John Keir began his career as a TV reporter, and from the late 70s on was producing and directing an extended slate of documentaries. His CV includes docos about air crashes (Flight 901: The Erebus Disaster), war (Our Oldest Soldier), gender (Intersexion) crime (First Time in Prison) and the Treaty (Lost in Translation). His many collaborations with director Grant Lahood include two short films that won acclaim at Cannes.
It has been exactly the job that I wanted it to be, where you don’t have to look forward to knock-off time or smoko … You meet people that you wouldn’t otherwise meet, and every day is different. John Keir, on working in television
Is it a boy? Is it a girl? What if it’s neither? This award-winning documentary explores the world of the intersexed (formerly known as hermaphrodites) — those born with any one of 30 conditions that make their gender ambiguous. Presenter Mani Bruce Mitchell — New Zealand’s first ‘out’ intersex person — and director Grant Lahood had to travel overseas to find interviewees who would talk freely. They discuss living in a society with a binary view of gender which, at best, has made them all but invisible; and, at worst, has subjected many to damaging “corrective” surgery.
In the northern French town of Le Quesnoy, the names of local streets and landmarks serve notice of a debt to New Zealand. In the final week of World War I Kiwi soldiers freed Le Quesnoy from its German occupiers — thanks partly to a 'magic' ladder, daringly used to scale the town’s 90-foot-high ramparts. Director David Blyth heads to France for the anniversary of Le Quesnoy’s liberation, following the path of one of the liberators: his late grandfather ‘Curly’ Blyth. The doco also includes an interview with Curly, conducted by historian Christopher Pugsley.
This 2010 telefeature is based on the true crime story of South African-born Dr Colin Bouwer (played by Mark Mitchinson), who used his medical knowledge to poison and kill his wife Annette. A Dunedin doctor and policeman foiled his plot to get away with murder. Directed by Peter Burger (Until Proven Innocent), Bloodlines won gongs for actors Mitchinson and Craig Hall at the 2011 Aotearoa Film and Television Awards, and nominations for Burger's direction, Donna Malane and Paula Boock's script, and the work of actor Nathalie Boltt.
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.
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.
This third episode of Mike King’s Treaty series heads north. After the 43 signatures at Waitangi on 6 February 1840, Queen Victoria decreed that more were needed for the Treaty to gain legitimacy, and Governor Hobson took the Waitangi Sheet to the people. King talks to Professor Pat Hohepa about the role of missionaries, and his tīpuna Mohi Tawhai. He visits key Northland locales — where he hears of anti-Treaty Pākehā like ‘Cannibal’ Jack Marmon — and meets a descendant of Nopera Panakareao, who recalls his ancestor’s famous shadowy reading of the Treaty.
This fifth episode of comedian Mike King’s Treaty discovery series goes on the trail of the two sheets that travelled around the Bay of Plenty in 1840. One, carrying a forged signature, travelled east with young trader James Fedarb (King asks why, despite gathering 26 signatures in 28 days, the salesman is largely missing from the history books); the other went south with a pair of missionaries. King learns about the Te Arawa and Tūwharetoa refuseniks from Paul Tapsell — and from Tamati Kruger, the reason Fedarb didn’t venture into Tūhoe territory.
Comedian Mike King retraces the 1840 journey of the nine sheets of the Treaty of Waitangi in this 10-part series. The introductory first episode explores the epiphany that inspired King to embark on “his dream project”. He rues his Treaty ignorance and lack of te reo, shares his struggle with memory loss since he suffered a stroke in 2006; and makes an emotional return home to learn about his link to the Treaty via his tīpuna. After debuting on Waitangi weekend, 8 February 2009, Dominion Post critic Linda Burgess called it “dignified, conciliatory, informative.”
Episode two of comedian Mike King’s acclaimed Treaty of Waitangi series travels to the Bay of Islands, to talk to historians and signatory descendants, and explore the background to the Treaty's original signing: from debaucherous colonial Russell to Governor Busby’s Declaration of Independence, and William Hobson’s drafting (and controversial translation) of the Treaty. Constitutional lawyer Moana Jackson, author Jenny Haworth and MP Hone Harawira give their takes on the Treaty's birth, and its reception by Māori during this pivotal time in NZ history.
After Governor Hobson’s stroke, Willoughby Shortland stepped in and sent the Treaty south in the hope of more signatories. This fourth episode of comedian Mike King’s Treaty discovery series searches for where the sheet was signed on the Manukau Harbour. King learns of an (unfulfilled) ancient prophecy, and why Ngāti Whātua chief Apihai Te Kawau agreed to sign. King then heads across the harbour and uses his mission as an excuse to visit the Kāwhia Kai Festival, where he learns about the influence of the incoming “great white wave” on signatories.
Marae DIY is a long-running Māori Television series that brings a tangata whenua twist to the home renovation reality format: "marae knock out their 10-year plans in just four days". This Qantas Award-winning episode heads to Manutuke Marae (south of Gisborne) mid-winter in 2006. Marae DIY creator Nevak Rogers (aka Nevak Ilolahia) has Rongowhakaata whakapapa. Alongside co-presenter Te Ori Paki, Rogers plays cheerleader as her whānau rally to meet the goals: from french doors for the kitchen, to makeovers for the nannies (including a moko by Derek Lardelli).
Māori Television has staked such a claim on Anzac Day coverage that the two have almost become synonymous. The channel began its all-day Anzac coverage with an extended, award-winning broadcast in 2006. Māori Television increased mainstream media interest in its Anzac coverage by cleverly enlisting longtime TVNZ newsreader Judy Bailey to co-host with Wena Harawira. This opening 30 minutes includes the 2006 studio welcome, and live coverage of the 67th annual Auckland Dawn Parade, with narrators Tainui Stephens and historian Stephen Clarke.
Many of Aotearoa’s most successful films have been adapted from novels. This 2006 Artsville documentary looks at the process of turning books into movies. Authors Alan Duff (Once Were Warriors), Tessa Duder (Alex) and Jenny Pattrick (The Denniston Rose) reflect on the opportunity and angst of having their words turned into scripts — and maybe films. Duff reflects on DIY adaptation (What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?). Scriptwriters Ian Mune (Sleeping Dogs), Ken Catran (Alex), Riwia Brown (Warriors) and Geoff Husson (Denniston Rose) provide the adapters' perspective.
Vietnam veteran Frank Metcalfe revisits the country he served in 35 years before as a young officer, and recollects war stories, including an incident of friendly fire. This time accompanied by his son, soldier-turned-producer Matthew Metcalfe, he is gladdened by how vibrant Vietnam has become. "I look at this place, and I can't help but think what on earth were we doing." Father and son are saddened no memorial exists for Kiwis who fought in Vietnam. In 2008 the Government formally acknowledged the Vietnam service of New Zealand forces personnel.
London-based jazz saxophonist Nathan Haines returns home to perform with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, where he's accompanied by his bassist father, Kevin, and guitarist brother, Joel in a musical family reunion. They've followed different paths since the mid-80s when Nathan was 14 and they used to play as a trio (seen here in archive footage). The NZSO concert features standards and new songs from the brothers. This documentary backgrounds those songs, and follows the tricky business of melding jazz group and orchestra in rehearsal and concert.
Launching in 2005, Artsville was a long-running documentary slot showcasing New Zealand art and artists. The subjects ranged from painters and comic artists, to theatre and dance companies. Pieces varied from hour-long documentaries to multiple items compiled together, all for a late night slot on TV One. Among the directors commissioned were Mark Albiston (award-winner Magical World of Misery), Shirley Horrocks (Questions for Mr Reynolds) and Andrew Bancroft (Book to Box Office). Artsville was repeated on Freeview channel TVNZ6 (now defunct).
Gladiator: the Norm Hewitt story is the story of former All Black hooker Norm Hewitt's battle with alcoholism and his journey to redemption. After disgracing himself, a tearful public apology became a personal "defining moment" for Hewitt: he reinvented himself as a youth worker and ambassador for Outward Bound. Directed by Michael Bennet, shot by Rewa Harre and based on the best-selling biography by Michael Laws the doco takes him to meet legendary youth worker Mama Teri on the streets of South Auckland, and chronicles Hewitt's life change.
Screening each weekend after TV One's primetime news, Sunday mixes New Zealand stories with reports from overseas. The local contributions have ranged from celebrity interviews, to reports that took months to put together (including award-winning pieces on the 2008 Chinese poisoned milk scandal, and how patients were treated at Porirua Hospital). Over the years, Sunday's roster of journalists has included veterans John Hudson, Janet McIntyre, Ian Sinclair, and current presenter Miriama Kamo. The show has played in both hour and half-hour formats.
In the early hours of 1 January 1998 Ben Smart and Olivia Hope, two young partygoers in the Marlborough Sounds, were in a water taxi looking for a place to crash. They vanished and were never seen again. The investigation transfixed the nation, and led to the conviction of Scott Watson for murder. Directed for TV3 by John Keir (Flight 901: The Erebus Disaster), this 2002 documentary revisits the case from the perspective of two fathers — Gerald Hope and Chris Watson — and brings them together for the first time to talk about whether Scott Watson is guilty.
Lawrence 'Curly' Blyth volunteered for World War 1 despite being under age. In 1916 his rifle brigade was sent to the Western Front, where he fought for 23 days amongst the mud of the Somme. In the final weeks of WW1 Blyth helped liberate the strategic French town of Le Quesnoy from German forces, later winning a French Legion of Honour for his efforts. In this documentary his grandson, director David Blyth, uses interviews and stock footage to chronicle the times at war of his bossy yet personable grandad, who died in 2001, aged 105.
This documentary traces the life of intersex activist Mani Mitchell. 'Intersexual' is a term to describe a person with atypical combinations of the biological features that usually distinguish males from females. Mitchell's harrowing but ultimately inspiring story is told via candid and articulate interviews, as Mitchell talks about being made a "hospital freak show tour" by doctors, and growing up secretly 'middlesex'. The Dominion Post's Jane Bowron called Mani's Story "one of the great survivor stories". It won the 2004 Qantas Media Award for Best Documentary.
This six-part All Blacks history showpiece series was commissioned by TVNZ in time for the lead-in to the 1999 Rugby World Cup. Broadcaster Keith Quinn and a six-person crew set off on "one of the most enjoyable and stimulating experiences" of Quinn's career. With Quinn as a genial guide (as both fan and expert), the episodes are framed around the All Blacks’ great rivalries with Britain, South Africa, and Australia; the Rugby World Cup; All Black captains and coaches, and a fascinating episode dedicated to the shift to professionalism after the 1995 World Cup.
Screened in the lead-up to the 1999 World Cup final, this keenly-watched series explores the history of our most famous sports team. Episode one is framed around All Black encounters with England, Wales and Scotland. In these excerpts, Quinn tracks down 60s test prop 'Jazz' Muller (whose home is a shrine to touring days), explores prop Keith Murdoch’s infamous 1972 tour expulsion; visits the marae of George Nepia, examines rugby’s far-from-egalitarian status in England; and various All Blacks recall the rare shame of losing, amidst a history of victory.
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 and musician Rick Bryant finding it "very funny ... very enjoyable".
Hour-long prime time current affairs slot Assignment replaced TVNZ's long-running Frontline in 1995, after Frontline had won controversy for a couple of its stories. A number of Frontline veterans moved across to the new series, including Susan Wood, Rod Vaughan, and Rob Harley. Vaughan and Harley would both win local media awards for their Assignment investigations. At the 1996 TV Guide New Zealand Film and Television Awards, Assignment was judged Best News and Current Affairs Programme.
The 1994 Cannes Film Festival turned out to be a very good year for New Zealand: a little movie called Once Were Warriors began its rise to glory, and some even smaller films did big things. Frontline reporter Ross Stevens was in France to capture the action — from impressed reactions to Warriors, to the 'film is a business' talk of NZ Film Commission chair Phil Pryke. Director Grant Lahood's short film Lemming Aid comes second in the official competition, and the festival screens a special season of Kiwi shorts — only the second such event in Cannes history.
A social cricket match in Cornwall Park needs a third umpire after a bogan's dog swallows the ball in this short film. As the men in white struggle to field the ball, a statistics-obsessed sport crosses absurd boundaries. A line-up of contemporary NZ comedic talent features on the field— plus New Zealand Black Caps cricketers (and 1992 World Cup bowlers) Chris Pringle and Willie Watson. Bradman was written and directed by Peter Tait (actor in classic shorts The Singing Trophy and Kitchen Sink). The film includes classic song ‘Bradman’ by Australian singer Paul Kelly.
A hunter heads home, to add his latest catch to an extensive wall of animal trophies. Then he sets about making some music. But things do not go to plan: with a mouse loose in the building, the chase is on. The third film by Kiwi king of the kooky, director Grant Lahood was nominated for Best Short Film at the Cannes Film Festival, and took away a special technical award. It was also judged best short film at the 1993 NZ Film and Television Awards. The Singing Trophy was filmed at Kahutara Taxidermy museum in the Wairarapa.
Frontline replaced Close Up as TVNZ’s flagship, primetime current affairs show in 1988. Fronted by Ross Stevens, and made at Avalon at a time when TVNZ management had relocated to Auckland, it produced the controversial 1990 doco For the Public Good which explored the relationship between business and the Labour Government. In the fallout, TVNZ was sued, staff were sacked and the office moved to Auckland. In 1994, a special about the Winebox tax allegations saw Frontline back in the news. Other presenters included Lindsay Perigo, Anita McNaught and Susan Wood.
This episode of current affairs show Close Up offers a fascinating portrait of the early days of New Zealand's foreign exchange market. Reporter Ted Sheehan heads into "the pit" (trading room), and chronicles the working life of a senior forex dealer, 25-year-old accountancy graduate John Key. The "smiling assassin" (and future Prime Minister) is a calm and earnest presence amongst the young cowboys playing for fortunes and Porsches, months before the 1987 sharemarket crash. As Sheehan says, "they're like addicts who eat, breathe and sleep foreign exchange dealing".
When long-running current affairs show Newsmakers ended its run in the Sunday night slot in 1983, Sunday took its place. The new current affairs programme continued the interview format of Newsmakers, and included renowned Newsmakers interviewer Ian Fraser. Also taking turns as Sunday host or co-host were David Beatson and Lindsay Perigo. Among those reporting for the show were Rod Vaughan, John Keir (director of documentary Flight 901 - The Erebus Disaster), Kevin Isherwood and Rodney Bryant.
This 1983 documentary looks at the (then booming) export of deer antler velvet from New Zealand farms to Asia where the “horns of gold” are highly valued as an aphrodisiac and cure-all tonic. The doco captures the hazards of the trade: from bulldogging (hunters leaping from helicopter skids onto wild deer), to volatile markets in Hong Kong and Korea. The players include a triad of Asian middlemen “who make the millions”, and Kiwi deer entrepreneur Tim Wallis, who led a delegation of farmers to China in 1981 to discover the secret of the Eastern love potion.
On 28 November 1979, an Air New Zealand DC-10 crashed into Mt Erebus, Antarctica, killing all 257 people on board. It was the worst civil aviation disaster in NZ history and at the time, the fourth worst in the world. Made independently of state TV, Flight 901 was the first in-depth documentary on the accident. It surveys the novelty of Antarctic tourist flights, the search and rescue operation, and controversy over causes stirred by the Peter Mahon-led Royal Commission of Inquiry. This 15 minute excerpt was edited for NZ On Screen by director John Keir.
80s show Close Up had a similar brief to earlier current affairs show Compass: to present mini-documentaries on topical local issues. Stories in the primetime hour-long slot were wide-ranging, from hard news to human interest pieces, including a profile of 25-year-old foreign exchange dealer, future-Prime Minister, John Key. The show won Feltex Awards for most of the years that it was on air. Close Up is not related to the post-nightly news show of the same name, which was hosted by Mark Sainsbury until 2012.
In 1969, the arrival of network television ushered in a new era of regional news to replace Town and Around, whose four editions had served local audiences in the 1960s. Christchurch and Dunedin now got different shows, both called The South Tonight. The DNTV-2 edition covered Otago/Southland; it was presented by Derek Payne and produced by Bruce Morrison. The show disappeared in 1975 but, following the amalgamation of TV1 and South Pacific Television, re-emerged in the early 1980s (initially as 7.30 South), this time with Jim Mora in the front seat.