Michael Horton's CV reads like a potted history of the Kiwi film renaissance. His editing work includes classic films Goodbye Pork Pie, Smash Palace, Utu and Once Were Warriors. In 2003 Horton's talents won international recognition, when he was Oscar-nominated for his editing on Tolkien epic The Two Towers.
Michael Horton’s editing is a precision job. David Stratton, reviewing Once Were Warriors, Variety, 20 May 1994
Inspired by Witi Ihimaera's Bulibasha, Mahana saw director Lee Tamahori making his first film on local soil since a very different family tale: 1994's Once Were Warriors. Temuera Morrison stars as a 60s era farming patriarch who makes it clear his family should have absolutely nothing to do with rival family the Poatas. Then romance enters the picture, and son Simeon sets out to find out how the feud first started. The powerhouse Māori cast includes Nancy Brunning (who is included in the interview clips) and Jim Moriarty. Mahana debuted at the 2016 Berlin Film Festival, before NZ release.
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 New Zealand 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 local film officially selected for the Cannes Film Festival, and the second biggest local hit to that date (after Murphy's Goodbye Pork Pie). A producer-driven recut was later shown in the United States. This 2013 redux offers Utu “enhanced and restored”.
Separation City is a comedy-drama about the complications that ensue as two marriages collapse. Men's groups and midlife crises in contemporary Wellington make up the world in which the multi-national cast explores, in screenwriter Tom Scott's words, "biology and human nature". This feature marks the first solo film script by political cartoonist Scott, who honed his writing skills on a run of TV projects during the two-decade journey to bring the film to the screen. Successful commercials director, Australian-based Kiwi Paul Middleditch, directs.
A classic case of the little movie that could, Second-Hand Wedding is a feel-good tale of garage sales, and the ties that bind. Worried that her mother’s zeal for bargains might ruin her big day, Cheryl (Holly Shanahan) delays unveiling her wedding plans. When Mum (Geraldine Brophy) finds out the information second-hand, she does not react well. Both actors won NZ Film and TV Awards for their work, and the Kapiti Coast-set film was a bonafide Kiwi hit: breaking out from its independently made origins into the all-time Top 10 for NZ films at the local box office.
Loosely based on the case of a real-life computer dealer who acquired international bank records and later died mysteriously on Auckland Harbour Bridge, Spooked marked Geoff Murphy’s first local movie in 15 years (after time directing in Hollywood). Everyman Kevin (Christopher Hobbs) is caught up in a barrage of intimidation after buying some used computer equipment and unwittingly receiving corporate secrets; Cliff Curtis plays the journalist investigating his case. There are also rare cameos by director Vincent Ward and Goodbye Pork Pie star Kelly Johnson.
The second Lord of the Rings installment sees hobbit Frodo Baggins continuing his mission to destroy the ring. Meanwhile the Fellowship is breaking apart, and an epic night battle ensues at Helm's Deep. The film marked a star turn by Gollum, the emaciated Andy Serkis-voiced creature whose realisation was a cinema landmark and a triumph for the design and special effects team. Alongside praise for the film's pace and spectacle, The Two Towers broke international opening records, before going on to outgross Fellowship of the Ring, and win two technical Oscars.
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.
Passion project The Lunatics' Ball follows an unorthodox psychologist who arrives at a psychiatric hospital and tries to use art, joy and respect to motivate his patients. First-timer Michael Thorp wrote the script partly out of worries that drug-based treatment programmes could prove more of a trap than a solution. After casting American-born oboist Russel Walder in the main role, and shooting on a shoestring, Thorp completed editing thanks to $400,000 in Film Commission funding, and help from some major industry names. The result won a jury prize at the Shanghai Film Festival.
This film is about the redemption of Jake the Muss. It picks up the story after Jake has turned his back on his family (his wife has left him to escape the violence) and is up to his usual tricks in McClutchy's Bar. After one of his sons dies suspiciously in a gang fight, another sets out to find revenge, accompanied by young gang member Tania (Nancy Brunning). Scripted by Alan Duff and directed by Ian Mune, the film was the second-highest-earning NZ film of the 1990s, (eclipsed only by Once Were Warriors). It scooped most of the categories at the 1999 NZ Film & TV Awards.
Saving Grace sees spiky street kid Grace (Kirsty Hamilton) get taken in by enigmatic carpenter, Gerald (Jim Moriarty). As Grace falls under (much older) Gerald's spell, she's flummoxed by his claim that he is the messiah. Could Gerald be Jesus of Cuba Street or is he a delusional dole bludger? The screenplay was adapted by Duncan Sarkies (Scarfies) from his stage play. Botes' dramatic feature debut converted fewer viewers than his earlier work, the classic hoodwinker Forgotten Silver; although critic Nicholas Reid welcomed an NZ film that offered "style and brains".
Created by animator Cameron Chittock, with help from Kiwi animation legend Euan Frizzell, this part claymation series follows a boy named Oscar as he goes off on adventures with two imaginary friends: daring Doris and the sometimes cowardly Bugsy. In these 26 five-minute episodes, Oscar meets pirates, oversized bugs, a frog princess, jumps on a flying carpet and travels through time and space. The series screened in New Zealand from 1995 to 1999. Overseas screenings included on ITV in the UK, where it became the 10th highest rating children's show on the network.
Toyota launched its classic Welcome to Our World campaign in late 1989, to support the company's sponsorship of the upcoming Commonwealth Games and the Sesqui 1990 festival. This version was put together for the 1995 America’s Cup and Rugby World Cup. But there is minimum product placement in the heart-warming montage of Aotearoa landscapes and people, set to country singer John Grenell’s baritone take on the Jim Reeves song. The Geoff Dixon-directed campaign ran for a decade; the song topped the Kiwi charts when it was released in early 1990.
Sam Neill weaves portions of autobiography into an idiosyncratic, acclaimed yet controversial analysis of Kiwi cinema — from its crude beginnings, to the dark flowering of achievement seen in the breakthrough films of Peter Jackson, Lee Tamahori, and Jane Campion. Directed by Neill and Judy Rymer, as one of 18 films commissioned for the British Film Institute's Century of Cinema series, the award-winning documentary debuted at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival. The New York Times' Janet Maslin rated it a series highlight. The opening sequence looks at the role of the road in Kiwi film.
An epic documentary chronicling the extraordinary, unbelievable life of pioneer Kiwi filmmaker Colin McKenzie. Or is it? The first clue that none of this story is true is that the film begins (the opening 10 minutes is excerpted here) with Peter Jackson leading the viewer down a garden path. Much that is absurd and unlikely follows, leading to a curiously emotional climax. The screening of Forgotten Silver memorably stirred up NZ audiences, and it screened at international film festivals such as Cannes and Venice, where it won a special critics' prize.
Once Were Warriors opened the eyes of cinemagoers around the globe to an unexamined aspect of modern New Zealand life. Director Lee Tamahori's hard-hitting depiction of domestic and gang violence amongst an urban Māori whānau was adapted from the best-selling Alan Duff novel. The film provided career-defining roles for Temuera Morrison and Rena Owen as Jake the Muss and Beth Heke. It remains NZ's most watched local release in terms of bums on seats. Among a trio of backgrounders, Riwia Brown writes about adapting Duff's book for the screen.
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.
Set over a Christmas beach holiday in 1935, The End of the Golden Weather chronicles the friendship between a teenage boy and the wild-limbed Firpo, dreamer and social outcast. Writer/director Ian Mune spent more than 15 years "massaging" Bruce Mason's classic solo play into a movie, before assembling a dream team to bring it to the screen. The finished film captures the world view of a boy for whom fantasy, hope and disappointment intermingle. Among an impressive awards haul, 12-year-old star Stephen Fulford was recognised at America's Youth in Film Awards.
In the wake of the Allied invasion of Normandy, US soldier Saul (Usual Suspect Gabriel Byrne) meets Belle, alleged to be a Nazi collaborator. He offers to stay in her cottage as Résistance accusers circle. The tragic tale of moral ambiguity during wartime was adapted from a novel by Kiwi MK Joseph. Filmed in France in 1988, director Larry Parr’s feature debut was troubled by the withdrawal of a French partner and bankruptcy of the US distributor; after film festival showings it screened on NZ television in 1995. French actor Marianne Basler won a 1992 NZ Film Award as Belle.
This Depression-era road movie tails teen runaway Kate (Greer Robson) as she tags along with World War I veteran Patrick (Aussie actor Peter Phelps) — himself on the run after assaulting a repo man. The odd couple relationship grudgingly evolves as they often narrowly escape the law, and head north across the southern badlands. Director Sam Pillsbury's on the lam tale won wide praise, with Kevin Thomas in the LA Times calling it "pure enchantment". Robson's award-winning turn as the scamp followed up her breakthrough role in Smash Palace.
Director John Laing followed acclaimed romance Other Halves with an equally stylish but very different big city tale: a thriller in which three orphans plan an international heist to avenge the killing of one of their fathers. The expected diet of shootings, skulduggery and globetrotting accents is enlived by side trips to Geneva, songs from romantic interest Jennifer Ward-Lealand, and a cast of villains to die for (Peter Bland, Ian Mune, Anzac Wallace, Grant Tilly). When Dangerous Orphans was sold in Europe it set an early record for a New Zealand film.
In 1986 Footrot Flats: The Dog's (Tail) Tale and its theme song ‘Slice of Heaven’ were huge hits in New Zealand and Australia. The adaptation of Murray Ball's beloved Footrot Flats comic strip marked Aotearoa's first animated feature. There were a lot of big questions to answer: Will Wal become an All Black? Will Cooch recover his stolen stag? Will the Dog win your hearts and funny bones? Punters answered at the box office. This John Toon-shot trailer doubled as a promo for the Dave Dobbyn-Herbs song, and smartly leveraged both. Tony Hiles writes about the film's making here.
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.
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.
In director Geoff Murphy's cult sci fi feature, a global energy project has malfunctioned and scientist Zac Hobson (Bruno Lawrence) awakes to find himself the only living being left on earth. At first he lives out his fantasies, helping himself to cars and clothes, before the implications of being 'man alone' sink in. As this awareness sends him to the brink of madness — see the excerpt above — he discovers two other survivors. One of them is a woman. The Los Angeles Daily News called the movie “quite simply the best science-fiction film of the 80s”. Read more about it here.
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.
Pioneering poet, author and journalist Robin Hyde was originally Iris Wilkinson. Directed by Tony Isaac (The Governor), this ambitious co-production for television mines quotations from Wilkinson's writing to dramatise her life. In a parallel plotline, a writer, actor and director wrestle with how to capture Iris on screen. For Australian Helen Morse (Picnic at Hanging Rock) playing Iris was a privilege — and her "most difficult" role to date. Morse concluded that Iris was "extraordinarily vulnerable emotionally". This excerpt includes a cameo by the writer's real life son Derek Challis.
This pirates of the South Seas tale stars Tommy Lee Jones (Men in Black, The Fugitive) as rogue Bully Hayes, who helps a missionary save his kidnapped-by-savages wife. Produced by Kiwis Rob Whitehouse and Lloyd Phillips (12 Monkeys, Inglorious Basterds), the film was made in the 80s ‘tax-break’ feature surge and filmed in Fiji and New Zealand (with an NZ crew and supporting cast). John Hughes (Breakfast Club) and David Odell (Dark Crystal) scripted the old-fashioned swashbuckler from a Phillips story. It was released by Paramount in the US as Nate and Hayes.
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 ...”
In a lawless fuel wars future, marauders roam the wasteland looking for oil. Their malevolent leader Straker threatens his daughter Corlie; she’s rescued by loner Hunter and they harbour with eco-sensitive folk in the Clearwater Commune ... but not for long: there will be blood on the Central Otago plains! Following in the exhaust of Mad Max, the cult film was made during the 80s tax-break feature surge, with US director (Harley Cokliss) and leads flocking south during a Hollywood writers’ strike, and Kiwis as crew (“artists with chainsaws”) and supporting cast.
After hitting Wellington for a Ranfurly Shield game, two brothers from the sticks (Grant Tilly and Pork Pie's Kelly Johnson) have to sneak their abruptly deceased father back home. If the body isn’t buried there, they won’t inherit the family farm. Set back when "blokes were blokes and sheilas were their mums", director John Reid’s shaggy dog tale — a Weekend at Bernie's, reeking of stale beer and ciggies — both lauds and satirises the Kiwi male. Among the six clips, the final clip sees Tilly's character getting things off his chest, now that Dad is finally unable to answer back.
Goodbye Pork Pie was a low-budget sensation, definitively proving Kiwis could make blockbusters too. Young Gerry (Kelly Johnson) steals a yellow Mini from a Kaitaia rental company. Heading south, he meets John (Tony Barry), who wants his wife back, and hitchhiker Shirl (Claire Oberman). Soon they're heading to Invercargill, with the police in pursuit. High on hair-raising driving and a childlike sense of joy, the Blondini gang are soon hailed as folk heroes, on screen and off. Remake Pork Pie (2017) was directed by Matt Murphy — son of Geoff, who drove the original film.
Smash Palace is a Kiwi cinema classic and launched Roger Donaldson's American career. Al Shaw (a brilliant, brooding Bruno Lawrence) is a racing car driver who now runs a wrecker's yard in the shadow of Mount Ruapehu. His French wife Jacqui is unhappy there and leaves him, taking up with Al's best mate. When she restricts Al's access to his young daughter, his frustration explodes and he goes bush with the girl, desperate not to lose her too. "There's no road back" runs the tagline. New Yorker critic Pauline Kael called the film "amazingly accomplished".
Beyond Reasonable Doubt reconstructs the events surrounding a notorious New Zealand miscarriage of justice. Farmer Arthur Allan Thomas was jailed for the murder of Harvey and Jeanette Crewe. Directed by John Laing, and starring Australian John Hargreaves (as Thomas) and Englishman David Hemmings (Blowup, Barbarella), the drama benefitted from immense public interest in the case. Thomas was pardoned while the film was in pre-production, and he saw some scenes being made. It became New Zealand's most successful film until Goodbye Pork Pie in 1981.
Rodeo thrills and spills — Kiwi style — are on display in this documentary following two cowboys travelling the circuit in a 1950s Chrysler. They compete in events in Fairlie, Rerewhakaaitu and Warkworth, and encounter American and Australian stars along the way. Broncos, calves and bulls are ridden, wrestled or roped; but pride of place goes to spectacular shots of them using rodeo skills to capture deer by helicopter. A parade, the 'Cowboy's Prayer' and fearless rodeo clowns also feature. Legendary commercials maker Geoff Dixon (founder of company Silverscreen) directs.
In this children's sci-fi caper, an all-singing all-dancing gang of cronies led by 'evil Eva' (Nevan Rowe) holds Auckland to ransom for $5,000,000. As in Under the Mountain Auckland's volcanoes play a starring role, with Eva threatening to drop a nuclear bomb into the crater of Rangitoto. Who will save the city? A trio of intrepid kids and their DIY anti-gravity machine are on the case. Writers Ian Mune and Keith Aberdein give director Roger Donaldson (and a bevy of industry talent) plenty of goofy 70s fun to play with. Donaldson would shortly helm the acclaimed Smash Palace.
An early case of a Kiwi play being adapted for the screen, Middle Age Spread asks whether adultery is inevitable (and whether it can stay secret). Grant Tilly won acclaim as "an antipodian Woody Allen" for his philandering deputy headmaster fearing a future of stress and marital dissatisfaction. Roger Hall's hit comedy was adapted in the first flush of the Kiwi film renaissance. It marks the movie debut of many talents — including Tilly, director John Reid, writer Keith Aberdein, and cinematographer Alun Bollinger. Middle Age Spread was the first Kiwi feature to screen on the BBC.
A 1978 documentary that follows the attempt by three young people to be the first windsurfers to cross Cook Strait. Directed and narrated by Sam Neill (soon to be famous as an actor) for the National Film Unit. The skeptical Cook Strait pilot John Cataldo asks them: "do you wanna have a crack?" "Yeah, bloody oath" one of the surfers replies. They face the Strait's infamous winds, tides, swells, sharks and exhaustion. Some stunning helicopter shots include a windsurfer clipping through whitecaps with a pod of dolphins in its wake.
Bill Morrison is a man on a mission. His wife and child can't walk nearly as fast. As the trio head toward the mining settlement where a new job awaits, Bill is about to react in different ways to two very different surprises — one from his wife, and one at the mine. This half-hour drama from the Winners & Losers series is based on a Maurice Shadbolt story, which later fed into Shadbolt's decade-in-the-making novel Strangers and Journeys. Singer turned advertising veteran Clyde Scott plays Bill. Actor and public speaking expert Jane Thomas John plays the nameless, long-suffering wife.
Set amidst the 'friendly' 1974 Commonwealth Games, The Games Affair was a thriller fantasy series for children. Remembered fondly by many who were kids in the 70s, the story follows three teenagers who battle a miscreant professor who's experimenting on athletes with performance enhancing drugs. Alongside the young heroes the series featured John Bach as a grunting villain, a youthful Elizabeth McRae, and SFX jumping sheep. It was NZ telly’s first children’s serial, the first independently produced long-form drama, and an early credit for producer John Barnett.
This classic 70s series saw film crews follow Sir Edmund Hillary and an A-Team of mates (Dingle, Wilson, Gill, Jones, son Peter et al) on missions into the wild. The concept was dreamt up by Bob Harvey. The Kaipo Wall — an expedition to ascend for the first time Fiordland's remote Kaipo Wall — was the first, directed by Roger Donaldson. An ensuing Everest trip was unproduced. Mike Gill and Hillary then went DIY and produced two editions: a climb of the The Needles, a rock stack off Great Barrier; and Gold River, a Kawarau and Clutha river jet-boat dash.
Aotearoa's place as an adventure sport mecca is vividly captured in this classic 70s documentary, directed by Roger Donaldson (Smash Palace). Sir Edmund Hillary leads an A-Team of mates to tackle Fiordland's unclimbed Kaipo Wall. In part one, they set out to kayak and raft down the Hollyford River's white water rapids for the first time (they're soon overturned, bashed and wet). At Lake McKerrow they build a DIY sailboat with a tent fly and branches (Bear Grylls take note), then tramp along windswept sands and through thick bush to reach the imposing wall.
This Roger Donaldson-directed documenary follows Sir Edmund Hillary, as he leads an A-Team of mates on an epic expedition to climb Fiordland's Kaipo Wall. In part two Murray Jones and Graeme Dingle attack the imposing 1000 metre face, and tackle icy rocks and vertical overhangs. Hillary's supply team skirts around towards a peak rendezvous, meeting friendly kea and unfriendly weather en route. When the climbers unite there's a celebratory beer before a blizzard traps them in a snowcave and tents. Awesome cinematography captures the old school thrill of adventure.
Set during the 1974 Commonwealth Games, thriller-fantasy series The Games Affair was NZ telly's first children's serial. Remembered fondly by 70s kids, it follows three teenagers battling a miscreant professor who's experimenting on athletes. The second episode begins with the trio finding a performance-enhanced (by nifty stop-motion) beach runner. The trail takes them to QEII Park for the Games' opening ceremony where they confront the villains, and — via pioneering DIY FX — deflate John Bach Flat Stanley-style. Note: the episode has nothing to do with toilets.
Set during the 1974 Commonwealth Games, The Games Affair was a thriller fantasy series for children. Remembered fondly by many who were kids in the 70s, the story follows three teenagers who battle a miscreant professor who's experimenting on athletes with performance enhancing drugs. This first episode include some SFX jumping sheep; John Bach as a blonde, grunting villain, and a youthful Elizabeth McRae. It was NZ telly's first children's serial, the first independently produced long-form drama, and an early credit for producer John Barnett.
Groundbreaking 1971 tele-drama The Killing of Kane tells a story of loyalty and corruption amidst the ‘New Zealand Wars’ of the 1860s. Incorporating documentary ‘interludes’, the story involves the predicament of a pair of Pākehā deserters involved in a attack by Māori resistance leader Titokowaru on a Taranaki redoubt. Stellar performances in the dramatic scenes saw Chris Thomson-directed Kane attract praise. It was the first time the controversial subject of colonial conflict had been portrayed on our TV screens. It was also the first local drama shot in colour.