The local policeman believes Max broke local tapu. Max's partner Ruth sets off with his twin brother, murder suspect Edward, to try to unravel the mystery. John Laing's second feature attempts an ambitious Hitchcockian plot, and the cast — especially John Bach's terse doppelganger performance — testifies to the talent on hand in the early days of the Kiwi film renaissance. Atmospheric camerawork makes the most of damp Wellington, and remote bush settings.
No ordinary Christmas tale, The Monster’s Christmas throws viewers into a world of friendly creatures, talking hot pools and witches with gym equipment in their cave lairs. Child find Lucy McGrath revels in the role of a plucky girl who encounters a one-eyed monster with smoke billowing from his head. The monsters need her help to steal their voices back from an evil witch. The stylings of the live action creatures were influenced by the volcanic North Island locations, and designed by Janet Williamson and cartoonist Burton Silver. Yvonne Mackay (Kaitangata Twitch) directs.
In 1975 TV One launched with a flagship 6.30 news bulletin which went largely unchanged with the move to TVNZ in 1980. In a 1987 revamp, it became the Network News with dual newsreaders Judy Bailey and Neil Billington (replaced by Richard Long). In 1988, the half hour programme moved to 6pm. With the advent of TV3 in late 1989, it was rebranded One Network News; and, from 1995, extended to an hour. The ill-fated replacing of Long with John Hawkesby in 1999 saw it make headlines rather than report them. In 1999, there was another name change to One News.