Paul Sutorius is an editor who is as comfortable cutting together scenes for drama, children's adventure, a horror movie or a documentary. Sutorius has worked extensively with director Gaylene Preston, and won awards for his editing on Preston's second feature Ruby and Rata and her Te Papa making-of-museum doco, Getting to Our Place.
We've cut several things together. I’m so glad to have him in the cutting room..not just because of that fantastic humanist brain he brings, and his vast cutting experience, but also his calmness and steadyness. Gaylene Preston
Gaylene Preston's documentary follows a year in the life of trail-blazing politician Helen Clark. During filming the ex New Zealand PM was head of the United Nations Development Programme, and bidding to become the UN’s first female Secretary-General. Preston was keen to capture the empowering character of the woman ranked by Forbes magazine among the 25 most powerful in the world. "Helen is a formidable woman and leader, and I’m honoured she’s given my team access to tell this story." The documentary is set to screen at the 2017 NZ International Film Festival.
This feature film follows Māori medicine woman Paraiti (played by singer Whirimako Black) on a rare visit to Auckland from her Urewera home. She meets a Māori servant (Rachel House) and is drawn into helping a wealthy Pākehā woman (Outrageous Fortune’s Antonia Prebble) with a scandalous, life-threatening secret. The tale of culture clash and deception in settler Aotearoa was directed by Mexican Dana Rotberg (Otlia Rauda), who adapted the story from Witi Ihimaera novella Medicine Woman. Producer John Barnett was also involved in the adaptation of Ihimaera’s Whale Rider.
In search of a hideout, gun-totting Gigi (Kate Elliott) and a gang with criminal tendencies end up in hot water after crashing into the lives of a middle class Māori family. To describe the whānau as meat lovers would be euphemistic. Actor/director Danny Mulheron has often gleefully given the finger to political correctness — witness Meet the Feebles, stage farce The Sex Fiend, and TV's Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby. This Gibson Group production marks his in your face cinematic debut. The anarchic result promises cannibalism, comedy — and chef Tem Morrison.
Christmas Eve 1953: Cricketer Bob Blair (Ryan O'Kane) is in South Africa, days away from batting for New Zealand. His fiancée Nerissa Love (Maddigan's Quest's Rose McIver) is boarding an ill-fated train, which in this excerpt will plunge into the Whangaehu River at Tangiwai, in the country's worst rail disaster. The Dominion Post's Linda Burgess found this TV movie retelling of the tragic romance "first-rate", noting "consistently excellent" performances from O'Kane, McIver, and Miranda Harcourt as Nerissa's wary mother. Tangiwai won four NZ TV awards, including best cinematography.
Kaitangata Twitch follows the adventures of 12-year-old Meredith (Te Waimarie Kessell) who faces mysterious happenings on Kaitangata island. Meredith is the only one who can apprehend the island's 'twitch' and prevent tragedy repeating. The Māori Television series was adapted from a Margaret Mahy story by long-time collaborator, director Yvonne Mackay, and was filmed in Mahy's Governors Bay hometown. Newcomer Kessell stars alongside Charles Mesure and George Henare (in a Qantas-winning turn). Twitch sold to ABC Australia and won international awards.
Kaitangata Twitch follows 12-year-old Meredith, who sees eerie visions as a Governors Bay island is drilled for mining. The Māori Television series was adapted from a Margaret Mahy story by long-time collaborator Yvonne Mackay. Mahy makes a rainbow-wigged cameo in this episode where the locals protest a subdivision, and Meredith apprehends the island's 'twitch'. Newcomer Te Waimarie Kessell stars, with Charles Mesure and George Henare. The mix of the Māori concept of wairua with a willful 21st Century teenage heroine won a Remi Award at Worldfest-Houston 2010.
Home by Christmas sees Gaylene Preston returning to the hidden stories of ordinary New Zealanders. Inspired by attempts to get her father Ed to reveal his WWII experiences, this finely-balanced docu-drama moves between three strands: Preston’s father (Goodbye Pork Pie's Tony Barry, in a Qantas award-winning performance) retelling his story; recreations of Ed’s wartime OE; and life for the woman he left behind in Greymouth. The dream cast sees Preston’s own daughter Chelsie Preston Crayford playing Preston's mother Tui, alongside Martin Henderson.
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).
This award-winning telefilm imagines the effects of a major earthquake on New Zealand’s capital city, and how its citizens react to chaos, death, isolation and tsunami. It was completed in 2008 — before Christchurch took Wellington’s mantle as NZ's shakiest city, and made Aftershock's imagined scenes a reality. Aftershock was produced for TV3 by The Gibson Group, and written by veteran screenwriter Graeme Tetley (Out of the Blue, Vigil). The following week saw the debut of Aftershock - Would You Survive?, which put a real-life family through a three-day survival test.
In this documentary children's author Margaret Mahy is interviewed at her Governors Bay home by friend and fellow author Elizabeth Knox. Many of Mahy's beloved storybook characters also appear to put her on the spot about their origins. In this excerpt, the famous lion from A Lion in the Meadow thanks her for making him yellow, and Mahy talks about eating porridge thrice a day as a young solo mum. Yvonne Mackay directed this seamless mix of real life and Euan Frizzell-created animation. Read more about the doucmentary here.
Jess Feast's debut feature documentary centres around the hip Berlin burlesque joint, White Trash Fast Food, and explores life in post-wall East Berlin: a place where libertines and die-hard communists co-exist but not always harmoniously. The Cowboy is Wally, an artist and chef, who escaped LA to live a life of freedom in Berlin. The Communist is Horst, an intelligent ex-journalist who lives upstairs from White Trash, and mourns for the old regime. Won Best Documentary by a young filmmaker at the Kassel Documentary Festival, 2007.
The Hothouse centres on five flatmates. Three are in the police force, the fourth is a lawyer, and the fifth is the wildcard: "ultimate hedonist" Levi (Kip Chapman). Series creator David Brechin-Smith explores what happens when outwardly good people "either break the law, or their morality is compromised in some way". The Hothouse was nominated for a run of 2007 Qantas TV Awards for acting; director Nathan Price and cinematographer Simon Baumfield won gongs. The cast includes Ryan O'Kane, Tania Nolan and Hannah Gould. The series ran for one season on TV One in 2007.
Created by David Brechin-Smith (The Insiders Guide to Happiness), TV drama The Hothouse explores good times, bad decisions, and the line between right and wrong. This first episode introduces the show's flatmates — three cops, a lawyer, and the new arrival: Levi (Qantas Award nominee Kip Chapman), a cocky drug dealer for whom rules are to be broken. Levi leads Daniel (Ryan O'Kane) to a strip club, and Daniel wonders if he can live with a girlfriend whose work involves helping the criminals he has to deal with in his job. Nathan Price won a Qantas TV award for his direction on the series.
This documentary follows a 32-strong "mob of veterans" (the oldest is 95) on their trip to unveil a war memorial in London's Hyde Park. The memorial honours New Zealand's service in war alongside Britain. The ceremony took place on November 11th 2006, with attendees including Prime Ministers Helen Clark and Tony Blair, The Queen and ... Dave Dobbyn. For many of the elderly vets it is effectively their second OE; they remember war stories and lost mates, flirt with journalists and endure the pitfalls of airport drudgery and jet-lag.
This documentary revisits six eventful weeks in 1949. Led by cameraman Brian Brake, an all-star art team — James K Baxter as scriptwriter, composer Douglas Lilburn and painter John Drawbridge (all under 30; Drawbridge was 19) — attempt to make a 'cinematic poem' about an ascent of Mt Aspiring. Baxter's notes on the trip evolved into his poem In the Matukituki Valley. Aspiring features a lost script, Drawbridge's memories (he recalls storyboards for a snow cave light show here) and a surprise ending. View footage of the never-completed film after the excerpt.
The second, but prequel, series to The Insiders Guide to Happiness is chaos theory in action: seven young strangers whose lives intersect are linked together by a bizarre incident. Produced by the Gibson Group, The Insiders Guide mix of meta-tangle story-telling with fresh shooting and faces, saw Love become a hit with the same youth demographic as Happiness. The show went on to win a clutch of Screen Director's Guild Awards and most of the major drama gongs at the 2006 Qantas Film and TV Awards, including Best Drama, Director, Script, Actor and Actress.
The Insiders Guide to Happiness follows the interconnecting lives of eight 20-something characters — one of them dead — as they search for happiness. Dramatic, comic, sexy, surreal, the drama won critical acclaim and was a ratings success. An ambitious chaos theory-derived 'meta' concept is underpinned by strong performances from the ensemble of burgeoning acting talent, and stylishly-shot Wellington city locations. The Gibson Group production won seven awards at the 2005 NZ Screen Awards, including Best Drama and Best Director (Mark Beesley)
Anna Cottrell's documentary looks at three high profile sports officiators and what makes them tick. Billy Bowden, the showman of international cricket, took up umpiring when arthritis prevented him from playing. Southlander Paddy O'Brien left police to become one of the world's top rugby referees. Pin-up Steve Walsh began refereeing when a neck injury curtailed contact sports. The Whistle Blowers explores the qualities that made them successful sports policemen. After a public battle with alcoholism, Walsh returned to refereeing at the top level in Australia.
In this documentary children of well known Kiwis discuss what it's like to live in the shadow of their parents. Featuring Natasha and Shaan Turner (Mum, Sukhi, was mayor of Dunedin and Dad, Glen, was a well-known New Zealand cricketer). Hinemoa Awatere reveals the bond she has with her mother, politician and activist Donna Awatere-Huata. Martin Crump is candid about Dad Barry's talents as well as his shortcomings, as is Sam Hunt's son, Tom. The Muldoon family remembers their father and grandfather, ex-Prime Minister Robert Muldoon, fondly.
Before their award-winning short films Run and Six Dollar Fifty Man (both invited to Cannes, in 2007 and 2009 respectively), Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland gave early notice of their talents with this short. Made to showcase the work of students from drama school Toi Whakaari, Dead End chronicles the tensions and preparations as various people converge for a funeral. Director Albiston utilises imaginative angles, music, humour and surprise to inject energy into a familiar scenario. Invited to film festivals in NZ, Sydney and Ourense (Spain).
New Zealand's so-called 'cinema of unease' is stretched in new directions in this psychological drama, inspired by real-life interviews with criminals and victim's families. Writer/director Stuart McKenzie's feature debut follows Lisa (Michelle Langstone), a young woman haunted by the rape and murder of a former teenage acquaintance. Lisa's fascination leads her to the victim's parents - and to prison, to interview the charismatic killer (Tim Balme). The result is an intelligent examination of the after effects of violent crime. Shayne Carter provides the soundtrack.
Anthology series Freaky set out to scare its young audience each week with three tales of terror and the fantastic. This first episode includes a pair of cautionary tales, and a cannibal story straight from a horror film. The first story sees a boy ignoring a warning sign on a broken waterslide, and ending up lost in a prehistoric jungle. The second features a girl in biology class learning worrying news about a teacher and fellow pupil. The last story involves a teenager who wishes for her own personalised radio station, and gets more than she bargains for.
This sex in the capital city series centres around 30-something Melissa (Luanne Gordon), who has shed a corporate legal career to set up a male strip revue. The Gibson Group-produced show married the fretful modern woman protagonist of Ally McBeal with the hen's night appeal of Ladies Night; it screened for two series on TV3. In this episode from the first series Melissa enjoys her towel-clad new flatmate Adam (Robbie Magasiva), while her copper boyfriend Shane (Stephen Lovatt) doesn't. And Mel's teenage daughter contemplates 'the first time'.
The Strip centres around 30-something Melissa (Luanne Gordon), who sheds a legal career to set up a male strip revue. Created by Alan Brash, The Strip played to a certain demographic's desire for ogling naked men (warmed up by 1987 play Ladies Night and 1997 film The Full Monty), but with a focus on female characters, as Melissa juggles business with raising a teenage daughter. Taking cues from Ally McBeal (with fantasy sequences to match) the Gibson Group tale of g-strings, feminism and red light romance screened for two series on TV3 and sold internationally.
This Inside New Zealand doco takes a calm, no nonsense look at one man’s encounter with heroin addiction — a habit he estimates cost him a seven figure sum. Far from being the clichéd junkie loser, Tim was a husband, father and successful businessman who remarkably didn’t think twice about dabbling with a drug that had already taken the life of one of his sisters. Nine years after it led him to detox and rehab, Tim and his mother and sister talk about his addiction and its impact on their lives — without glamorising or demonising the drug or its users.
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.
Children of Gallipoli offered viewers another angle on the Gallipoli story. Produced for TVNZ and Turkish television, the documentary focuses on four young people, two Turks and two New Zealanders. All are descended from men who fought at Gallipoli in 1915. Travelling to Turkey, the Kiwis explore the battle site and meet the other two participants. Together they gain an insight into the grim reality of what their ancestors experienced. Seeing it through their eyes charges the film with a strong emotional resonance. Anna Cottrell writes here about the challenges of directing it.
Tele-movie Clare is based on Clare Matheson's autobiographical book Fate Cries Enough. It recreates the experiences of the author (played here by Robyn Malcolm, then fresh from Shortland Street) who for 15 years was an unwitting part of a disastrous gynaecological study at Auckland's National Women's Hospital. The study would later become known as ‘The Unfortunate Experiment', after a Metro article by Sandra Coney and Phillida Bunkle. It was also the subject of a Commission of Inquiry, whose official report led to major changes in law around health consumers' rights.
The debut feature from writer-director Glenn Standring, The Irrefutable Truth about Demons sees anthropologist Harry Ballard (Karl Urban) threatened by a sinister cult. With the help of beautifully bizarre Bennie (Katie Wolfe) he endures a terrifying night as his friends are killed by demons. Or are they? Hounded by the memory of his dead brother, Harry suffers beatings, heart surgery and assault by cockroaches. Variety said Demons "conjures a creepy, brooding atmosphere and enough thrills to keep young horror enthusiasts glued." The film sold to more than 50 countries.
Shot on the run in 1998, My Name is Jane is built around the biggest deadline a filmmaker could face: the death of its subject. With a history of cancer in her family, musician and cancer sufferer Jane Devine proposed a film to director Amanda Robertshawe: one in which the personable Devine takes us through the process of making peace with her own passing — and the impossible task of preparing a son for life without her. The resulting documentary, surely among our most affecting hours of television, won repeat screenings and international plaudits.
In 1996 Tony Sutorius got his hands on a new digital video camera, days before the start of an election campaign in Wellington Central. Made on the proverbial shoestring, this feature-length documentary chronicles five of those battling for the crown as a new political age — MMP — dawns. Richard Prebble joins a new party called Act, the National candidate joins United New Zealand… and one of the five will be sacrificed by their own party. Sutorius sat through 55 hours of footage to forge the result, which won enthused, sellout audiences at the 1999 NZ Film Festival.
Duggan features John Bach in the title role of the brooding detective who solves murders, amid the tranquillity of the Marlborough Sounds. In this excerpt from the first part of two-parter 'A Shadow of Doubt', Duggan finds himself investigating the kidnapping of the daughter of friend Joanne Taylor (Jennifer Ward-Lealand). The suspects includes Joanne's business partner (Andy Anderson). A sharp, stylish Kiwi take on the classic English whodunit, this episode won an award for scriptwriter Donna Malane, and features evocative imagery by cinematographer Leon Narbey.
“In the dark and scary depths of a subway, one young man finds fear has a new name: FIZZ.” Jemaine Clement (pre-Flight of the Conchords fame) is the young man who faces up to a sentient soda machine in this short from Jason Stutter. Made for $2000 and filmed over two wintry Wellington nights, Fizz screened at festivals including Locarno, New York, and Clermont-Ferrand. Stutter would successfully repeat the combo of dark wit and dangerous appliance in his Careful with that … series; Clement starred in Stutter’s debut feature Tongan Ninja (2002).
This documentary is a view into the crucible that forged museum Te Papa, which opened on Wellington's waterfront in February 1998. Fascinating fly-on-the-wall moments are captured as a new kind of national museum is conceived. This excerpt features a board meeting where Saatchi & Saatchi present branding options. As political, ideological, creative and commercial considerations collide, the frustrations of decision making by committee are palpable: the body language, tears, cautions, grumbles, and finally, smiles, as they settle on the contentious thumbprint logo.
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.
A Twist in the Tale was one of a series of kidult shows launched by The Tribe creator Raymond Thompson, after he relocated to New Zealand. The anthology series spins from a storyteller (Star Trek's William Shatner) introducing a story (often fantastical) to a group of children, some of whom appear in the tales. The show featured early appearances by many young Kiwi thespians, including Antonia Prebble, Chelsie Preston Crayford, Dwayne Cameron and Michelle Ang. Although the writing team were British, some of the directors and most of the crew were New Zealanders.
Presented by William Shatner, A Twist In The Tale was an anthology series with each episode featuring a new story for Shatner to tell a group of children gathered round the fireplace. In this adventure, a freak storm causes a strange girl (Westside's Antonia Prebble) to appear in a boy’s bedroom cupboard, only to discover she’s travelled back in time 100 years. When some futuristic technology goes missing and the family farm ends up on the line, the children must put their differences aside. The episode also features a memorable appearance by Craig Parker as the family's accountant.
In this episode of anthology series A Twist in the Tale, two children visit a Devon estate and discover a barrel load of mysteries involving the story of King Arthur — including a hidden shrine, a soothsayer, and an excavation reaching its climactic stages. After being beckoned into the woods one day by a woman in white, young Aidan (Nicko Vella) finds himself being pulled towards the excavation site. But just what part is he meant to play? A Twist in the Tale was filmed in New Zealand, with William Shatner (Star Trek 's original Captain Kirk) introducing each story.
Before Gibson Group TV series Duggan there were two telefeatures: Duggan - Death in Paradise, and Duggan - Sins of the Father. This first telefilm murder mystery introduces New Zealand's answer to Inspector Morse; troubled and brooding Detective Inspector Duggan (John Bach, from Close to Home and The Lost Tribe) who has taken leave from the police, and headed to his bach in the Marlborough Sounds. In this excerpt, a reluctant Duggan is persuaded to investigate when police fish a woman's body out of the water at a local salmon farm.
Skitz was a popular long-running sketch-based comedy that ran for four series from 1993 to 1997. This selection of excerpts contains sketches from the final season of the Gibson Group satirical show famous for its broad, take-no-prisoners humour, and memorable characters and catchphrases. The wacky Semisi family and their 'fresh off the boat' antics inspire mirth and groans in equal measure and filmmaker Sima Urale is enjoyably ludicrous as the terrifying Aunty Mele. Jemaine (Flight of the Conchords) Clement and members of the Bro' Town posse also feature.
This documentary tells the story of how an unpromising horse with a nasty personality became the greatest thoroughbred stud stallion in New Zealand racing history. Interviews and archive footage are used to tell the entwined histories of Sir Tristram and his owner, Cambridge-based breeder Patrick Hogan. The path to success involves fires, potentially disastrous injuries, a $32 million buy offer, and special precautions every time Sir Tristram was taken out of his paddock for breeding.
This series centred on a weekly TV current affairs programme in mid-90s Wellington. Katie Wolfe stars as stroppy journalist Amanda Robbins: lured back from Australia for her tabloid style in an effort to boost the show's ratings. Tackling timely storylines and shot ‘handheld’ in the NYPD Blue-inspired style, the TV3 series was well reviewed but faced its own ratings struggles (a later series screened on TV One). It was Gibson Group’s second foray into producing a TV drama series, after Shark in the Park. A pre-Lord of the Rings Fran Walsh was a series writer.
The Gibson Group drama series centres on a team of TV journalists working on a weekly current affairs programme. Katie Wolfe plays stroppy journalist Amanda Robbins, who has been lured back to Wellington from Australia by a network boss hoping her tabloid style will help ratings. Her workmates are not so confident. In this excerpt from the start of the first episode, Robbins hits the news (literally) as she runs into a disturbed nightclubber (Katrina Hobbs) on a rainy night. A pre-Lord of the Rings Fran Walsh was one of the series writers.
In Gaylene Preston's documentary, seven elderly women recall their personal experiences of World War II. Their intimate, unadorned stories are filmed talking heads style, interspersed with personal photographs and period newsreel clips. From tragic love stories to long-suppressed revelations of sex and death, War Stories is a revealing touchstone of New Zealand history. It received international acclaim. LA Times writer Kevin Thomas enthused that Preston takes "a simple idea and turns it into a rich, universal experience".
Written by Tom Scott and Greg McGee, South Pacific Pictures-produced Fallout was an award-winning two-part mini-series dramatising events leading up to NZ’s 80s anti-nuclear stand. PM Robert Muldoon (Ian Mune) calls a snap election when his MP Marilyn Waring crosses the floor on the ‘no nukes’ bill, but his gamble fails, and David Lange's Labour Party is elected. Lange (played by Australian actor Mark Mitchell) is pressured from all sides (including a bullish US administration) to take a firm stance on his anti-nuclear platform. He finally accepts there is no middle ground.
Written by Tom Scott and Greg McGee, Fallout was an award-winning two-part mini-series about the events leading up to New Zealand's 80s anti-nuclear stand. In part two, the new Lange Labour government narrowly averts an economic crisis; and under political pressure Prime Minister Lange asserts ‘no nukes’ independence at the risk of spurning the country's traditional allies. In this excerpt, Lange speaks at the Labour Party annual conference, then travels to meet with US political officials and British PM Margaret Thatcher (veteran actress Kate Harcourt).
Written by Tom Scott and Greg McGee, Fallout was an award-winning two-part mini-series about the events leading up to New Zealand's 80s anti-nuclear stand. In this first episode Labour sweeps into power with an anti-nuclear platform. Upon taking office, David Lange (played by Australian actor Mark Mitchell) faces pressure to live up to his campaign rhetoric. In this excerpt, we see the parliamentary cut and thrust leading up to the election, with National MP Marilyn Waring defying Muldoon (Ian Mune) to cross the floor on the Nuclear Free New Zealand bill.
Skitz was a popular long-running sketch-based comedy that screened for four series. Populated with memorable characters and catch-phrases, and broad, take-no-prisoners humour, it won Best Entertainment Programme at the 1996 NZ TV and Film Awards. A particular favourite in its arsenal of regular characters was the Semisi family with their 'fresh off the boat' antics inspiring mirth and groans in equal measure. Skitz featured seasoned comedians such as Jackie Clarke, as well as new faces at the time, including Jemaine Clement of future Flight of the Conchords fame.
Made to mark 100 years of women's suffrage in New Zealand, Bread & Roses tells the story of pioneering trade unionist, politician and feminist Sonja Davies (1923 - 2005), who rose to prominence in the 1940s and 50s. Directed by Gaylene Preston and co-written by Graeme Tetley, the acclaimed three-hour production played on television screens, and also got a limited cinema release. Australian actor Geneviève Picot (as Sonja Davies) and Mick Rose (as her husband) won gongs for their roles at the 1994 NZ Film and TV Awards. Bianca Zander writes about Bread & Roses here.
Mini-series Bread and Roses recreates the early days of trade unionist and politician Sonja Davies. Behind the scenes, the $4 million production required 175 speaking parts, and dozens of sets — many built from plywood, “to make something out of nothing”. This documentary follows director Gaylene Preston and producer Robin Laing from preproduction and filming a dance scene in Wellington Town Hall, to (old-fashioned film) editing. Meanwhile lead actor Geneviève Picot talks about the challenges of portraying a character who often kept her vulnerabilities hidden.
In 1992 Australian soap star Craig McLachlan (Neighbours) landed in NZ, to tackle one of his only starring roles in a movie to date. McLachlan plays Ed — a WWll soldier who goes AWOL — in a story 74-year-old writer James Edwards drew from his own life. When Ed is shipped overseas with no leave, he feels obliged to make sure that his recently pregnant wife Daisy (Katrina Hobbs) is OK before he departs. But then the days become weeks. For director John Laing the road movie offered a chance to explore changing gender roles, as women discovered life beyond house and family.
This feature dramatises an ill-fated offensive that Kiwi soldiers undertook during World War I’s Gallipoli campaign. On 8 August 1915 the Wellington Battalion briefly seized Chunuk Bair, a pivotal peak overlooking the Dardanelles; they suffered huge losses. The film pitches the attack as a formative New Zealand nationhood moment, with Kiwi guts and resilience countered by inept, careless British generals, as much as their Turkish foes. Filmed on an Avalon set and the Wainuiomata coast, the story was based on Maurice Shadbolt’s classic play Once On Chunuk Bair.
Originally conceived as a TV series, Gaylene Preston's comedy was a local hit, uplifting recession-era audiences with a plucky misfits saga. Ruby (Yvonne Lawley), an 83 year old trying to dodge a retirement home, rents a room to Rata, a solo mum with sidelines in music and benefit fraud. Rata's son is into arson and shoplifting, while Ruby's nephew (What Now's Simon Barnett) is a hapless yuppie wannabe. Marginalised by the deregulated economy of the 80s and living on their wits, they may just find common cause despite themselves in this Graeme Tetley-penned tale.
Gibson Group production Public Eye was inspired by the British series, Spitting Image. Latex puppets caricature topical personalities, mostly drawn from the world of politics (Ruth Richardson, Helen Clark, Winston Peters etc). Their foibles are duly skewered in fast-moving comic skits such as the 'Ruatoria Rasta' segment, 'The White Way' and 'Honky Tanga'. The wickedly grotesque puppets were based on drawings by cartoonist Trace Hodgson, and built by a team headed by future Weta FX maestro, Richard Taylor.
Inspired by the British series Spitting Image, Gibson Group's Public Eye features latex puppets based on drawings by cartoonist Trace Hodgson and built by a team headed by future Weta FX maestro, Richard Taylor. Highlights from the first episode include a boxing match between former finance minister Ruth Richardson and Winston Peters; Helen Clark's attempts to convince a bunch of labour party ministers to enforce a ban on pornography; and cricketer Richard Hadlee's failure to promote a life insurance company while being interviewed by Keith Quinn.
Peter Hayden travels through some of New Zealand's most awe-inspiring environments in this five part series, made to celebrate the centenary of our first national park. This episode looks at the national park closest to our largest city and contemplates that relationship, featuring stories of life on the islands of the Hauraki Gulf. A highlight is the transfer of the rare saddleback or tieke (a lively wattlebird) from Cuvier Island to the ecological time-capsule of Little Barrier Island — "with Auckland's lights twinkling in the background". Catherine Bisley writes about the Journeys series here.
Created for television by author Maurice Gee, The Fire-Raiser pits a quartet of smalltown school kids against a balaclava-clad figure with fire on the brain. In this episode, the children sneak onto the property of the man they suspect of terrorising their town. The police arrive after Kitty is trapped inside a room that has tragic memories for the suspect’s mother, the memorably moody Mrs Marwick. This WWI-era gothic adventure went on to score four Listener TV awards, including best drama; and Gee’s accompanying novel was published both here and overseas.
A road movie with a heart of gold, Mark II is "the Polynesian Easy Rider". Three teens (Nicholas Rogers, Mitchell Manuel, Faifua Amiga) head south from Auckland in a two-tone Mark II Zephyr, two of them blissfully unaware they're being pursued by a van-load of vengeful thugs. Along the way, they encounter the Mongrel Mob, who turn out to be quite helpful, and experience love, prejudice and jealousy from strangers. Written by Mike Walker and Manuel, it was TVNZ's first telefeature and is the third film in a loose trilogy (following Kingi's Story and Kingpin).
The Fire-Raiser pits a quartet of smalltown World War I era school kids against a mysterious figure with fire on the brain. Inspired partly by a real-life Nelson arsonist, the five-part gothic adventure was created for television by author Maurice Gee. Peter Hayden plays the town’s unconventional teacher ‘Clippy’ Hedges, while the lead role went to Royal NZ Ballet star Jon Trimmer. The Fire-Raiser won four Listener TV awards, including best overall drama and best writer. Gee’s accompanying novel was published both here and overseas. He writes about the show's birth here.
Kingpin was the second of a trilogy of films from Mike Walker about troubled New Zealand youth (the others were Kingi's Story and TV movie Mark II) Filmed at, and inspired by residents of Kohitere Boys Training Centre in Levin, the bros-in-borstal tale follows a group of teens who are wards of the state. Kingpin focuses on the bond between Riki (Mitchell Manuel) and Willie (Fafua 'Junior' Amiga), who along with the other kids are terrorised by Karl (Nicholas Rogers), the Kingpin of the title. It was directed by Walker, who co-wrote the script with Manuel.
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.
The award-winning Pioneer Women series was producer Pamela Meekings-Stewart’s response to her perception that histories on NZ television, like The Governor, hadn’t adequately recognised the role played by women in shaping the nation. The initial series of six episodes focussed on the lives of Nurse Maude, Ettie Rout, Hera Ngoungou, Princess Te Puea, Elizabeth Colsenso and Ellen Hewett; it celebrated women who not only had to face hardship and deprivation but were charged with raising the next generation. A second series of three episodes screened in 1990.
This episode of Pioneer Women dramatises the life of Waikato leader Te Puea Herangi: from prodigal daughter to leader of the Tainui people. Te Puea helped establish the Kingitanga movement, and led Tainui to prosperity through wars, confiscation of their land, and an influenza epidemic. Future TV3 newsreader Joanna Paul plays Te Puea. Produced by Pamela Meekings-Stewart, the Pioneer Women series screened in a high profile slot on TV One and challenged the view that white male statesmen were the only noteworthy figures in NZ colonial history.
With a stellar cast, including Jim Moriarty, Merata Mita and Billy T James (as a Marxist), The Protesters explores issues surrounding race and land ownership in NZ in the aftermath of the Springbok Tour and occupation of Bastion Point. A group of Māori and Pākehā protestors occupy ancestral land that the government is trying to sell. As they wait for the police to turn up they debate whether to go quietly or respond with violence. Though some wounds are healed, The Protesters ends on a note of division and uncertainly, gauging the contemporary climate.
Kingi (Mitchell Manuel) is a sultry teenager who encounters domestic violence and racism and veers down a path of petty crime. School ground punch-ups, stealing milk money and shoplifting see him placed under care of a social worker — and eventually Kingi runs out of chances. From writer-director Mike Walker, Kingi's Story tackles Māori youth and the path to delinquency and is based on the lives of a group of boys (including Manuel) who became wards of the state. It is the first part of a loose trilogy that includes Kingpin (1985) and Mark II (1986).
80s show Close Up had a similar brief to earlier current affairs show Compass: to present mini-documentaries on topical local issues. Stories in the primetime hour-long slot were wide-ranging, from hard news to human interest pieces, including a profile of 25-year-old foreign exchange dealer, future-Prime Minister, John Key. The show won Feltex Awards for most of the years that it was on air. Close Up is not related to the post-nightly news show of the same name, which was hosted by Mark Sainsbury until 2012.
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.
Mortimer’s Patch was a popular drama series following Detective Sergeant Doug Mortimer (Terence Cooper) at work in the town of Cobham. Mortimer plays a city cop returning to his rural roots; Don Selwyn is Sergeant Bob Storey. The series was NZ’s first police drama, and a rare local drama to top ratings. Mortimer's Patch was made when the archetype of the ‘community cop’ everyone knew was still a powerful one, and it was a counterweight to the faceless riot policing of the Springbok Tour. Three series were made.
Possibly channelling the final rooftop concert by The Beatles (a number of The Crocodiles were big Beatles fans), this up-on-the roof video was self-produced by The Crocodiles. It marked Fane Flaws first directing credit — made, with fine business sense, for a song that was never released as a single. The location was near Parliament, with the high shots coming from an unauthorised trip to the top of a nearby Government high-rise. Vocalist Jenny Morris and drummer Bruno Lawrence play ill-matched lovers — as they would do in the video for breakthrough Crocodiles hit 'Tears'.
In 1978 Eyewitness evolved out of TV2’s After Ten as a twice weekly current affairs show broadcast on Tuesday and Thursday nights. With Philip Sherry as studio anchor, it set out to investigate a single issue from a number of perspectives in each episode. Other foundation staff members included journalists Karen Sims, David Beatson, Dairne Shanahan, Rhys Jones and Neil Roberts. By 1981 it was presented by Karen Sims and had become NZ television’s longest running current affairs show — but it morphed into the nightly Eyewitness News the following year.
Seven Days was designed by producer Des Monaghan to bridge the current affairs gap between the NZBC and TV One. As well as putting the heat on local politicians, it turned its attention to major international events. Major stories included Ian Fraser’s trip to Vietnam to cover the last days before the fall of Saigon and Ian Johnstone’s three-part look at apartheid-era South Africa ahead of the 1976 All Back tour. For its third and final year, the focus changed to observational documentaries and laid the groundwork for TVNZ’s in-house documentary unit.
New Zealand’s economy is in serious trouble in the first episode of this award-winning drama series about The Great Depression. An ailing Prime Minister and a weak government seem powerless in the face of a downward spiral caused by rising unemployment and falling export prices. Meanwhile, the plight of a boot maker seeking work while people are being laid off all around him, and a jeweller struggling to keep his business afloat and food on his family’s table bring home the human cost and social divisiveness being caused by the worsening crisis.
New Zealand television's first sitcom, Buck House centred on the antics of a group of university students sharing a flat in Wellington. In this sixth episode of the first series, Reg — played by a fast-talking, afro-headed Paul Holmes — gets embroiled in his flatmate Joe's latest illicit moneymaking scheme. 'Escorts Unlimited Ltd', as Joe (Tony Barry) tries to explain, is a surefire winner. That is, until Buck House's other flattie, the left-leaning Jo (Jacqui Dunn) invites a member of the local constabulary home for a cup of tea. The late night comedy was considered edgy when it debuted in 1974.
The Great Depression — the biggest social upheaval ever faced by New Zealand — is the subject of this very well-received three part NZBC drama series. Based on an award-winning script by Michael Noonan, The Longest Winter focuses on the experiences of politicians, the middle class family of a jewellery shop owner, a boot maker and an unemployed workers’ group. It examines the inter-related forces that combined in the early 30s to plunge New Zealand into some of its darkest days — and left the nation and many of its citizens scarred for decades after.
Pioneering series Pukemanu (the NZBC’s first continuing drama) followed the goings-on of a North Island timber town. The series was conceived by former forester Julian Dickon (who quit the series and was replaced by Listener critic Hamish Keith as writer). Producing two seasons of six episodes was a key step in industry professionalisation, and many of the cast became stars (Ginette McDonald, Ian Mune). It offered an archetypal screen image that Kiwis could relate to: rural, bi-cultural, boozy and blokey; and reviews praised its Swannie-clad authenticity.
In the one channel days of the early 1970s, the Survey slot was the place to find local documentaries. Topics ranged across the board, from social issues (alcoholism, runaway children) to the potentially humdrum (an AGM meeting) to the surprisingly experimental (music film The Unbelievable Glory of the Human Voice). After extended campaigning by producer John O’Shea, emerging independent filmmakers, including Tony Williams and Roger Donaldson, joined the party — bringing fresh creativity and new techniques to the traditional gentle, narration-heavy doco format.
Current affairs show Gallery took on controversial topics of the day, most famously in a Brian Edwards interview which solved a Post Office industrial dispute live on-air. Produced by Des Monaghan, it began as a studio-based programme that discussed political issues, but was soon expanded. Edwards’ confrontational style of interrogating public figures was new to New Zealand TV, and polarised viewers. It saw Edwards (the "mad mauler") become a household name, and earned him a reputation as a hardline interviewer. He was succeeded as host by David Exel.