From The Governor to The Lord of the Rings, Martyn Sanderson's distinctive voice and sideburns were part of New Zealand's screen landscape for three decades. His work ranged from the experimental to the mainstream, including directing feature films (Flying Fox in a Freedom Tree) and personal documentaries.
Sanderson suffers from what has been termed the “New Zealand disease” – being good at too many things. Spreading talent over too many areas, and countries, is no way to instant recognition. Jane Tolerton in a Listener interview, 11 August 2001
In 1983, director Geoff Murphy stormed out of the scrub of the nascent Kiwi film industry with a quadruple-barreled shotgun take on the great NZ colonial epic. Set during the New Zealand wars, this tale of a Māori leader (Anzac Wallace) and his bloody path to redress 'imbalance' became the second NZ film officially selected for Cannes, the second biggest local hit to that date (after Goodbye Pork Pie). A producer-driven recut was later shown in the US. This 2013 redux offers Utu “enhanced and restored”.
The Camera on the Shore is a feature-length portrait of a man who argued eloquently for the rights of indigenous people to control the camera. Based on extensive interviews with Barry Barclay and those who knew him — and footage from his work — it traces the path of one of the first people to bring a Māori perspective to the screen. The documentary ranges from Barclay's early years in a monastery to speeches at his tangi, touching en route on landmark TV series Tangata Whenua, battling corporations on doco The Neglected Miracle, and behind the scenes conflict on Te Rua.
Until Proven Innocent is based on the case of David Dougherty, and the lawyer, scientist and journalist who concluded he had been wrongly convicted. In 1993 Dougherty was jailed for the rape and abduction of an 11-year-old girl. This dramatisation follows the campaign to prove his innocence: court appeals, journalism, and a key piece of DNA evidence. Chosen to open 2009's Sunday Theatre season the tele-movie was nominated for 10 Qantas Awards, and won five, including best drama and best actor (for Cohen Holloway's standout performance as Dougherty).
“If this tale is about anything it’s about two words: Kiwi actor.” In this assured, at times offbeat documentary, Ian Mune takes us on a personal tour through his various lives as actor, director, teacher and more. He revisits early theatrical stomping grounds, and talks about how acting with Sam Neill in breakthrough movie Sleeping Dogs taught him “to stop pulling faces”. Mune also reminisces about directing movies comical, terrible and ambitious, and complains about the system of developing local films. There is also rare footage of his performances in 70s TV dramas Derek and Moynihan.
If a single word could sum up the free-wheeling flavour of alternative music and comedy in Aotearoa during the 1970s, that word would surely be ... Blerta. The 'Bruno Lawrence Electric Revelation and Travelling Apparition' included foundation members of the NZ screen industry (Lawrence, Geoff Murphy, Alun Bollinger) plus other merry pranksters. Drawing on the Blerta TV series and beyond, Blerta Revisited (aka Blerta - The Return Trip) is an anarchic collection of comedy skits, musical interludes and films culled from the Blerta archives. Costa Botes writes about Blerta here.
In Michael Bennett's allegorical Cow, two old men (played by New Zealand screen legends Ian Mune and Martyn Sanderson) with Confucian beards are adrift in the ocean, a placid Friesian cow in tow. A surreal study on how quickly a minor event can evolve into something far more extreme, the film features no dialogue; rather, a guitar duet that escalates to a duel. It won Best Short Film Script at the NZ Film Awards and made land internationally: Cow was selected for festivals including Cannes (Critics' Week) and Valladolid.
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".
In the first episode of this dramatic mini-series based on the 1888-89 tour of Great Britain by the NZ Natives rugby team, Pony (Peter Kaa from movie Te Rua) must leave his mother (Rena Owen) and grandfather (Wi Kuki Kaa), to join the side. His motivation isn’t just rugby related — he hopes to find his English father who he has never met. The Natives have an early supporter in an Earl (Ian Richardson of House of Cards) who is a rugby fan intrigued by the novelty of these “savages”. Meanwhile, his granddaughter (Liza Walker) discovers an interest of her own — Pony.
In the third episode of this drama based on the 1888-89 tour of Great Britain by the NZ Natives rugby team, the romance between Pony and Charlotte is gathering momentum. Charlotte’s grandfather — the Earl — might be alarmed by the tryst, but the Cambridge University rugby team has a far blunter way of expressing their displeasure with a Māori rugby player trying to cross class and racial lines. In the face of such opposition, Charlotte and Pony attempt to follow their hearts, but can they resist the pressures now being exerted by both of their cultures?
In the second episode of this drama based on the 1888-89 tour of Great Britain by the NZ Natives rugby team, Pony — one of the side’s stars — is courted by society and invited to shoot with the Prince of Wales; and his Māori blood is also a novelty in the music halls. He’s hoping to renew his acquaintance with Charlotte — the granddaughter of a rugby loving Earl — but there are matches to be played in London. Locating his English father is far from heart warming, but his disappointment is more than compensated for as Charlotte follows him to the city.
Tala Pasifika was a pioneering Pacific Island drama series; this award-winning episode is one of six films that screened on TV One in 1996. It's an emotional short drama about teenage school friends Siosi (Johnny La'ulu), Matt (Faifua Amiga) and John (Robert Luisi), who are awaiting their School Certificate results. On the day he receives his grades, Siosi is beaten by his father (Ene Pataia). The following day, he discovers a tragedy has occurred within his circle of friends. This acts as a catalyst to resolve his own troubles at home.
Tala Pasifika was a pioneering Pacific Island drama series; this episode is one of six short films that screened on TV One in 1996. 'Brown Sugar' is an upbeat drama about Tiuila (Tausili Mose) and Samuelu (Johnny La'ulu), two young hopefuls who meet in a music shop. Samuelu longs to be an actor and sees his chance for fame when he meets a TV commercial producer. Tiuila belongs to an amateur vocal group who are relaxed, confident and proud of their South Auckland upbringing. They name their act 'Brown Sugar' before singing to a packed house.
Tala Pasifika was a pioneering Pacific Island drama series; this episode is one of six films that screened on TV One in 1996. It is about Malama (Saili Williams), a young girl who lost her eyesight in the car crash that also killed her mother. Although she can't see in the physical world, Malama has gained a window to the spirit world. Her father Ta'a (a young Jay Laga'aia) still grieves and can't cope with raising the kids; his frustrations manifest as anger. When Malama and her brother attend their baptism, the family crisis hits boiling point.
Tala Pasifika was a pioneering Pacific Island drama series; this episode is one of six films that screened on TV One in 1996. It's a haunting short film about a young girl named Ana (former Shortland Street star Jaime Passier Armstrong), who asks about a photo in a family album and gets an awkward brush off from her mum. When the family receives news of the tragic death of mum's sister Rose (Sela Brown), it's time for truth, and secrets from the past are revealed.
Tala Pasifika was a pioneering Pacific Island drama series; this episode is one of six short films that screened on TV One in 1996. 'The Hibiscus' is the lighthearted tale of Sefo (Soi Paito Siulepa), a retired grandfather who arrives from Samoa and plants a hibiscus in the family's back yard. Although he has difficulty speaking English, the garden is a forum to explain history and Samoan tradition to the kids. When Mum reveals her plan to concrete the yard and put in a BBQ area, the kids come up with a compromise.
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.
"Maybe if we looked after our living as well as we do the dead, he'd still be here." After returning to his Marae from the city, Mana (Cliff Curtis) finds himself caught up in arrangements for a tangi. But when another local commits suicide, Mana finds himself caught between traditional values and his own sense of right. Meanwhile in the forest, it seems that other powers may have the final word. Also featuring George Henare; directed and written by Poata Eruera.
Blessed with a top-notch cast, this hour long drama chronicled the final 48 hours of leave before three soldiers head to Bosnia. One soldier is forced to share a car with the man who caused his demotion; the trio go on to use their break for various encounters with lovers, families and strangers. Based on a story by Richard Lymposs, whose experiences helped inspire 1986 teen rebel movie Queen City Rocker, The Call Up was shown as part of the debut season of one-off Kiwi dramas which screened in primetime, on the Montana Sunday Theatre. This excerpt features the opening 10 minutes.
This 1994 ‘home front noir’ is set in World War II Wellington, where the plots — a murdered marine, exploited working girls and gonorrhea — spread amidst the invasion of US soldiers stationed at Paekakariki. Kerry Fox (An Angel at My Table) is a public health nurse who becomes romantically linked with the US investigating officer (Tony Goldwyn — Ghost, TV's Scandal) while pursuing the STDs and the truth. They’re supported by Oscar-winning US veterans Rod Steiger and Robert Loggia. John Reid (Middle Age Spread) directs, from a Keith Aberdein script.
Shortland Street is a fast-paced serial drama set in an eponymous inner city Auckland hospital. A South Pacific Pictures production, the iconic show is based around the births, deaths and marriages of the staff, family and patients. Screening five days a week on TV2 it is New Zealand’s longest running drama. Characters and lines from the show have entered the culture, most famously, "you're not in Guatemala now, Dr Ropata!". This 2007 promo, set to the theme song, collects together highlights from the first 15 years of the show.
Miles (Joel Tobeck) is 16. His family are falling apart and he's got a crush on his cousin. An imminent royal visit offends his mother's political sensibilities and his father is spending time with a female neighbour. Christmas is coming and the twins have murder on their minds. Director Niki (Whale Rider) Caro's survey of the everyday eccentricities of family was nominated for best TV drama scipt and director at the 1994 NZ Film and TV Awards. The film was one of three half-hour dramas commissioned by TVNZ under the series title Another Country. Producer Owen Hughes writes about it here.
A death-bed confession from a touch judge leads to a repeat of a test match between the All Blacks and Wales played 25 years earlier — with the same players. Before the footy, a former Welsh star is forced to face up to a past romance. Mateships and rivalries are rekindled in this genial "what if" yarn, that celebrates and satirises two nations' rugby obsessions. It won best screenplay and supporting actor (John Bach) at 1992's NZ Film Awards. The cast saw former All Blacks and Welsh rugby reps playing alongside acting greats from both countries.
The capture and release of the French agents who bombed the Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior was not the end of the affair. This film documents the circumstances of the crime, but is focused on efforts by Greenpeace, and artist Chris Booth to create a sense of emotional closure. Booth worked with the Ngati Kura people of Matauri Bay to create a sculpture marking the Warrior's last resting place. The film interweaves the back story of the bombing with sequences showing the efforts to finish the sculpture in time for commemorations.
The largest gathering ever seen of Māori tribal war canoes (waka taua) was one of the centrepieces of the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1990. This documentary, narrated by Tukuroirangi Morgan, followed the ambitious countrywide programme to build the ornately carved waka, and assemble them at Waitangi as a demonstration of Māori pride and unity. The 22 strong fleet, powered by 1,000 paddlers, also fulfilled a dream of Tainui leader Princess Te Puea Herangi that had been curtailed 50 years earlier by World War II.
Directed by Jane Campion, An Angel at My Table is adapted from author Janet Frame's renowned three-part autobiography. It threads together a series of images and scenes to evoke Frame's dramatic life story. Originally made as a TV drama, the much-acclaimed dramatisation won cinema release in 35 countries, establishing Campion as an international director, launching actress Kerry Fox, and introduced new audiences to the "mirror city" of Frame's writing. This excerpt follows Frame's life-saving escape from Seacliff Asylum, to first publishing success at Frank Sargeson’s bach.
On the Samoan island of Sapepe, the rebellious, pranksterish young Pepe (Faifua Amiga) rejects his imported Christianity and declares himself a descendant of the old gods, setting himself on a path of alienation and conflict. In this excerpt, he leads a burglary of his father's store and burns down a church on the streets of Apia. Adapted from two works by Albert Wendt and shot with a local and largely amateur crew, Martyn Sanderson's first feature is emboldened by vivid cinematography and Kingpin-star Amiga's unforced charisma in the lead role.
This classic 1989 TV commercial promoted the NZ Lotteries Commission’s new ‘scratch and win’ cards. The goad to gamble was based on the question: “Instant Kiwi attitude: have you got it?” as personified by a bungy-jumping fisherman. From Saatchi & Saatchi’s then-high-flying Wellington office, the promo is iconic of the big budget era of NZ ad making. It was directed by Flying Fish co-founder Lee Tamahori, who also helmed high profile promos for Fernleaf and Steinlager before making his movie directing debut with Once Were Warriors (1994).
On 16 February 1986 a Russian cruise line, the Mikhail Lermontov, struck rocks off Cape Jackson in the Marlborough Sounds. The ship carried 408 mostly elderly Australian passengers, and a crew of 330. The ship drifted and eventually sank in Port Gore; one Russian sailor died. This Lynton Diggle-directed documentary was shot in the months that followed, as the camera followed dive teams into the black depths of the vessel. Their task in hazardous conditions was to salvage oil from the wreck, and preserve Marlborough's coastline.
The last novel by Taranaki author Ronald Hugh Morrieson revolves around a freezing plant worker (Peter McCauley) in an inter-racial marriage. The role of an English remittance man was expanded in a failed attempt to cast Peter O'Toole (the role ultimately went to NZ-born Bruce Spence). Morrieson's view of small town NZ is a dark one, as he explores racism, violence, murder, suicide and blackmail. Bruno Lawrence contributes to Jonathan Crayford's jazz-tinged score, and features in the wedding band. The freezing works scenes were shot at the defunct plant in Patea.
Heart of the High Country saw NZ and the mother country getting into bed together, on and off the screen. The rags/riches/rags tale chronicles 18 years for Ceci (Valerie Gogan), a working class Brit who arrives in the South Island and fends off a series of mean-tempered pioneer males — and one long unrequited love. The Sam Pillsbury-directed mini-series played in primetime on ITV in the UK, and was funded by England’s Central TV and TVNZ. It shares storytelling DNA with earlier TV movie It’s Lizzie to Those Close; Brit Elizabeth Gowans scripted both.
"I do hope your pimples don't let you down on the big night." 14-year old Steve is caught between creatures he does not fully understand: two parents with very different ideas about the suit he should wear to his first school dance. Meanwhile everywhere he seems to look, images of men are taking control of his imagination. In Stewart Main's comical coming of age story Steve escapes his parents' good wishes, to discover his true desires. They aren't quite what his no-nonsense father had in mind.
Sean's prize possession is a 1958 red and white Ford Fairlane. His sister Annie works in an auto paint shop. But Annie is sick of playing shotgun, while her brother drives. What she wants is Sean's trust, and the chance to use her spraypainting talents to give the Fairlane a new look. After the Fairlane is stolen, the pair find themselves caught up in an adventure which tests their relationship. Writer Debra Daley based the script on a short story she had written about growing up in the ‘car culture' of Henderson, in West Auckland.
Michael Firth's feature film tells the story of writer and educator Sylvia Ashton-Warner, as she forges her visionary philosophy of “organic teaching” while teaching Māori children at an isolated school in the 1940s. Taking in romance and struggle, the drama was widely praised: Village Voice named it one of the 10 best films of 1985, while critic Andrew Sarris found “the intensely interacting performances" of the four principals "nothing short of breathtaking”. The film is based on Ashton-Warner’s books Teacher and I Passed This Way. Supporting actor Mary Regan won a GOFTA award.
Just after midnight on November 18, 1982, Neil Roberts, a 22-year old anarchist, exploded a bag of gelignite outside the Whanganui police computer centre, killing himself instantly. In this short film, director William Keddell uses a fictional character — Eric, a young man awoken in bed at the exact moment of detonation — to take a psychological road-trip exploring the events leading up to what is arguably NZ’s most famous case of homegrown political terrorism. Real-life friends and associates of Roberts make cameo appearances in supporting roles.
Heart of the Stag showed that director Michael Firth could handle actors as well as skis (his first film, ski documentary Off the Edge, was Oscar-nominated). Bruno Lawrence stars as a man working for a King Country farmer (Terence Cooper), who romances the farmer's adult daughter (Mary Regan) and starts wondering about the strained family dynamic. A rare drama dealing with incest, Heart of the Stag was praised by The LA Times as "electrifyingly good". The NZ Herald said it handled a delicate subject without compromise. Metro voted it the best Kiwi film of 1984.
Shot on location in Wellington, often after dark, Inside Straight helped usher in a new era of Kiwi TV dramas, far from the rural backblocks. This Minder-esque portrait of Wellington’s underworld was inspired by writer Keith Aberdein’s experiences as a taxi-driver and all night cafe worker. Phillip Gordon (soon to win fame as a conman in Came a Hot Friday) stars as the former fisherman, learning the ways of the city from veteran taxi driver Roy Billing. A solid but unspectacular rater over 10 episodes, the show was scuttled by the launch of trucker’s tale Roche.
Rosemary Edmonds (Annie Whittle) is a photographer, mother and middle-distance runner. A project photographing the rare yellow-eyed penguin sends her to a remote Otago cottage. On arrival odd happenings become increasingly menacing. Rosemary refuses to be intimidated. But events escalate, sending her running from her unknown assailant to the phone box for help in the race of her life. Bird-watching, stranger danger and feminist film theory line up for a time trial in Melanie Read's first feature, for which 20 of the 29-strong production crew were women. Marathon champ Allison Roe — who trained Whittle for the film — makes a brief cameo.
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).
Merata Mita’s Patu! is a startling record of the mass civil disobedience that took place throughout New Zealand during the winter of 1981, in protest against a South African rugby tour. Testament to the courage and faith of both the marchers and a large team of filmmakers, the feature-length documentary is a landmark in Aotearoa's film history. It staunchly contradicts claims by author Gordon McLauchlan a couple of years earlier that New Zealanders were "a passionless people".
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.
It's the 1870s, and Māori leader Te Wheke (Anzac Wallace) is fed up by brutal land grabs. He leads a bloody rebellion against the colonial Government, provoking threatened frontiersmen, disgruntled natives, lusty wahine, bible-bashing priests, and kupapa alike to consider the nature of ‘utu’ (retribution). Legendary New Yorker critic Pauline Kael raved about Geoff Murphy’s ambitious follow up to Goodbye Pork Pie: “[He] has an instinct for popular entertainment. He has a deracinated kind of hip lyricism. And they fuse quite miraculously in this epic ...”
This feature tells the true story of the notorious 1941 manhunt for Stanley Graham. The West Coast farmer went bush after a shooting spree that followed police pressure to have him hand over his firearms. Seven men were ultimately killed. Written by Kiwi-born Andrew Brown (from Harold Willis’ book), Bad Blood was made during the tax break era for UK TV, but was released in NZ cinemas. Directed by Brit Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral), it won strong reviews. Aussie legend Jack Thompson and compatriot Carol Burns star as the isolated Bonnie and Clyde coasters.
This documentary sees director Gaylene Preston go behind the scenes during the making of Geoff Murphy's Utu — his ambitious 'puha western' set during the 1870s land wars. “It’s like football innit? You set up the event and cover it …” says Murphy, preparing to shoot a battle scene. In this excerpt, the film’s insistence on cultural respect is conveyed: Merata Mita discusses the beauty of ta moko as Anzac Wallace is transformed into Te Wheke in the make-up chair, and Martyn Sanderson reflects on having his head remade to be blown off: “What’s the time Mr Wolf?”.
One of those Blighters began life as a doco on Taranaki novelist Ronald Hugh Morrieson, but after interviews with many who knew him, morphed into something more offbeat: a semi-fictionalised tale of Morrieson’s mates reminiscing about his departure, interwoven with highlights from his tales of drunkards and con artists. The dramatisations are from his four novels - all became movies - plus one posthumously published short story. Amidst a cast packed to the rafters with carousing Kiwi screen legends, fellow multi-talented muso Bruno Lawrence plays Morrieson.
In this episode of the early 80s TVNZ high country drama (penned by Pukemanu writer Julian Dickon and directed by Roger Donaldson), Jocko (Bruce Allpress) is reunited with two fellow Korean War veterans — but one is now an escaped convict and the other a police officer heading the manhunt. Stan, another escapee (a suitably manic Bruno Lawrence), stirs things up but the real drama here involves unfinished business for three former soldiers from a conflict 25 years earlier. It’s also very much a man’s world, without a single female character to be seen.
Introduced by a pilot called High Country, Jocko was an early 80s attempt by TVNZ to build a series around a travelling swagman character. Jocko (Bruce Allpress) is a maverick musterer and rural jack-of-all-trades in the tradition of the Australian swagman and the American cowboy. But the setting is a contemporary one: in the South Island high country where old and new methods of farming are coming into conflict. Two series were made, written by Julian Dickon (Pukemanu), and co-starring Desmond Kelly as Jocko’s off-sider and travelling companion, China.
A Leon Narbey-directed documentary about English conservationist Richard St Barbe Baker. 'St Barbe' (here aged 92) is interviewed at a South Island station where he presciently warns of desertification and laments the earth being "skinned alive". The visionary tree-planting advocate founded the organisation Men of the Trees (now the International Tree Foundation) to promote reforestation and protect trees, from 5000-year-old bristlecone pines to giant kauri. The film includes the inspiring St Barbe's tree-hugging exercise regime: two minutes morning and night.
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.
This TVNZ kidult drama is a saltwater Swallows and Amazons, where the plucky "urchins" stumble upon villainous plots (from missing treasure to wildlife smuggling) on their seaside adventures. Over three series, locations like Mahurangi Peninsula in the Hauraki Gulf — where the youngsters holidayed with their uncle — and the Marlborough Sounds allowed for much floatplane, launch and navy frigate chase action. The cast included an array of experienced talent and featured a young Rebecca Gibney (the Packed to Rafter’s star’s first major TV role) and Robert Rakete.
This feature is a dramatized reconstruction of actual events surrounding a notorious miscarriage of justice. Farmer Arthur Allan Thomas was jailed for the murder of Harvey and Jeanette Crewe but later exonerated. Directed by John Laing, produced by John Barnett and starring well-known English actor David Hemmings (Blowup, Barbarella), the docudrama leveraged the immense public interest in the case (Thomas was pardoned when the film was in pre-production). It became NZ's most successful commercial film until Goodbye Pork Pie.
This film documents the influential 1979 New Zealand tour of a black theatre group from London arts centre Keskidee. They visit marae, perform at The Gluepot, prisons and youth centres; meet gang members, Ratana ministers and a young Tame Iti; and korero about roots and fights for rights. The made-for-TV film was directed by Merata Mita and Martyn Sanderson. On the tour Sanderson met his future wife, Kenyan actor Wanjiku Kairie. Tour instigator Denis O’Reilly argued in 2009 that the doco is “full of insights at a time of huge social and cultural shifts in Aotearoa.”
Richard Turner made Squeeze to break the "conspiracy of silence" about homosexuality. A pioneering early portrait of Auckland's LGBT scene, Squeeze centres on the relationship between a young man (Paul Eady) and the confident executive (Robert Shannon) who romances him, then mentions he has a fiancée. The film was discussed in Parliament after Patricia Bartlett campaigned against the possibility it might get NZ Film Commission funding (it didn't). Kevin Thomas in The LA Times praised Squeeze's integrity and the "steadfast compassion with which it views its hero".
This award-winning kidult series is set in the colonial town of Wainamu, amidst the North Island’s ‘thermal wonderland’, c.1900. It follows the challenges that Sir Charles Pemberton (Terence Cooper) faces in building a spa on Māori land. In this episode local lad Tom, son of the hotelier, is piqued by the arrival of Sir Charles and his aristocratic entourage, (particularly granddaughter Sarah Jane aka “Little Miss Prim”), whose train is late due to being spooked by natives. His gang of shanghai-toting scallywags also take on the mean local butcher.
Jack Winter's Dream is an unusual entry in the library of government filmmakers the National Film Unit: a poetic account of drink-fuelled males telling tales, adapted from a radio play by James K Baxter. Built around themes of age, death and love, the hour-long film starts with an old swagman bedding down in the ruins of an Otago pub. Time drifts: back to the night a newly rich goldminer found himself swapping memories and reveries — some of which unfurl on screen — with three drinkers and the barman (Bernard Kearns). But which one of them is planning murder?
Charlie Horse is a personal film diary by actor Martyn Sanderson showing the breaking-in and training of a young colt in rural Hawke's Bay. It was made when Sanderson was a vital part of the gang of Blerta creatives who based themselves at Waimarama Beach in the 1970s. Some stunning ‘wild horses' imagery is captured (shot by Sanderson and cinematographer Alun Bollinger) and narration is intriguingly provided from audience comments recorded at a local screening of the footage. It features music by Blerta members Bruno Lawrence, Chris Seresin and Patrick Bleakley.
Children's adventure series Gather Your Dreams follows Kitty, a teenage girl who dreams of stardom while travelling with her family's vaudeville troupe in Depression-era 1930s New Zealand. The troupe's impresario (and Kitty’s father) was played by Terence Cooper (Mortimer’s Patch). Mostly shot in the Coromandel, the 1/2 hour 13-part series was one of a run of kidult dramas made in the late 70s by SPTV, and like its predecessor — colonial scamp saga Hunter's Gold — it found international sales success. Dreams was helmed by Hunter's Gold director Tom Parkinson.
The Governor was a six-part TV epic that examined the life of Governor George Grey (Corin Redgrave). This episode arguably best lived up to the blockbuster scale and revisionist ambitions of the series. It depicts key battles of the 1863-64 Waikato Campaign (including ‘Rewi’s last stand’ at Ōrākau). General Sir Duncan Cameron (Martyn Sanderson) feels growing unease following Grey’s orders to evict Māori villagers, as he learns respect for his foe, and that Grey’s motives are driven not just by the urge to impose order on ‘the natives’ but by hunger for land.
An old woman (Olive Bracey) recounts to her nephew (actor Martyn Sanderson) memories of her life in Hokianga. The film is a mix of personal return journey for Sanderson and an affectionate record of his spirited aunt (she's "the one who ate wheatgerm" in the family). Autumn Fires mixes conversations, photos, and dramatisations of romantic letters. Sanderson rambles on the farm, picks mussels in bull kelp sandals, muses on industrial agriculture and on the "unambitious peaceful life". Directed by Barry Barclay, the elegiac film screened in TV1's Scene series.
Solo is a story about three people on the edge of nowhere, struggling to decide how much of themselves to share with those they care about. Young Australian hitchhiker Judy romances solo Dad Paul, who finds peace flying fire patrol planes above the forest. Paul's precocious son reacts badly to losing pole position to Judy, and takes to the air. Inspired partly by the oft-painful times when we are "more acutely in touch” with our emotions, Tony Williams' romance helped launch the Kiwi movie renaissance. But as he writes in the backgrounder, there was no fun in filming it three times.
Three New Zealanders was a documentary series that looked at the lives of three of NZ's most celebrated writers: Sylvia-Ashton Warner, Janet Frame and Dame Ngaio Marsh. Produced by Endeavour Films (John Barnett), the final chapter of this three-part series centres on internationally acclaimed crime-writer and Shakespearean director Dame Ngaio Marsh. It contains an interview with Marsh in her later years, interspersed with comments from former students and friends, and re-enactments from her novels (with the Blerta crew as players, and John Bach as Hamlet!).
Wild Man is the missing link between early 70s musical legends Blerta, and the burgeoning of Blerta trumpeter Geoff Murphy as a man whose directing talents knew few bounds. The Blerta ensemble relocated to the mud-soaked West Coast to create this tale of pioneer con men and silent movie style pratfalls. Bruno Lawrence and Ian Watkin arrange a fight - and bets - in each town they arrive in, while Bruno channels his inner wild man from under a leopard skin. Wild Man was released in cinemas alongside John Clarke and Geoff Murphy’s Dagg Day Afternoon.
Part one of a four part thriller written by Keith Aberdein. In a small North Island town, a mysterious unmarked grave is believed to hold the remains of a tohunga who died ridding his people of a deadly epidemic. Now, an archaeological dig might be getting too close to that grave. A visiting doctor (Cathy Downes) arrives in town to find the locals in a state of agitation; the archaelogist (Martyn Sanderson) full of good intentions, but unaware of where his actions could lead; and relations between Māori and Pakeha strained as two cultures struggle to co-exist.
A mainstay on cinema and TV screens for over 20 years, this commercial — reputedly NZ’s longest-running — made Kiwis feel as if the UK-born hokey pokey treasure was ‘ours’. Directed by Tony Williams, the madcap romp features a bevy of 70s acting talent caught up in chaos, after outlaws start a free for all fight for a chest of Crunchie bars. A connection with Martin Scorsese’s editor allowed access to footage from old Westerns, while the immortal tune is by Murray Grindlay. Williams overspent his meagre budget, and a lawn mower given to him as a thank you ended up his fee.
Around 31 March 1903, eccentric farmer Richard Pearse climbed into a self-built monoplane and flew for about 140 metres, before crashing into a Waitohi gorse bush. The amount of control he maintained and exact date (before the Wright brothers?) has been oft-debated. This award-winning TV film (an early script for Hunter's Gold's Roger Simpson) dramatises the life of the reclusive young inventor and his flying machine, from his youth up until the flight itself. Actor Martyn Sanderson captures 'Mad Dick's' obsession in a Feltex-winning performance.
The Hum is about sailing legend Geoff Stagg, and his yacht Whispers. Directed by Tony Williams and written by Martyn Sanderson, the doco is a paean to the lure of sailing, focusing on Stagg’s colourful personality, and his veteran ocean-racing crew, as they take on the Wellington to Kapiti Island and down to the Sounds race. Fortunately for the film they deliver on reputation. Dolphins, Strait squalls, streaking, ciggies, and some fierce 70s moustaches are all in a weekend’s sailing. Stagg would go on to head renowned Farr Yacht Design (now Stagg Yachts).
“Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle”. Denis Glover’s classic poem The Magpies has inspired Dick Frizzell illustrations, a play, onomatopoeia spats, and this 1974 short film, produced by publisher Alister Taylor. It centres around Glover musing on Magpies in his smoky Terrace flat, in an interview made by Glover’s son Rupert. Bookending the interview are two readings of the poem by director Martyn Sanderson. Sanderson’s classic voice scores scenes of rural decay, and animation interpreting the tragedy of Tom and Elizabeth (the farming couple whose dreams go bad).
This award-winning 1973 TV drama follows the career of PM Richard 'King Dick' Seddon from the events leading to his premiership in 1893, until his death in 1906. Writer Michael Noonan intersperses speeches and cabinet discussions with vignettes of Seddon's interaction with pressure groups and voters. Tony Currie (Close to Home) is convincing as the colourful Seddon, forcing through groundbreaking legislation. Currie won best actor at the Feltex Awards for his efforts. Watch out too for broadcaster and media commentator Brian Edwards as an opposition MP.