Robert Sarkies made his first film at age 10. His feature debut was 1999 hit Scarfies, followed by Out of the Blue, an acclaimed dramatisation of the Aramoana murders. Sarkies followed it with TV's This is Not My Life and black comedy Two Little Boys, based on a novel by his brother Duncan. Since then he has directed Moa-nominated TV movie Consent, and multi award-winning Jean Batten biopic Jean.
Follow your instincts, because it's all you've got. If you follow your own instincts, your own sensibilities, you'll create original work that reflects who you are. Robert Sarkies in Filmmaker magazine, 19 October 2007
In the 1930s Kiwi-born pilot Jean Batten set off on a series of legendary solo flights. Jean is the tale of a charismatic, determined woman, the mother who stayed close, and the man curious to unravel the person behind the legend. At the 2017 NZ Television Awards, the ambitious telemovie made a clean sweep, including awards for Donna Malane and Paula Boock's script, director Robert Sarkies, lead actor Kate Elliott, and the design team. In the excerpt — which hints at the story's globetrotting sweep — Jean fights heat and storms while attempting to fly from England to Australia.
In this 2013 short, a possum-trapping nature boy is challenged when a woman moves into a house on the edge of the bush, looking for a fresh start. Cinematographer Ginny Loane captures the wintry central plateau landscape where the fable of life and death plays out. Director Leo Woodhead co-wrote the script with Paul Stanley Ward; the result followed Woodhead’s short Cargo (2007) to the Venice Film Festival, and won the Jury Prize at the 2014 Hong Kong Film Festival. Director Andrew Adamson (Shrek) called it “a well structured, beautifully shot narrative.”
Directed by Robert Sarkies (Scarfies, Out of the Blue), and written with brother Duncan (from the latter's novel) Two Little Boys is a tale of the misadventures of two Invercargill bogans. When a Scandinavian tourist fatally meets Nige's fender, Nige (Conchord Bret McKenzie) runs to best mate Deano (Aussie comedian Hamish Blake) for help. "Trouble is, Deano's not really the guy you should turn to in a crisis." Mateship is challenged by security guard flatmate Gav, a rogue sea lion and some dunderhead decision making. The black comedy opened in NZ on Sept 20 2012.
In this award-winning short film Michael is a 17-year-old who gets the abattoir blues during his first day at 'the works'. Fitting in turns out to be the least of Michael’s worries as young blood is welcomed on the line in the old fashioned way, and rite of passage is interpreted literally to meaty effect. Meathead was filmed at the Wallace Meat plant in Waitoa. Based on the true story of a mate of his, director Sam Holst’s debut short was selected for Cannes and won the Crystal Bear in the Generation (14plus) section of the 2012 Berlin Film Festival.
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.
This short follows Joe Warbrick (Calvin Tuteao, from Nights in the Gardens of Spain), captain of the New Zealand Natives rugby team, as he tries to rouse his battle-weary players to head unto the breach once more, for a test against England. It’s midwinter during the trailblazing, 17 month long 1888-89 tour which left a black jersey legacy. In a changing room that resembles a casualty ward, Warbrick draws breath and leads a stirring haka. Made by brothers Pere and Meihana Durie, Warbrick inspired the All Blacks the day before they demolished Australia by 33-6 in 2009.
In November 1990, misfit loner David Gray (played by Matthew Sunderland) murdered 13 of his neighbours in the seaside town of Aramoana near Dunedin. His rampage lasted 22 hours before he was gunned down by police. Out of the Blue is a dramatised re-enactment of these traumatic events. Directed by Robert Sarkies and co-written with Graeme Tetley, this gut-wrenching film did respectable box office and was lauded at 2008's Qantas Film and TV Awards, winning most feature categories, including best film and screenplay. Warning: excerpt contains realistic gun violence.
Set in the East Coast town of Whāngārā, Whale Rider tells the tale of a young Māori girl, Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes), who challenges tradition and embraces the past in order to find the strength to lead her people forward. Directed and written by Niki Caro, the film is based on Witi Ihimaera's novel The Whale Rider. Coupling a specific sense of place and culture with a universal coming-of-age story, Whale Rider became one of the most successful and acclaimed New Zealand films released internationally. It also won audience choice awards at the Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals.
In Scarfies, five Dunedin students find themselves in a free squat, and a dark place, after taking a criminal captive in their basement. The debut feature from Robert Sarkies starts as a comic tribute to Otago student days, then turns into a psychological thriller. Outside of the two Warriors movies, Scarfies was the most successful Kiwi release of the 90s on home turf. It went on to scoop best film, director and screenplay awards at the 2000 NZ Film and TV Awards. This excerpt sees the scarfies torn between dealing with the crim and a footy match at Carisbrook.
During his last session on air, a veteran radio announcer finds himself on a quest through the streets and sewers. His mission: to retrieve a special record, in time to play it for a devoted listener. Signing Off was made by Nightmare Productions, a team of Dunedin filmmakers. The success of this comic adventure helped lead to Scarfies, the feature debut of Nightmare team member, director Robert Sarkies (Two Little Boys, Out of the Blue). A big seller overseas, Signing Off won awards at film festivals from Dresden to Montreal.
Like the eponymous native plant this children's puppetry programme stuck to the socks of many kiwis of a certain vintage. Produced in Dunedin by TVNZ's Natural History Unit (now independent production company NHNZ) Bidibidi followed the adventures of a sheep on a South Island station for two series. Bidibidi was adapted from the children's book by Gavin Bishop. Each programme interspersed puppet scenes and musical numbers with the expected first-rate NHU-shot footage of birds and other animals that Bidibidi meets en route, from kea to skinks and bitterns.