Ken Sparks has a BA in Music and Drama. His introduction to editing was as an assistant on Vincent Ward classic In Spring One Plants Alone. Since then he has edited drama, dance films, many documentaries, music videos and commercials. Sparks has won three NZ TV awards, including for James K Baxter doco The Road to Jerusalem and as co-editor of acclaimed quake chronicle When a City Falls. He also directed on hit series Heartland.
I always reckon I got involved in editing at just the right time — New Zealand documentaries have flourished over the last 30 years and the way technology has improved is phenomenal. Ken Sparks
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.
Te Araroa is a 3000 kilometre, Aotearoa-long walkway. In this Māori Television series, host Pio Terei walks it, sampling “New Zealand experiences”. In this first episode, Terei treks his home turf: the trail’s northernmost stage, from Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Rēinga) to Kaitaia. Pio goes fishing in Ahipara; gets kitted up with a knife, and a kauri tokotoko (walking stick); gets stung by a manuka honey bee; meets the Tarara (NZ Dalmatian) people, and talks mission statements and hangi with members of the hīkoi that "changed the face of the nation" – the 1975 Māori Land March.
Family, friends and former foe joined Helen Clark before the cameras for this TV3 documentary, which charts her journey from Vietnam protestor through low-polling Labour Party leader, to long-reigning PM and the UN. In this excerpt, Clark and biographer Denis Welch recall how after becoming opposition leader, Clark was advised to make various changes to her hairstyle and presentation. Featuring appearances by John Key, Don Brash and media-shy husband Peter Davis, the two-part doco was helmed by Dan Salmon and artist/director Claudia Pond Eyley.
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).
This short film presents Dave, a tramper at a South Island high country tarn, with a chance to make his mark on the map. But will the stars (and satellites) align to realise his ingenious idea? Made by director and editor Rajneel Singh, Blank Spaces was one of five finalists in 'Your Big Break': a 2010 filmmaking contest run by Tourism New Zealand that gave the finalists a chance to have their script realised with the help of producer Barrie Osborne (The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings). The brief was to "capture the spirit of 100% Pure New Zealand — the youngest country on earth".
For this stylishly shot video, the ghosts of Goodnight Nurse rise from their coffins to perform a song about obsession, and dancing with the Devil. Reflecting the band's own obsession with horror imagery, the setting is a moon-lit hillside, surrounded by gravestones. The video won Best Rock Video at the 2005 Juice TV Awards, and was a finalist for Video of the Year. After the group's passing, each player stayed involved in music; lead vocalist Joel Little would rise up again to co-write Lorde's Grammy award-winning hit Royals. Director Jonathan Gerrard remembers making the video here.
Aileen O'Sullivan's and Toby Mills' documentary follows troupe Black Grace as they prepare for an appearance at the world's premier dance festival, Jacob's Pillow in Massachusetts. The film also charts the personal journey of the group's founder, choreographer Neil Ieremia, from the community halls of Porirua to the global stage, powered by an unrelenting perfectionism that makes for some heated rehearsal footage. Shortly after the US performances shown here, Ieremia fired the entire touring company, rebuilding his vision from scratch. Ken Sparks' editing won an NZ Screen Award.
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."
Awatea, a young warrior, is enraged when his lover Te Po, a high-born chief's daughter, enters an arranged marriage. Retribution is swift and brutal. Set in the late 16th century and based on a Shakespeare sonnet ("my love is as a fever, longing still"), the storytelling of Te Po Uriuri is visceral, and suitably mythic in style. Ruru hoot, bloody patu gleam, and bodies and the oily black of the night are vividly shot by Waka Attewell. Directed by Toby Mills and filmed in te reo, it was selected for the Hamburg International Film Festival.
Māori of different ages and backgrounds talk frankly about their culture and how they feel they are perceived in this Inside New Zealand doco. Contributors include Pio Terei, Brian Tamaki, Carol Hirschfeld, Leilani Joyce and Tau Henare (who is unapologetic about his Dirty Dogs). By turns passionate, pointed and humorous, they discuss issues ranging from sex and food to teen pregnancy and prejudice. We also learn that rotten corn is not universally loved, staunchness is at best a dubious asset and not all Māori are blessed with singing ability. The Truth About Maori
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.
An urban Maori trust, Te Whanau o Waipareira has developed from modest beginnings as a vegetable selling co-op into the biggest employment and training organisation in West Auckland. This documentary by Toby Mills and Aileen O'Sullivan examines its operations through the eyes of four people who have had their lives turned around by its all encompassing social, health, justice and education programmes. Interviewees include Pita Sharples and trust CEO John Tamihere (who recounts early struggles to be accepted by government, council and business sectors).
In 1977 protesters occupied Bastion Point, after the announcement of a housing development on land once belonging to Ngāti Whātua. 506 days later police and army arrived en masse to remove them. This documentary examines the rich and tragic history of Bastion Point/ Takaparawhau — including how questionable methods were used to gradually take the land from Māori, while basic amenities were withheld from those remaining. The documentary features extensive interviews with protest leader Joe Hawke, and footage from seminal documentary Bastion Point Day 507.
This high-rating 1999 documentary follows Gary McCormick to Ireland to investigate "those strands which tie" Kiwis to the Emerald Isle, from Dublin to the north, where his forebears originated in the 1870s. He meets locals, (musicians, tinkers, playwrights, scuba divers) and Kiwi expats, and talks The Troubles, Celtic Tigers, and why Irish emigrated to Aotearoa. Irish Connection was another collaboration between McCormick and director Bruce Morrison (Heartland, Raglan by the Sea). Companion title The London Connection saw McCormick examining Kiwi links to London.
Dancer Shona McCullagh’s award-winning debut short film offers a joyful fingers-up to gravity, dialogue, and the idea that nuns never get up to anything exciting. Two nuns flip twist and fly from bedside to beachside, turning a moving train carriage into a jungle gym (in-between desperately seeking solace from the call of nature). The footloose dance film did some travelling of its own: invited to over 30 festivals, including prestigious dance film festivals, and Edinburgh, Clermont-Ferrand, and Sundance (where it played before Kiwi feature Scarfies).
Biographer Michael King takes us through the life of pioneering writer Frank Sargeson: from puritanical parents to self-discovery in London, through to decades encouraging an emerging tide of New Zealand writers. The documentary’s most priceless moments are the tales told when four of those writers return to Sargeson’s fabled fibrolite bach, in Takapuna. Kevin Ireland calls it an “oasis, this marvellous place where books ruled supreme”. Sargeson’s purposefuly minimalistic writing style, the doco argues, helped NZ literature find its own voice.
Director Stewart Main talked to artist Pat Hanly about life as painter and activist for 1998 documentary Pacific Ikon, from which this excerpt is taken. Interviewed at his Mt Eden home, Hanly discusses his painting career and inspirations — both political and personal. Also interviewed are his wife Gil, who supported him personally and financially, and children Ben, Tamsin and Amber. Like his work, Hanly is ebullient, energetic and articulate, At one point he says: "We are awaiting death with interested anticipation. Some of my best friends are dead." Hanley died in September 2004.
Readings from the poems of James K Baxter trace the poet's life through its various New Zealand locations, and provide a biographical voice in this film by Bruce Morrison (co-written with Dr Paul Millar). Baxter's family and friends discuss the man and his work, and the readings and beautifully shot landscapes fill in the gaps. The film won Best Documentary at the 1998 Film and TV Awards. The opening montage, describing "the chugging noise of masturbation from the bedrooms of the bourgeois" of Auckland, is seminal Baxter.
Heartland host Gary McCormick hunkers down in the Catlins ("New Zealand the way it used to be"), the wild southern coast stretching between Invercargill and Balclutha. After watching the action at school sports day, he discovers a rural community revolving around family, church and pub. Interviewees include a Metallica-loving teenager who has just bought his second car, for cruising; and spoon collector Kitty 'Granny' Burgess. He also visits a rugged Long Point farm to check out rare yellow-eyed penguins (hoiho), who look very punk during moulting season.
In this full-length Heartland episode, Gary McCormick heads south to the port town of Lyttelton, where some say you can't claim to be local unless you've been in town all your life. There he looks around a freighter and finds time to talk to a smorgasboard of passionate locals, some of whom wish yuppies from Christchurch would stay home. He visits ex-Seaman's Union President Bill 'Pincher' Martin, who recalls the tense days of the 1951 lockout. Meanwhile cameraman Matt Bowkett captures some evocative footage from the surrounding hills, and among the action of a busy port.
In this documentary, poet Sam Hunt and raconteur Gary McCormick shake out the ache of descending middle age and hit the road for an old fashioned ‘rock and roll style’ poetry tour. Starting in Invercargill, the longtime mates make their way up the length of the country, sharing stories, anecdotes and of course, poems along the way. Here are two people's poets, one arguably great, the other certainly good, captured in full flight during their prime. The Roaring Forties Tour was nominated for NZ Film and Television Awards in 1996, for its editing and music.
This documentary confronts attitudes to alcohol consumption in NZ. Interviews with those who see major problems (including police, ambulance, youth workers, Family Planning and Women's Refuge) and those who don't (brewers, advertising agencies, sports groups and publicans) are interspersed with often-graphic footage of excessive alcohol use. The challenging depiction of the culture piqued Lion Breweries, who complained to the Broadcasting Standards Authority. The BSA rejected their assertion that the programme was salacious, but did agree it "lacked balance".
Heartland host Gary McCormick visits Fendalton, Christchurch — which has a reputation as one of the country's more well-to-do and refined suburbs, and is one of the older residential districts of the city. McCormick takes tea and sandwiches on the lawn with elderly resident (and possessor of some archetypal 'rounded vowels') Bessie Seymour Parker; visits grand homesteads and English country gardens; and meets some private school teenagers, as Fendalton lives up to its 'posh' — some might say 'snobby' — reputation.
Heartland host Gary McCormick discovers the scenic and rustic charms of Glenorchy, near Queenstown. McCormick meets Rosie Grant, who has lived in the same cottage since 1916, and shares her home with 17 cats; checks out Paradise House, the first guest accommodation in the area, now owned by Dave Miller; and plans to have a day at the races. But the film crew's plans go awry when the settlement suffers serious flooding, and stories of sand-bagging, stock rescue and property recovery replace the more typical Heartland fare.
Heartland host Gary McCormick visits 'New Zealand's last frontier' - Haast on the West Coast. It's whitebait season, and Haast's population has increased five-fold. McCormick talks to whitebaiters on the Arawata River and a Department of Conservation Ranger, visits a "secret whitebaiters' town" and helps local residents prepare for the annual Whitebaiters' Ball. When McCormick asks what the best line for getting a girl to dance is, one of the locals tells him to say, "I've got a Valiant". The programme also touches on the tensions between some residents and conservationists.
The Aupōuri Peninsula - in Maui's legend, the tail of the fish - runs along the top of the North Island, edged on one side by Ninety Mile Beach. In Te Hapua, the most northerly community on the mainland, Gary McCormick helps out at the marae as preparations begin for a cultural festival for the district's primary schools. The students will perform kapa haka, Dalmatian dances and take-offs of Shortland Street. This Heartland episode evocatively melds footage of children practising and performing, with oyster farmers catching fish for the hangi.
"Bluff'll be here forever." Heartland host Kerre McIvor (nee Woodham) heads south to the port town of Bluff for the 65th wedding anniversary of Fred and Myrtle Flutey, and visits their famous paua shell museum (after their death, the Flutey's paua collection was relocated in 2008 to Canterbury Museum). As well as taking part in the celebrations and learning the secrets of a happy marriage, Woodham talks to local fishermen, women rugby players and long time residents, including the memorable Sylvia Templeton-Warner.
Occasional Heartland host Annie Whittle visits Patea in this full-length episode, and finds the town in rehearsal for the story of its own life. A decade in the making, Poi E - The Musical chronicles Patea's triumphs and tragedies, following the closure of the local freezing works in 1982. Whittle talks to Dalvanius Prime — the musician behind both the original number one song, and the Poi E musical — about the impact the closure had on the township. The programme ends with a rousing live version of 'Poi E'. Prime would pass away in October 2002.
In this full-length episode, Heartland visits the heart of the North Island: the Waimarino district at the foot of Mount Ruapehu. Host Gary McCormick hits town in time for the yearly Waimarino Easter Hunt. In Ohakune he talks to a policeman about a strange case of streaking near the town's famously oversized carrot, visits an equally overized collection of salt and pepper shakers, then sets off on an early morning pig hunt. Vegetarians be warned: many expired members of the animal kingdom make guest appearances.
Heartland host Gary McCormick visits French Pass in the Marlborough Sounds, where he attends the local sports day, and visits a couple who have lived on remote D'Urville Island for 46 years. Pat and Phil Aston met on the mainland, but have lived their whole married life on D'Urville, where Phil has helped her nine children through Correspondence School, and Pat has done everything from fishing to putting up power lines. At the French Pass sports day, McCormick takes in an Army battle re-construction and an assortment of running races.
Occasional Heartland host Maggie Barry visits the Southland town of Gore, where she checks out horse-shoeing with the New Zealand Farriers Association, visits the local freezing works, and attends the legendary Gold Guitar country music awards (with performers including Suzanne Prentice). Not such a controversial visit to Gore by a TV crew as the one some years later by Havoc and Newsboy's Sell-Out Tour.
Heartland host Gary McCormick visits South Island town Omarama, which is "about as remote as you can get in New Zealand, as it sits in the centre of the South Island at its widest point." McCormick talks to sheep farmers battling pest rabbits and the invasive weed Heiracium Hawkweed, checks out a fishing competition, and attends the Omarama Rodeo. At the rodeo he meets the Church family of rodeo riding brothers, listens to a spot of yodelling, and takes in the children's sheep riding display.
Gary McCormick travels to the furthest corner of New Zealand and hangs out with fishermen, farmers, and ghosts. He reads the weather report on the islands' radio station (where the forecast is more rain); explores the vibrant nightlife, endures a Ministerial speech at the opening of a new wharf facility, and goes hunting at night for a local delicacy: weka. This instalment of the series is notable for some especially beautiful location photography by Swami Hansa.
In this full-length Heartland episode, Gary McCormick travels to the Hokianga in Northland, where he attends the annual rowing regatta in the town of Horeke. Locals compete in ironman (swimming, running and... woodchopping), before McCormick delves into the region’s logging past and sees local bone carvers at work. He also visits the Motuti Marae, then drives on to Panguru where he interviews local resident and Māori land march leader Dame Whina Cooper. The programme (gently) reflects on Māori and Pākehā race relations in the area.
"Space — big hills, snow-capped, blue skies ... that's the Maniototo, Central Otago." So says local poet Ross McMillan, describing the landscape that inspires much of his work. The Maniototo plain has also inspired writing from James K Baxter, Janet Frame, and Gary McCormick, the host of this full-length Heartland episode. McCormick finds a strong sense of community amidst the poetry of isolation: whether in the shearing shed, the sports field or the ice-skating rink. He also talks to local high-schoolers, some resigned to having to leave the area to find work.
Sam Neill narrates this documentary plotting the career of one of Aotearoa's most successful bands: from formation by Mike Chunn, Phil Judd and Tim Finn at Auckland University in 1971 to their demise in 1984, when Neil Finn walked away. The major players talk freely about good times and bad — art rock, the wayward genius of Judd (including a rare interview), Noel Crombie’s spoon playing and costume design, hard times in England and the punk backlash, the big pop hits after Neil joined, Tim’s solo album, an obsession with paper darts, and the pre-gig ritual of One For One.
Jack Lovelock won New Zealand’s first Olympic athletics gold medal. He did so in spectacular fashion, winning the 1500m at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. In front of Hitler and 110,000 spectators, the famous ‘Lovelock kick’ unfurled into NZ’s sporting and collective consciousness: from Timaru to Oxford to Berlin triumph. Yet Lovelock was an enigmatic achiever. In this short film, the race — the supremely judged apex of a sporting career — is contrasted with his mysterious and tragic death, falling in front of a train from a New York subway platform in 1949.
Heartland was a long-running series where, in each episode, affable presenter Gary McCormick explored a Kiwi community. Location and local legend are relayed as McCormick (or occasionally Annie Whittle, Maggie Barry, or Kerre McIvor) interacts with the natives, most famously, tiger slipper-shod Chloe of Wainuiomata. The popular, award-winning series, was inspired by a collaboration — Raglan by the Sea — between McCormick and director Bruce Morrison; it connected mostly-urban Kiwis with faraway corners of the country, and a homely sense of shared identity.
In this full-length Heartland episode, Gary McCormick travels to New Zealand's southernmost community: the town of Oban on Stewart Island's Half Moon Bay. Another gently discursive ramble through time and geography is held together by a focus on the island's annual Festival of The Sea, and appearances by a range of locals from fishermen to conservationists. The highlight of this marine mardi gras is the drag competition ‘Miss Catch of the Day', where hairy blokes dress like sheilas and walk on stage. Thankfully Gary keeps his pants on.
Ambitious Jonathan Gunson-created children's series Space Knights pitched the King Arthur myth into a zany sci fi universe of Knights of the Round Space Station, Vader-esque villains, and laser lance jousting. The distinctive look of this early South Pacific Pictures series — like a picture book come to life — was developed by Listener cartoonist Chris Slane, and achieved by using actors in life-size puppet suits and blue screen effects. The series was 22 half hour episodes and screened internationally. The memorable 'Space Junk' theme song was by Dave Dobbyn.
In more repressed times, Carmen was one of NZ's most colourful and controversial figures. Geoff Steven's doco traces the life story of the transgender icon who was born Trevor Rupe in Taumarunui in 1936 and went on to be a dancer, sex worker, madam, cafe owner — and one of the few non-MPs to appear before the Privileges Committee. Steven shines a light on a bygone era of gay culture but avoids the temptation to focus on the seedy — opting, instead, for extended fantasy sequences (featuring Neil Gudsell aka Mika) to illustrate key moments in Carmen's life.
For two series in 1989, poet, raconteur, broadcaster and surfer Gary McCormick honed his Heartland rapport and took on that most vexed of NZ television formats — the chat show — with help from the director Bruce Morrison and producer Finola Dwyer (Oscar nominated for An Education) with whom he had made the acclaimed Raglan by the Sea doco. The Kiwiana set purported to recreate McCormick’s Gisborne house (complete with a green vinyl La-Z-boy) to make guests — who ranged from Wayne Shelford, to Don ‘The Rock’ Muraco, Eva Rickard, and PJ O’Rourke — feel at home.
Gary McCormick heads west to Raglan, to ask "What goes on here? Why do people live here? What do they do?". To find out he goes surfing on the famous left-hand point break, hangs with hippies and Dave McArtney, catches Midge Marsden and the Mudsharks at the Harbour View Hotel, and discusses land rights with kaumatua Sam Kereopa. The recipe — McCormick as genial small town anthropologist discovering the locals — earned this a 1989 LIFTA award, and inspired long-running series Heartland. McArtney composed the soundtrack; Finola Dwyer (An Education) produces.
This documentary follows the Vintage Car Club of New Zealand on a 1985 commemorative tour. On 24 March 1985, over 90 vehicles and their owners gathered in Invercargill to honour a century of motoring. Then the Vauxhalls, Chevrolets and Fiats embark on a reverse Goodbye Pork Pie as the lovingly-restored vintage cars head from the deep south all the way to Cape Reiga, meeting Prime Minister David Lange en route. A rare directing credit for veteran cameraman Allen Guilford, Milestones is narrated by John Gordon, who swaps A Dog's Show commentary for motoring trivia.
Frank Whitten won probably his biggest audience when 10 million Brits saw him play an outrageous bastard in this primetime melodrama. This first episode sees Ceci (Glaswegian actor Valerie Gogan) arriving from England hoping for a better life, and instead finding herself trapped on a rundown farm with a rapist, a bitter old man and a simpleton. NZ producers Lloyd Phillips and Rob Whitehouse won finance from TVNZ, Westpac and the UK's Central Television for the six-part mini-series, written by Brit Elizabeth Gowans. There were 118 speaking parts, most of them Kiwi.
This trippy animation follows the spirit of a person killed in a motorway car accident. The life force (wairua) runs through forest and beaches on its journey to Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Rēinga). En route it meets tourist buses and other spirits, before reaching the gnarly pohutukawa and making the leap towards Hawaiki-Nui. There's a real native joy in seeing contemporary 80s animation enliven ancient Māori spiritual concepts. Joe Wylie (Toy Love's Bride of Frankenstein) was in charge of the animation team; The Clean provide the soundtrack to the all-stops-out finale.
Praising novel The Scarecrow, one critic argued that author Ronald Hugh Morrieson had melded genres together into “a brilliant, hallucinatory mixture distinctively his own". The movie adaptation is another unusual melding; a coming of age tale awash with comedy, nostalgia, and a touch of the gothic. Taranaki teen Ned (Jono Smith) is worried that the mysterious arrival in town (US acting legend John Carradine) has murderous designs on his sister. The masterful narration is by Martyn Sanderson. The result: the first Kiwi film to win official selection at the Cannes Film Festival.