Roger Horrocks has been raising the quality of debate about New Zealand film and television for nigh on half a century. At Auckland University he campaigned for, then ran, the country’s first and biggest film studies course. Horrocks has written extensively about Kiwi culture, including writing the definitive book on Len Lye. He is also a filmmaker and was a founding board member of organisation NZ On Air.
One of the most exciting times for me was the cultural explosion of the 1960s and 70s, with the emergence of a new film industry. I saw the need not only for films, but for a rich film culture with festivals, funding bodies, and film education. Lots of start-ups, and we had to fight for all of them! Roger Horrocks
Born in Buenos Aires, artist Tom Kreisler arrived in New Zealand at age 13, studied painting at Canterbury University, taught art in New Plymouth, and spent time in Mexico. Shocked that he wasn't "in the mainstream canon of New Zealand art", documentarian Shirley Horrocks (Marti: The Passionate Eye) felt that the whimsical, subversive but publicity-shy Kreisler deserved to be better known. So Horrocks interviewed fans and friends of the late artist, and headed to Mexico to find out how the country influenced him. Tom Who? debuted at the 2015 Auckland Film Festival.
This is the opening episode of the Prime TV series celebrating 50 years of New Zealand television: from an opening night puppet show in Auckland in 1960, through to Outrageous Fortune five decades later. It traverses the medium's development and its major turning points (including the rise of programme-making and news, networking, colour and the arrival of TV3, Prime, NZ on Air, Sky and Māori Television) and interviews many of the major players. The changing nature of the NZ living room — always with the telly in pride of place as modern hearth — is a story within a story.
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.
John Reynolds is one of New Zealand's most talked-about contemporary artists. His diverse practice takes in painting, photography, clothing, tattooing and landscaping. Director Shirley Horrocks frames the film as a series of questions. The answers reflect Reynold's exuberant personality, his strong family life, his sense of humour, and his adventurous art-making. Following a year in his life, the film observes him as he makes and debuts a work (Cloud) at the 2006 Biennale of Sydney, and takes time out to appear in an episode of bro'Town.
The writing and drawing of comic books has remained a little-known and under-rated area of New Zealand culture. Director Shirley Horrocks reveals it as a highly creative subculture with a rich local history. Eric Resetar, the grand old man of local comics, discusses the moral panic brought on by comics in the 1940s and 1950s; and other artists of the genre, such as Barry Linton, Dick Frizzell, Coco and Dylan (Hicksville) Horrocks, explore the wide variety of stories that have been drawn, framed and speech-ballooned since then.
Who Laughs Last profiles Roger Hall, New Zealand’s most successful playwright. Three decades after the opening of Hall's Middle Age Spread became a hit, the original cast return for 2006 follow up Spreading Out. The Shirley Horrocks doco explores the secrets behind Hall’s successful brand of comedy (25+ stage plays, plus TV series and musical comedies) and closely explores the popularity of Middle Age Spread and Spreading Out. Among those interviewed are John Clarke, Ginette McDonald, the late Grant Tilly, and Hall himself.
Shirley Horrocks' documentary profiles the life, work and influence of pioneering PI writer Albert Wendt (1973's Sons for the Return Home was the first novel published in English by a Samoan). The film accompanies the writer to various locations in the Pacific and addresses his Samoa upbringing, his education in New Zealand and his work as writer and teacher; and discusses the contemporary explosion of Pacific arts. "I belong to Oceania — or, at least, I am rooted in a fertile part of it and it nourishes my spirit, helps to define me, and feeds my imagination."
Arriving downunder from London in 1958, Marti Friedlander began photographing New Zealand, partly as a way of coming to terms with what she saw as its foreignness. In the process she captured aspects of Aotearoa that familiarity had made invisible to its inhabitants. She photographed artists, Springbok Tour protesters, and kuia with moko (for a book with historian Michael King). After screening on TV One, Shirley Horrocks' documentary was one of 20 chosen to screen at Doku.Arts 2007, a German festival devoted to films about artists. Friedlander passed away in November 2016.
Early Days Yet, directed by Shirley Horrocks, is a full-length documentary about New Zealand poet Allen Curnow, made in the last months of his life. The poet talks about his life and work, and visits the places of some of his most important poems. It includes interviews with other New Zealand poets about Curnow's significance as an advocate for New Zealand poetry. As Curnow famously mused in front of a moa skeleton displayed in Canterbury Museum: "Not I, some child, born in a marvellous year / Will learn the trick of standing upright here."
Flip & Two Twisters is Shirley Horrocks' documentary about New Zealand-born artist Len Lye. Motion maestro Lye's international reputation rests on his work as a filmmaker and kinetic sculptor, and his lively contributions to the London and New York avant-garde. The documentary explores Lye's career and ideas, with the help of historical footage and excerpts from his films. It includes footage of Lye in typically exuberant form outlining his process, introduces many of his kinetic works, and documents how some of his most ambitious plans are being realised in New Zealand.
See What I Mean is a documentary about people with a hearing impairment, and those who identify as deaf. It tells the stories of a family who were all born deaf, and a journalist who began to lose her hearing in her twenties. It features footage of deaf community events including rugby, an education meeting and socialising at the Deaf Club. This was the documentary that first presented the idea of 'Deaf Culture' on New Zealand television, relating it to protest activities by the American deaf community. The film was directed by Shirley Horrocks (Kiwiana, The New Oceania).
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 documentary, made seven years after the death of legendary filmmaker and kinetic artist Len Lye, tells Lye's story: from being a young boy staring at the sun, to travels around the Pacific and life in New York. It includes excerpts from many of his films, and interviews with second wife Ann and biographer Roger Horrocks. Len Lye himself is often heard, outlining his ideas of the ‘old brain’ and how Māori and Aboriginal art influenced his work. The grandeur of his ideas are only matched by their scale, with steel sculptures designed to be "at least 20 foot high".