Roger Donaldson is notable for spearheading the New Zealand film renaissance with Sleeping Dogs (1977). He has been busy directing in Hollywood for much of the period since. Donaldson's first Kiwi story since acclaimed drama Smash Palace (1981) was Burt Munro biopic The World’s Fastest Indian (2005) — the most successful New Zealand film on home soil until the arrival of Taika Waititi's Boy in 2010.
Any lucky chances I got came from working 80 hours a week. Roger Donaldson
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
Bruce McLaren was one of the icons of motor racing in the sport's 60s ‘golden age’ – he won four Grand Prix, and joined fellow Kiwi Chris Amon to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The McLaren team he founded became one of the most successful in Formula One. In this documentary, director Roger Donaldson returns to the tarmac where he has made a mark before — Smash Palace, his fictional story of a race car driver, and two films inspired by Invercargill's DIY racing legend Burt Munro. Stuff reviewer James Croot called McLaren "engrossing, enlightening and surprisingly emotional".
“If this tale is about anything it’s about two words: Kiwi actor.” In this assured, at times offbeat documentary, Ian Mune takes us on a personal tour through his various lives as actor, director, teacher and more. He revisits early theatrical stomping grounds, and talks about how acting with Sam Neill in breakthrough movie Sleeping Dogs taught him “to stop pulling faces”. Mune also reminisces about directing movies comical, terrible and ambitious, and complains about the system of developing local films. There is also rare footage of his performances in 70s TV dramas Derek and Moynihan.
Inspired by the ageing Burt Munro — who took his home-engineered motorbike to America, and won a land speed record — this passion project was Roger Donaldson's first locally made film in two decades. Variety called it a "geriatric Rocky on wheels”; Roger Ebert praised Anthony Hopkins' performance as one of the most endearing of his career. The result sold to 126 countries, spent five weeks in the Australian top six, and became Aotearoa's highest-grossing local film — at least until Boy in 2010. Alongside an excerpt and making of material, Costa Botes writes about the film here.
Reporter Paul Hobbs joins the Kiwis congregating at the Cannes Film Festival for this 2004 One Network News report. Hobbs is on the French Riviera to hear about two of the most expensive New Zealand stories yet to win funding: historical drama River Queen and vampire tale Perfect Creature. Hobbs hints at budgets north of $20 million. Among the Kiwis talking things up are NZ Film Commission Chief Executive Ruth Harley, River Queen investor Eric Watson, and director Roger Donaldson. Cliff Curtis pops by, and Fat Freddy's Drop lay down some party tunes.
Numero Bruno is a warts and all biography of widely popular actor, musician and counter-cultural hero Bruno Lawrence. Lawrence's intense, charismatic screen presence was key to ground-breaking Kiwi films, Smash Palace, The Quiet Earth and Utu. Directed by Steve La Hood (the veteran director’s TV swansong), this documentary features interviews with family and friends, and liberal excerpts from Lawrence's film and musical work, including performances by 70s alternative Aotearoa icons Blerta and clips showcasing his seminal collaborations with Geoff Murphy.
Film director Roger Donaldson and motor racing legend Steve Millen both began making their mark in New Zealand, before making the move to California. The first Coming Home episode sees them at work in the USA, and visiting old haunts in Aotearoa. Donaldson shoots the effects-heavy Dante's Peak and prepares $100 million thriller Thirteen Days, while Millen hits the race track, in-between running his custom car parts company. Later he returns to the farm near Auckland, where his need for speed began on the family tractor. Donaldson heads to Auckland and Queenstown.
Cowboys of Culture is director Geoff Steven's personal perspective on the Kiwi cinema renaissance of the 1970s. It traces the development of the local film industry from the ‘she'll be right' days when filming permits were unknown, and all that was needed to get a picture up were a Bolex camera, enthusiasm and ingenuity. Raw they might have been, but the films (Wild Man, Sleeping Dogs, Goodbye Pork Pie, Smash Palace) represented a vital new cultural force. The film features interviews with the major players, and clips from their movies.
This report for TVNZ’s flagship 1980s arts show was made to tie in with Nicholas Reid’s book about the renaissance in NZ cinema that began with Sleeping Dogs in 1977. Reid and a who’s who of filmmakers discuss many of more than 50 films made in the previous decade (with Bruno Lawrence ever present) — and ponder the uniqueness (or otherwise) of NZ film. The industry’s fondness for rural and small town settings, and forceful (often conflicted) male leads is explored; and more neglected areas — Māori film making and more of a voice for women — are traversed.
In the early 1980s, director Roger Donaldson was part of a new generation of downunder screen talent, making their mark overseas. In this extended interview, the nominally Kiwi, Australian-born filmmaker talks about success, failure, famous actors, the talented Bruno Lawrence, and his big-budget remake of Mutiny on the Bounty. Donaldson describes how stateside reviews of Smash Palace paved his path to Hollywood, and talks with candour about his feisty first encounter with legendary producer Dino De Laurentiis – who invited him to take on The Bounty.
Merata Mita’s Patu! is a startling record of the mass civil disobedience that took place throughout New Zealand during the winter of 1981, in protest against a South African rugby tour. Testament to the courage and faith of both the marchers and a large team of filmmakers, the feature-length documentary is a landmark in Aotearoa's film history. It staunchly contradicts claims by author Gordon McLauchlan a couple of years earlier that New Zealanders were "a passionless people".
In this episode of the early 80s TVNZ high country drama (penned by Pukemanu writer Julian Dickon and directed by Roger Donaldson), Jocko (Bruce Allpress) is reunited with two fellow Korean War veterans — but one is now an escaped convict and the other a police officer heading the manhunt. Stan, another escapee (a suitably manic Bruno Lawrence), stirs things up but the real drama here involves unfinished business for three former soldiers from a conflict 25 years earlier. It’s also very much a man’s world, without a single female character to be seen.
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.
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".
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.
Smith (Sam Neill, in his breakthrough screen role) is devastated when his wife runs off with his best friend Bullen (Ian Mune). Smith escapes to the Coromandel. Meanwhile, the government enlists an anti-terrorist force to crack down on its opponents. Bullen, now a guerrilla, asks Smith to join the revolution. Directed by Roger Donaldson, this adaptation of CK Stead's novel Smith's Dream heralded a new wave of Kiwi cinema; it was one of the only local films of the 1970s to win a big local audience. This excerpt includes a much talked about scene: a baton charge by government forces.
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.
Frank Sargeson’s tale of two men and a boat is adapted for this episode of Winners & Losers. Fred (played by radio actor William Smith) sets off for a spot of fishing with recent acquaintance Ken (theatre veteran David Weatherley). As the pair head out across the harbour, Ken doesn't seem all that receptive to Fred's friendly interrogation. The episode marked only the second time that Ian Mune had directed solo for the screen. Storms, a leaky dinghy and Mune's near drowning while acting as a stand-in made this one of the most challenging shoots of the Winners series.
This episode of anthology series Winners & Losers takes a fresh angle on going straight. Smooth-talking criminal Mick (Ian Mune) dreams of starting over, by cultivating mushrooms with cellmate Charlie (Coronation Street's Ivan Beavis). Charlie claims to have committed a lawful murder, thanks to a technicality. In an inspired change to Barry Crump's original story, Mick commandeers a bus to finance the pair's plan. Crump praised the episode, but felt that Mick and Charlie treat their third cellmate unfairly. Director Roger Donaldson cameos in a red Swanndri during the bus scenes.
Almost two decades before Once Were Warriors, another drama about urban Māori under pressure stirred controversy. Hema (Dale Williams) and Janey (Julie Wehipeihana) are two kids adrift in the city, trying to escape a broken home. Screen historian Trisha Dunleavy found this "the most powerful and controversial" edition of the Winners & Losers series; it was TV's first drama about "the alienation of Māori in a contemporary urban setting". Based on a Witi Ihimaera story, it also marked the first solo directing credit for Ian Mune. He later directed the sequel to Once Were Warriors.
Veteran actor Yvonne Lawley (Gloss, Ruby and Rata) landed her first leading role on-screen with this adaptation of a Maurice Duggan short story. Lawley plays Mary May Laverty, a proud but lonely violin teacher who craves "a little human warmth", but fails to connect with people. Awkwardness abounds when she invites the father of one of her students over. The half-hour drama was co-directed by Ian Mune and Roger Donaldson, as part of their Winners & Losers series of short story adaptations. It closely follows Duggan's original story, which was one of his most popular.
Conman and victim face off in the first, and arguably funniest Winners & Losers episode. Legendary vagabond The Shiner (Coronation Street's Ivan Beavis) sets out to prove to his fellow swaggers that he can con alcohol from a dour publican (Ian Watkin). Co-director Ian Mune dons a fake eye; singer Tommy Adderley plays harmonica. The real life Shiner — Irishman Ned Slattery — was immortalised in a series of stories by John A Lee. Although Lee claimed to have "once walked thirty miles side by side" with Slattery, he admitted that his Shiner stories were far from gospel truth.
This acclaimed drama from 1975 adapts a Katherine Mansfield story about three travellers who encounter a strange woman and child, at a remote country store. Co-directed by Roger Donaldson and Ian Mune, it won Feltex Awards for Best Script (Mune and Peter Hansard) and Actress (Ilona Rodgers). Mune and Donaldson used the drama's success and innovative financing model as a 'proof of concept', to secure funding for their 1976 series Winners & Losers. The Woman at the Store debuted on Kiwi TV screens in March 1975; it was sold as part of the Winners series overseas.
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.
This documentary follows the 1973 Heatway Rally, a mud and oil-splattered event in which 120 drivers covered 3600 miles over eight days. Directed by Tony Williams, it was a major logistical exercise, with five camera units, shot by a who’s who of the 70s NZ film industry. In addition to high speed on-and-off road action, it includes an explanation of what co-drivers actually do, a chance for a driver’s wife to ride in a rally car, and driving and cornering montages set to orchestral accompaniment. It won the Feltex Award for best documentary.
Marking one of the earliest films made by Roger Donaldson (Smash Palace), this curio chronicles the dawning of the Age of Aquarius in NZ. The made for TV film features interviews with those who've swapped walk shorts for wigwams to "start again". There's rebellion against all things straight, and rejection of the city in favour of getting back to nature. Folk songs are the soundtrack to leaping hippies, outdoor bathing, "group touching", the Blerta bus, and DIY dome housing. Counterpointing the Counterculture are 1984-style scenes of masked marchers representing the "silent majority".
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.