Owen Hughes segued directly from university to a job at independent production company Pacific Films. Since establishing his own company Frame Up Films in 1977, Hughes has gone on to produce 40 plus documentaries and many dramas. Along the way he has nurtured the talents of a number of directors early in their careers, including Niki Caro, Fiona Samuel and Jessica Hobbs.
As a ‘black’ worker [in London], no union card, on meagre wages, I quickly picked up the honoured English art of surviving on petty cash. Owen Hughes
In this Kiwi-Aussie co-production Sam Neill confronts what ‘Anzac’ means, a century after NZ and Australian troops landed at Gallipoli as part of an invasion by British-led forces to capture the Turkish territory. Through the lens of his whānau’s war stories (including a visit to his grandfather's grave) Neill uncovers forgotten truths about the catastrophic campaign, and examines ways the Anzac myth has been manipulated. "I hate militarism, loathe nationalism but honour those who served.” The full documentary screened to acclaim on Māori Television on Anzac Day 2015.
This Artsville documentary (full title: Under the Skin of the Auckland Life Drawing Group) visits a group of artists who have been gathering together for over 30 years to take part in a life drawing. Group members — sculptor Terry Stringer and painters Jan Nigro, John Andrew and Mary McIntyre — talk about the inspiration that the models provide and the journeys they take the images on in terms of their own art. The early history of art schools in Auckland is discussed and the nude models break their silence to discuss the enjoyment they get from participating.
Amadi is a Rwandan refugee struggling with his new life in New Zealand. Alone, patronised in his menial job (he’s called “Africa” by a workmate), and anxious about rescuing his family from his war-torn ‘home’; he forms an unlikely connection with the prickly lady living next door. Directed by 2009 Spada New Filmmaker of the Year, Zia Mandviwalla, Amadi joined Eating Sausage, Clean Linen, and Cannes-selected Night Shift to form a quartet of Mandviwalla-made shorts exploring cross-cultural collision. It screened at Melbourne and Hawaii international film festivals.
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.
Ingeniously unfolding three tales in unison, Take 3 follows a trio of young asian-Kiwi actors on one horrifying day of auditions. Director Roseanne Liang (My Wedding and Other Secrets) mines comedy from the competitive, cookie-cutter world of casting, while questioning the way minority actors are asked to perpetuate old-fashioned stereotypes. The stars are My Wedding lead Michelle Ang, Katlyn Wong (comedy A Thousand Apologies), and Li Ming Hu (Shortland Street doctor Li Mei Chen). Take 3 won special mention in the Generation 14plus section at Berlin film fest.
Directed by Owen Hughes, this piece for arts show Artsville explores the feeling of being caught between cultures. Painter Prakash Patel grew up as an Indian in conservative 1970s Wanganui. As a Kiwi he didn’t feel Indian yet he didn’t belong in Wanganui either - ‘What am I doing here?’ In 2006 he was awarded a Creative New Zealand Residency at the Sanskriti Campus in New Delhi. Out of Darkness, Out of India follows Prakash on his journey from discomfort to discovery.
Wedding photographs are attempts to create and preserve perfection, taken under pressure. Can the results be art as well as personal history, or are they neither? Such questions are the focus of this Artsville doco, which benefits from insights by a multi-cultural cast of wedding photographers. Geoffrey Heath questions the reality of glamour and romance in some of his own art photography, while labouring to capture beauty in his wedding work. Others recall the challenges of getting good shots amidst drunkenness, dysfunctional families, and grooms in their undies.
Mediarena was an exhibition of contemporary art from Japan on show in New Plymouth in 2004. Held at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, it showcased 17 artists and a video installation. Hosts Serena Bentley and Yuri Kinugawa travel to Taranaki for the Artsville series and find out how artists are transforming and subverting traditional images and ideas and bringing them into a contemporary form. Themes include female subservience in Japanese society, celebrity culture, the commuter experience, genetic modification and ecological sustainability.
Jim Hopkins presents this doco — based on his bestselling book — about backyard inventors and their inventions. Some of these “sheddies” are seeking their fortunes but others seem to simply derive a quiet satisfaction from their ingenuity. They might come from a tradition of number eight wire, string and chewing gum, but amphibious planes and hovercraft feature prominently (with one basement boasting a wind tunnel); while a rural bent extends to fence brackets, gate openers, shearing tables, possum pluckers and a serious rat trap (designed by a poet).
This debut feature from director Niki Caro follows a Tokyo woman and her fiance who elope to New Zealand. A stunted beginning to their sexual relationship is overcome in a cave on an isolated West Coast beach. Shortly afterwards he drowns. She returns to a suffocating Tokyo before being drawn back to the cave. The restrained study of eroticism and grief was based on a short story by Peter Wells (itself inspired by a true story). Desire was selected for Critics' Week at Cannes (1998), and won best film at 1999's NZ Film Awards and a special jury prize for Caro.
Intergenerational warfare, mad aunts, bored teens, affairs, abortions and the ache of regret are on the menu in place of sausage rolls in Home Movie. A christening is the crux around which a family does its best to pull apart at the seams. Performances and a script attuned to the details of domestic disturbance don't hold back (America's Funniest Home Videos this ain't). Directed and written by Fiona Samuel, it was part of TV One's Montana Sunday Drama series. It won best actor, actress and TV drama at the 1998 NZ Film and TV Awards.
Predating hit show Survivor, this early TV3 reality TV documentary saw Kiwi teens fending for themselves over eight days on Rakitu Island. Among the three females and three males facing off Lord of the Flies-style were future National MP Nikki Kaye, who later argued she was meant to represent the "private school girl who couldn't survive without a hairdryer". Instead Kaye took the leader’s role and clubbed an eel, while many of her companions showed little inclination to help with the fishing. Kaye later opposed her party’s proposal to mine on nearby Great Barrier Island.
This documentary is a hallucinogenic exploration of the allure of the foot and the cult of the shoe. What other item of clothing carries the promise of such pleasure or pain? A podiatrist, a ballerina, a cross dresser, a mistress, an academic, a transexual, a femme fatale and a couple of shoe salesmen journey into the depths of their soles. Selected for Venice Film Festival in 1996, Footage was an award-winning excursion into documentary making for feature director Niki Caro.
Made for TV ONE’s Montana Sunday Theatre slot, this award-winning one-off drama stars Peter Elliott as a disgraced lawyer, who may or may not have a gambling problem. A down-on-his-luck reporter (Mark Clare) on the trail of the story finds there is more to it than meets the eye, and decides to scam the scammer, with dangerous consequences. Writer/director Jonothan Cullinane went on to make the feature film We’re Here to Help.
In this award-winning Montana Sunday Theatre drama, Cliff Curtis plays Jim, a grungy rocker who can’t (and doesn’t want to) commit to a straight life with his misguidedly hopeful girlfriend Sina (Sarah Smuts-Kennedy). A night of emotional turmoil in the city ensues as Sina does her best to avoid the reality of her situation (as well as home invasion and Jim’s dodgy manager). Fiona Samuel's darkly funny script and top-notch casting underpin this look at the not-so-delicate nature of relationships amongst a group of Generation X Aucklanders.
A plain tale about the swollen secretions of suburban love. In middle class Auckland vulnerable passions break the surface as Laura (Meryl Main from Highwater) aggressively pursues love and acceptance, finding something very like it right next door. For director Niki Caro this one-hour drama was a watershed in her career. It was her ultimate drama production before embarking on a feature film career; it screened as part of the Montana Theatre series on TV One in 1995. Plain Tastes features Marton Csokas and Kate Harcourt. Producer Owen Hughes writes about Plain Tastes here.
This short film was a directorial debut for actor Michael Hurst and screened at Cannes (1994) in a Kiwi shorts showcase. The title comes from country music legend Hank Williams; and more Americana staples — strangers, trains, road trips — are relocated to late-1953 NZ. The marriage of a salesman and his wife has ended in tears. With skilful use of flashbacks, Hurst follows their respective paths with some mysterious travelling companions: Hank Williams and a railways inspector. A passing interest in NZ rail history will add context to the conclusion.
This film documents Miranda Harcourt taking her stageplay Verbatim (written by Harcourt and William Brandt) to prison audiences. The play is a six-character monologue made up of accounts of violent crime, all performed by Harcourt. Director Shirley Horrocks captures the reactions of the prison inmates watching their own lives unfold on stage. Harcourt’s powerful performance is augmented with revealing testimonies of the broken men and women who agree to be interviewed. The documentary won the premier prize at the 1993 Media Peace Awards.
While beachcombing, April (Hester Joyce) discovers an injured man and claims him as her own. She must keep him a secret, and alive, in a makeshift community called Paradise. But Paradise is under threat and the other residents are slowly moving on. Fiercely protective of the broken man in her bed, April cannot leave, nor can she stay. For April there is nowhere to go but up. Directed by Niki Caro (Whale Rider), Sure To Rise competed for the Palme d’Or at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival. Producer Owen Hughes writes here about where the film's rise led its director.
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.
Actor and casting legend Diana Rowan (who discovered both Anna Paquin and Keisha Castle-Hughes) turns her hand to writing and directing, with this darkly comic half-hour television drama based on an original story by Shonagh Koea. Veteran actor Helen Moulder (Fallout) gives a stand-out performance as a recently widowed woman, who arrives at a novel solution to well-meaning but hideous friends and family. The Wall is dedicated to director of photography Bayly Watson, who passed away soon after working on it.
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.
This documentary looks at the life and work of acclaimed author Patricia Grace. Filmed at home, on marae and in classrooms, Grace discusses her writing process, her Hongoeka Bay upbringing, her children’s books, criticism of her work, and her Māori identity and belonging to the land (a theme of her then-recently successful novel Potiki). In particular she affirms the importance of writing from experience. The film features interviews with publishers and friends, and excerpts from Grace's stories are read and dramatised, including At the River, The Hills and Mutuwhenua.
Director Greg Stitt's 50min short sees actor Mark Hadlow playing Kevin: a pie cart worker obsessed with the singer Mario Lanza. Kevin's idolatry turns into an identity crisis as operatic-scale fantasising clashes with his meek disposition. Further complications arise from a friendship with his brash punk neighbour, and from stage fright ahead of a fundraiser for Kev's Lanza fan club (Lanza also had a noteworthy teenage fan club in Heavenly Creatures). Will Kev get his Susan Boyle moment? The black comedy was written with Scarecrow scribe Michael Heath.
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.
Gliding On meets Borat, as a man pretending to be a fisherman from a fictional town heads to Wellington to find out if any government agency will take action about fish he says are dying in his river. Clad in jacket and tie and walk shorts and walk socks, he traipses the corridors of power which are artfully shot to look like a hell from which he will never escape. His attempts to find someone who can take action yield only a succession of impotent bureaucrats who participate happily but only to explain, often at length, why they can’t actually do anything.
In this 1972 documentary writer James McNeish visits Opononi to examine the life and controversial death of Opo the dolphin. Working from a McNeish idea, director Barry Barclay uses Opo’s mid 50s visit to the Hokianga as the basis for a probing film essay on people, and other animals. Witnesses recall Opo “oomping away”; they include local Piwai Toi, filmmakers Rudall and Ramai Hayward, and author Maurice Shadbolt. Opo is provokingly not shown on screen. Michael King praised Miracle as “without a doubt the most interesting and evocative” slot in the Survey series to date.
“A film developed from the imagination of New Zealand children” is how director Tony Williams describes this remarkable, sprawling mix of drama and documentary. It features a fictitious teacher (writer Michael Heath) working with a class of 11-year-olds from Petone to explore what freedom means to them. At times their notions might seem naive but the film remains firmly non-judgmental. The free-wheeling approach, most memorable in the Paekakariki beach fantasy scenes, makes for a “wonderfully idiosyncratic” (film historian Roger Horrocks) hymn to juvenile freedom.