Canadian-born New Zealand director Leanne Pooley has won a raft of awards for her work as a documentary filmmaker. The 2011 Arts Laureate's films include hit Topp Twins movie Untouchable Girls, 3D Everest first ascent saga Beyond the Edge, and euthanasia exploration The Promise. In 2015 her film 25 April, an animated feature about Gallipoli, was selected for the Toronto International Film Festival.

I was curious. As a filmmaker, that’s all you are at the end of the day – a paid curious person. Leanne Pooley on making documentary Try Revolution, The Listener, 2 September 2006

NZ Film Commission turns 40 - Past Memories

2018, Subject - Web

In these short clips from our ScreenTalk interviews, directors, actors and others share their memories of classic films, as we mark 40 years of the NZ Film Commission.   - Roger Donaldson on odd Sleeping Dogs phone calls - David Blyth on Angel Mine being ahead of its time - Kelly Johnson on acting in Goodbye Pork Pie - Roger Donaldson on Smash Palace - Geoff Murphy on Utu's scale  - Ian Mune on making Came a Hot Friday - Vincent Ward on early film exploits - Tom Scott on writing Footrot Flats with Murray Ball  - Greg Johnson on acting in End of the Golden Weather - Rena Owen on Once Were Warriors  - Melanie Lynskey on auditioning for Heavenly Creatures - Ngila Dickson on The Lord of the Rings - Niki Caro on missing Whale Rider's success - Antony Starr on Anthony Hopkins - Oscar Kightley on Sione's Wedding - Tammy Davis on Black Sheep - Leanne Pooley on the Topp Twins - Taika Waititi on napping at the Oscars - Cliff Curtis on The Dark Horse - Cohen Holloway on his Wilderpeople stars

25 April

2015, Director, Writer - Film

The first animated feature made and originated in New Zealand, 25 April tells the story of the country's involvement in an ill-fated mission to take a piece of Turkish coastline during World War I. 2700 Kiwis died and ‘ANZAC’ became a symbol of national identity. Director Leanne Pooley mines archive war diaries, and uses graphic novel style recreations from Flux Animation to evoke the the perspective of six participants. 25 April debuted at the 2015 Toronto Film Festival. Alongside the excerpt, a short making of video shows how facial motion capture fed into the film's distinctive look. 

Beyond the Edge

2013, Writer, Director - Film

Beyond the Edge tells the story of Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay’s first ascent of the world’s highest mountain. Award-winning director Leanne Pooley (Untouchable Girls) mixes archival material with recreations of the English-led 1953 Everest expedition. 3D cameras were used to put viewers in the crampons of the climbers, and evoke the endurance and dangers faced as they ventured to the top of the world. Beyond the Edge debuted at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival, where it was one of two runner-ups for the People’s Choice Documentary Award. 

Finding Mercy

2012, Producer - Film

At the age of eight, filmmaker Robyn Paterson (white) and her best friend Mercy (black) greeted Comrade Robert Mugabe with flowers at a Zimbabwe air-force base. They became poster children of the new Zimbabwe. But the country was soon to descend into turmoil under Mugabe’s rule, and Paterson’s family was forced to flee to New Zealand. This documentary traces Paterson’s return to her birthplace a generation later, and a high-risk undercover search to find the fate of her childhood friend. Mercy won Paterson the Best Emerging Director Award at 2013 DocEdge Festival. 

Shackleton's Captain

2011, Writer, Director - Television

The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls

2009, Director - Film

Part concept film, part biopic, part historical record and part comedy, Leanne Pooley’s documentary was made to mark the Topp Twins' 50th birthday. New Zealand's favourite comedic, country singing, dancing and yodeling lesbian twin sisters tell their personal story: from their 'coming out' to Jools' brush with breast cancer. The film features archive material, home movies and interviews with the Topps' alter egos. Alongside local box office success and dozens of international awards, Girls won the People’s Choice award for favourite documentary at the 2009 Toronto Film Festival.

Being Billy Apple

2007, Producer, Director - Television

Billy Apple: enigma, con man, or artist? Being Billy Apple looks at one of New Zealand's most controversial contemporary artists: a man who changed his name, then turned himself into a brand. Director Leanne Pooley (The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls) follows Apple's life, and looks at his work in the context of the development of conceptual art overseas. This opening excerpt from the 70-minute documentary sees Apple talking with the filmmaker about whether it is important his face is even seen on screen.  

Try Revolution

2006, Producer, Director - Television

Some argue that if the 1981 Springbok rugby tour of New Zealand had been halted from the outset, the impact on the hearts and minds of South Africans would not have been as profound. This Leanne Pooley-directed film aims to show how events in Aotearoa (captured in Merata Mita's documentary Patu!) played out in South Africa; how the tour protests energized blacks, shamed the regime, and provoked democratic change. Says Archbishop Desmond Tutu: "You really can't even compute its value, it said the world has not forgotten us, we are not alone."

The Promise

2005, Producer, Director - Television

After Lesley Martin took her mother’s life to end her suffering from terminal cancer, she told the world about it in a book, To Die Like A Dog. Martin was charged with attempted murder and sentenced to fifteen months in prison. This award-winning documentary chronicles her subsequent ordeal as a martyr to the cause of euthanasia. Leanne Pooley's film won NZ Screen gongs for Best Documentary and Camerawork, and a best of festival award from the Input Festival in Taiwan.

Haunting Douglas

2003, Director, Producer, DV Camera - Television

Haunting Douglas is a documentary portrait of dancer and choreographer Douglas Wright. It weaves interviews with footage of past performances, and extracts from his autobiography; from drug addiction and illness, to determination and triumph on the New York stage with the Paul Taylor Dance Company. Award-winning director Leanne Pooley captures Wright's resilience: "I need to make things to feel that I can cope with whatever reality is. For me, dancing, performing for people, is the ultimate mystery and the ultimate joy." Wright passed away in November 2018.

The Man Who Has Everything

2001, Producer - Television

Kiwi Buddha

2000, Producer - Television

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.

Relative Guilt

1999, Director, Producer - Television

When a young Swedish couple went missing on a camping holiday in New Zealand in 1989, the investigation into their disappearance attracted intense media interest. Months later David Wayne Tamihere was arrested and charged with their murders. The subsequent guilty verdict cast Tamihere's family into a nightmare. The Tamihere family were abused, ridiculed and scorned relentlessly by an outraged public, and an insatiable media. Ten years on, Pooley's documentary tells their story. The result won the 2000 Qantas Media Award for Best Documentary.

Eyewitness - Pond and River

1996, Director

Deadline

1994, Director

First Hand

1992 - 1996, Director, Camera - Television

Thinking that documentaries would benefit if film crews were much smaller, TVNZ producer Richard Thomas proposed that emerging directors take over much of the filming themselves, using consumer video cameras. Thomas organised camera workshops for First Hand's directors, and overcame opposition that this more intimate style of making documentaries wouldn't meet broadcast standards. The result gave early opportunities to a host of emerging filmmakers, including award-winners Leanne Pooley and Mark McNeill, and production executive Alan Erson. 

First Hand - Changing Minds

1992, Camera, Director - Television

Mental health care is profiled in this 1992 episode of First Hand. Wayne Hussey is a member of the South Auckland Community Treatment Team, who is followed over the course of a day seeing his patients. They vary from a young woman struggling with bipolar disorder, to a woman living with schizophrenia, and a man who has adapted to independent life in the community. Kingseat Psychiatric Hospital becomes the voluntary home of one patient. The hospital was closed in 1999, and parts of the complex were controversially used for haunted house attraction Spookers.

First Hand - Just Like Anyone Else

1992, Director, Camera - Television

Karen and Mark, who are both intellectually disabled, are expecting a child. In this episode from stripped back documentary series First Hand, the couple become a family when baby Terry arrives. Terry's birth means the usual support they receive from IHC must be ramped up, and a new caregiver steps in to help Karen and Mark cope with the 24/7 responsibilities of parenthood. It's a story full of hope and love, but no one close to the couple is under any illusions about the amount of support needed to successfully parent Terry.

First Hand - Mahurangi Day

1992, Producer - Television

First Hand - Paradise Lost

1992, Director - Television

Director Leanne Pooley heads to a struggling Hawke's Bay farm as part of a documentary series made by newbie filmmakers. The Hallgarths are selling up after years of financial difficulty at their 600 acre sheep farm, which has been in the family for three generations. Pooley interviews a sad yet optimistic Arthur and Helen Hallgarth as they prepare to leave, and on the day they depart. Within a year of filming this show, the family returned to farming on a small property nearby. Pooley later directed Topp Twins:Untouchable Girls and 3D Mt Everest ascent saga Beyond the Edge

First Hand - Sister to the Sinner

1992, Director - Television

For 10 years Sister Joan Timpany served as the Catholic chaplain at Paremoremo Prison, where the country's most dangerous criminals are incarcerated. The cheerful nun is interviewed in this First Hand documentary by new director Leanne Pooley (Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls). Prisoners adore Sister Joan; many call her a mother figure. An inmate called Julian performs a song he wrote for her, with the lyrics: "There’s no other here to listen, I can always count on her to be a friend." Sister Joan was awarded the Queen's Service Order in 1993 for her community service. She died in 2006.

Forty Minutes

1993, Director - Television

Everyman

1994 - 1997, Director, Producer - Television