Rena Owen made her name playing the courageous battered wife in Kiwi blockbuster Once Were Warriors. The film won her a run of awards, and international acclaim from Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, The Sydney Morning Herald, Vogue, and Entertainment Weekly. Since then Owen has worked on films in New Zealand, Fiji, Hungary and the United States.
Rena Owen, wired with nervous energy, makes a formidable heroine. She exudes an angry, earth sensuality that brings Jeanne Moreau to mind. Newsweek critic David Ansen, on Once Were Warriors.
In these short clips from our ScreenTalk interviews, directors, actors and others share their memories of classic films, as we mark 40 years of the NZ Film Commission. - Roger Donaldson on odd Sleeping Dogs phone calls - David Blyth on Angel Mine being ahead of its time - Kelly Johnson on acting in Goodbye Pork Pie - Roger Donaldson on Smash Palace - Geoff Murphy on Utu's scale - Ian Mune on making Came a Hot Friday - Vincent Ward on early film exploits - Tom Scott on writing Footrot Flats with Murray Ball - Greg Johnson on acting in End of the Golden Weather - Rena Owen on Once Were Warriors - Melanie Lynskey on auditioning for Heavenly Creatures - Ngila Dickson on The Lord of the Rings - Niki Caro on missing Whale Rider's success - Antony Starr on Anthony Hopkins - Oscar Kightley on Sione's Wedding - Tammy Davis on Black Sheep - Leanne Pooley on the Topp Twins - Taika Waititi on napping at the Oscars - Cliff Curtis on The Dark Horse - Cohen Holloway on his Wilderpeople stars
After showing she could definitely generate a headline from an interview (when she quizzed Bachelor winner Art Green on matters sexual, in a 2015 NZ Herald web series) Anika Moa got her own chat show on Māori Television in 2016. The couch interview format saw Moa interview guests and review media in her trademark candid style, from actors Cliff Curtis and Lucy Lawless to politician Chloe Swarbrick. Eleven 30-minute episodes were made for series one; a second series began in 2017. The series won praise for its fresh (non white male) perspective.
Action movie The Dead Lands joins the short list of screen tales set in Aotearoa, before the pākehā. James Rolleston (star of Boy) plays Hongi, the son of a Māori chief. After the massacre of his tribe, Hongi sets out into the forbidden Dead Lands, hoping to enlist the help of a legendary warrior (Lawrence Makoare). The Anglo-Kiwi co-production marked new screen territory for director Toa Fraser (No. 2) and writer Glenn Standring (fantasy Perfect Creature). After debuting at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival, The Dead Lands topped the Kiwi box office and won three Moa awards.
This much praised documentary revisits the subject of a film Vincent Ward made in 1978, aged 21. That film, In Spring One Plants Alone, told the story of 80-year-old Puhi, who lived with her schizophrenic son in the isolated Urewera. The follow-up — part detective documentary, part historical reenactment — focuses on Puhi's life. She married the son of Māori prophet Rua Kenana, had 14 children, and after a run of tragedies, believed herself to be cursed. This excerpt goes “way out there in the bush” to the Maungapohatu community where Rua “made the city of God on Earth”.
In The Tem Show Temuera Morrison interviews and hangs with his entertainment whānau. This 'revenge of the bros' episode sees Tem korero with Kiwis involved in the Sydney-shot Star Wars chapters: he hakas with Jay Laga'aia and Bodie Taylor and cooks some eggs for Rena Owen in LA. He also meets George Lucas and gets cloned at Skywalker Ranch. Other guests in the series include uncle Howard Morrison, coaching Rotorua schoolboy rugby with Buck Shelford. This was Prime TV's first publicly funded local programme, and replayed on Māori Television.
Filmed in Canada, Kiwi Jesse Warn’s first feature is a thriller built on riddles. A mysterious trail of riddles lead a student (Carly Pope) into dangerous territory, and help her realise her journey may be connected to an imprisoned woman (Rena Owen) who murdered a child, claiming it was part of a grand design. Nemesis Game was a co-production between NZ, Canada (including company Lionsgate) and the UK. Nominated for best film, it won four NZ Film Awards including cinematography and editing. Ian McShane (Deadwood) and Adrian Paul (TV’s Highlander) co-star.
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.
The light-hearted but star-heavy I'll Make You Happy unapologetically showcases a group of Auckland prostitutes, united by girl power — and a general distaste for their pimp (Michael Hurst). Jodie Rimmer dons many wigs and personas as Siggy, the spunky young sex worker who fends off Hurst's pleading advances, while pulling a nerdy banker (Ian Hughes) into her plans for a game-changing heist. The eclectic soundtrack is heavy on electronica, while the cast includes Rena Owen, Jennifer Ward-Lealand, dancer Taiaroa Royal, and a one-minute cameo by Lucy Lawless.
When Love Comes features Rena Owen as a once were famous singing star who returns to NZ, in need of reinvention. Staying with a close gay friend (Simon Prast), she is reenergised after meeting a wastral songwriter (Dean O'Gorman) and two loved up young musos (Sophia Hawthorne and Nancy Brunning, the former in her big screen debut). Invited to a slew of North American festivals — including Sundance and Toronto — Garth Maxwell's sun and song-lashed tale won stateside praise for its "energetic direction" (The Hollywood Reporter) and impassioned performances.
This documentary about Māori writer Witi Ihimaera features him in conversation with filmmaker Merata Mita. Ihimaera traverses his life and writing career, emphasising the importance of family (particularly his mother and grandmother) and his overriding Māori identity. Aileen O'Sullivan's film features a star-studded assemblage of local literature — Keri Hulme, Albert Wendt, publisher Geoff Walker — and a dramatised excerpt from his novel Bulibasha ( featuring Rena Owen, Michael Hurst and Rawiri Paratene), shot roughly two decades before 2016 movie adaptation Mahana.
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.
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.
This short, written and directed by Christine Parker (Channelling Baby) takes an allegorical look at the creative process. A writer (Rima Te Wiata) has a korero with a trickster spirit guide Hinekaro (voiced by Rena Owen), and conjures worlds from the words she inks on a page. In her imaginative struggles she’s visited by a ruru owl and her younger self, and other creatures are brought strikingly to life via special effects (beetles from a book, an eel hiding in a toilet bowl). Hinekaro was adapted from a 1991 short story by Booker Prize-winner Keri Hulme.
This three part mini-series is loosely based on the remarkable tour by the NZ Natives rugby team which played 107 games in Australasia and Great Britain in 1888-89. At its heart is a cross-cultural love story between Pony — the grandson of a chief and one of the side’s stars — and Charlotte: the granddaughter of an English Earl (Ian Richardson of House of Cards fame). The tour provided the first exposure to Māori for many in the UK. The interaction could be uncomfortable but even more so when affairs of the heart threatened the cultural divide.
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.
The 1994 Cannes Film Festival turned out to be a very good year for New Zealand: a little movie called Once Were Warriors began its rise to glory, and some even smaller films did big things. Frontline reporter Ross Stevens was in France to capture the action — from impressed reactions to Warriors, to the 'film is a business' talk of NZ Film Commission chair Phil Pryke. Director Grant Lahood's short film Lemming Aid comes second in the official competition, and the festival screens a special season of Kiwi shorts — only the second such event in Cannes history.
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.
Shortland Street is a fast-paced serial drama set in an inner city Auckland hospital. The long-running South Pacific Pictures production is based around the births, deaths and marriages of the hospital's staff and patients. It screens on TVNZ’s TV2 network five days a week. In 2017 the show was set to celebrate its 25th anniversary, making it New Zealand’s longest running drama by far. Characters and lines from the show have entered the culture — starting with “you’re not in Guatemala now, Dr Ropata!” in the very first episode. Mihi Murray writes about Shortland Street here.
A rural raised woman (Dianne Renolds) reconnects with her half sister (Rena Owen) in the city, and learns some hard life lessons. Roimata was the first film directed by then unknown writer Riwia Brown. Brown was initially reluctant to direct the adaptation of her play but, encouraged by producer Larry Parr, she decided that with only one Māori woman director in New Zealand (Merata Mita) there was a need to develop the talent of Māori women in the industry. Brown later wrote the screenplay for Once Were Warriors. Screen legend Ramai Hayward also features.
In a nod to his theatre training, Whale Rider actor Rawiri Paratene (then better known as a presenter on Play School) unveils three stories to a marae audience. A bored schoolboy (Faifua Amiga) banters with a sarcastic teacher; a musical number features a prostitute (Rena Owen) and her client; and a young girl and her grandfather prepare and wait for the body of her father at the pā. This was the first screen drama directed by Don Selwyn, who argued "what Rawiri is saying in his script is that there are lots of things Māori which are left out of the education system."
A big smoke cousin to Mortimer's Patch, Shark in the Park was New Zealand's first urban cop show. Devised by Graeme Tetley (Ruby and Rata), it portrayed a unit policing inner city Wellington, under the guidance of Inspector Brian 'Sharkie' Finn (Jeffrey Thomas). With its focus on the working lives of the officers, the show followed the character-based storytelling of overseas programmes like The Bill and Hill Street Blues. The first season marked one of the last in-house productions for TVNZ's drama department. The next two series were made independently by The Gibson Group.