Composer Stephen McCurdy's screen music has crossed the gamut — from jazz, chamber pieces, rock, and pop, to the faux Peggy Lee song which opened each episode of 80s soap Gloss. McCurdy won NZ Film Awards for his scores to Came a Hot Friday and The End of the Golden Weather.
I think the tendency for New Zealand screen music is to be quite sparse ... and that's a good thing. Part of my job is knowing exactly when to sit on my hands. Stephen McCurdy
Starting in the questioning times of the late 60s, many New Zealanders began leaving town to set up their own communities, in search of alternative ways to live. This then and now documentary travels to communes long gone and still active, and tracks down many of those involved. Tim Shadbolt describes a time when people questioned "everything fearlessly ... without reserve and without restraint". The back to the land approach brought both satisfaction and fatigue. Dirty Bloody Hippies played to full houses at NZ's Documentary Edge Festival.
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.
“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.
Aileen O'Sullivan's and Toby Mills' documentary follows Black Grace as they prepare for an appearance at premier dance festival Jacob's Pillow, in Massachusetts. The film also charts the personal journey of the dance group's founder, choreographer Neil Ieremia, from the community halls of Porirua to the global stage, powered by an unrelenting perfectionism that makes for some heated rehearsal footage. Shortly after the performances shown here, Ieremia fired the entire touring company, rebuilding his vision from scratch. Ken Sparks' editing won an NZ Screen Award.
Subtitled A Journalist's View, this award-winning documentary makes the case that Scott Watson shouldn't have been imprisoned for murdering Ben Smart and Olivia Hope — because he couldn't have done it. Returning to Endeavour Inlet, veteran director Keith Hunter talks to witnesses, and argues the prosecution fumbled vital details of the murderer's yacht and description, then advanced a new theory without evidence to back it. Hunter went on to write 2007 book Trial by Trickery, further critiquing what he calls “New Zealand's most blatantly dishonest prosecution”.
Fresh-up in the Deep End saw sportsmen turned TV larrikins Marc Ellis and Matthew Ridge facing challenges far outside their comfort zones. This episode has the pair taking on dancing, from ballroom and latin styles, through to cabaret, contemporary and Irish. En route they try some body percussion with Black Grace Dance Company, and do the can-can under the watchful eye of cabaret legend Debbie Dorday. Then they must put their new found skills to the test in full on competition. Ridge and Ellis' skills with a rugby ball in hand don't always translate onto the dancefloor.
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.
This documentary unearths the story of the soldiers in the New Zealand Tunneling Company, whose daring World War I raids involved digging tunnels through chalk rock, laying explosives underneath enemy lines, and countermining German tunneling efforts. The story is told through the eyes of a New Zealand woman who retraces her grandfather’s war story to Arras, France, and sees the Kiwi-tagged cavern 'city' nearly 80 years later. The company played a key role on the Western Front, and was especially recruited in NZ, made up of miners, bushmen and labourers.
Four-part series Revolution mapped sweeping social and economic change in New Zealand society in the 1980s and early 1990s. Described as a “journalist's assembly” by its makers, it collected together interviews with the major players and archive footage. Producer Marcia Russell: “We wanted to make Revolution because we believed that unless we re-run and re-examine our recent history we are in constant danger of forgetting, and forgetting can render us passive about the present and slaves of the future.” It won Best Factual Series at the 1997 Film and TV Awards.
Award-winning series Revolution examined sweeping changes in 1980s New Zealand society. This second episode argues that in its first term in office, the Labour Government promoted neoliberal reform via illusory ideas of consensus and fairness, while PM David Lange mined goodwill from its indie anti-nuclear policy (famously in an Oxford Union debate, see third clip). The interviews include key figures in politics, the public service and business: an age of easy lending and yuppie excess is recalled, while those in rural areas recount the downside of job losses.
Four-part series Revolution examined radical changes in New Zealand society in the 1980s and 1990s. This final episode sums things up, after examining "the second wave" of neoliberal reform when National took power in 1990, shortly after Telecom was sold to American interests. Incoming finance minister Ruth "mother of all budgets" Richardson oversaw a reduction of welfare payments, a shake-up of the health system, and a curbing of union powers. Richardson: "in a human sense I understood that [community outrage], but that wasn't going to deflect me".
Documentary series Revolution mapped the social and economic changes in New Zealand society in the 1980s and early 1990s. This first episode focuses on NZ's radical transformation from a heavily regulated welfare state to a petri dish for free market ideology. It includes interviews with key political and business figures of the day, who reveal how the dire economic situation by the end of Robert Muldoon's reign made it relatively easy for Roger Douglas to implement extreme reform. Revolution won Best Factual Series at the 1997 Film and TV Awards.
Four-part series Revolution examined sweeping changes in New Zealand society that began in the 1980s. This third episode looks at the lurch of the Kiwi stock market from boom to bust in 1987, and the growing philosophical divide between the “head boys”: PM David Lange and finance minister Roger 'Rogernomics' Douglas. Within two months of the October 1987 stock market crash, $21 billion was lost from the value of NZ shares. Lange and Douglas give accounts of how their differing views on steering the NZ economy eventually resulted in both their resignations.
This documentary follows the police investigation that lead to the capture and imprisonment of South Auckland rapist Joseph Thompson. He was the first serial rapist convicted in New Zealand. Using re-enactments and in depth interviews with police, the Keith Hunter-directed doco examines how the relatively new technology of DNA matching and criminal profiling led to the arrest of Thompson in 1995. Viewers are not spared details of his long-lasting and brutal rampage which targeted girls as young as 10. Thompson was eventually sentenced to over 30 years in prison.
Made for Montana Sunday Theatre, Dead Certs provides rare starring roles for talents Rawiri Paratene and Ginette McDonald. Paratene won a Television Award for his acting, and also co-wrote the script (with director Ian Mune), which he began writing on a Burns Fellowship. Paratene plays Hare Hohepa, whose dreams of a winning bet that will allow him to escape his down'n'out existence take an unusual turn: his friend Martha (McDonald) expires after some drinks, then returns in ghostly form to encourage him to keep betting. So begins a dream run at the TAB.
Directed by Annie Goldson (Brother Number One), this 1995 TV documentary explores the story of Cecil Holmes, who won Cold War notoriety in 1948 when he was smeared as a communist agent, while working as a director for the National Film Unit. This excerpt — the opening 10 minutes — revisits the infamous snatching of Holmes' satchel outside Parliament, his Palmerston North upbringing, war service, and the founding of the Government's National Film Unit. There are excerpts from a 1980 interview where Holmes describes his inspirations (including UK film Night Mail).
Letter to Blanchy was a gentle back-blocks comedy co-written by A.K. Grant, Tom Scott and comedy duo, McPhail and Gadsby (who also starred). Each episode centred on the bumblings of a trio of mates living in a fictional small town: intellectual Derek (McPhail), rough-diamond Barry (Gadsby) and tradesman Ray (Rowley). The show's narration comes from a letter written to Blanchy, a friend living in the relative sophistication of Christchurch. The series was adapted for a theatre tour in 2008.
In this full-length episode, Heartland visits the heart of the North Island: the Waimarino district at the foot of Mount Ruapehu. Host Gary McCormick hits town in time for the yearly Waimarino Easter Hunt. In Ohakune he talks to a policeman about a strange case of streaking near the town's famously oversized carrot, visits an equally overized collection of salt and pepper shakers, then sets off on an early morning pig hunt. Vegetarians be warned: many expired members of the animal kingdom make guest appearances.
This show was possibly the most controversial edition of the Heartland series. Gary visits the sometimes maligned working class dormitory suburb, and hits sports fields, local homes and Tupperware parties. In this full-length episode he meets everyone from cheerful league coaches and builders remembering the challenges of getting supplies up the hill, to the woman many would not forget: Chloe Reeves, with her squeaking voice, distinctive fashion sense and tiger slippers. There is also a fleeting glimpse of future All Black Piri Weepu holding a school road safety lollipop.
Created by writer Greg McGee, Marlin Bay was one of the first primetime drama series from South Pacific Pictures. It follows the events of a far-north resort and casino; a number of well-known actors made up the cast of earthy locals, wealthy foreigners and city weekenders, including Ilona Rodgers, Don Selwyn, Andy Anderson and Katie Wolfe. Kevin Smith received a 1995 Best Supporting Actor nod for his role as villain Paul Cosic. In this episode the swarthy Cosic cooks up an illegal smuggling scheme to diversify a farm's income stream.
Designed to inspire school leavers to find their career, Pathways sees a selection of young New Zealanders talk about their job paths. The pilot episode of this 1994 Careers NZ resource is bookended with a 'mini-drama' about young people flatting together, which includes some familiar faces. Karl Urban plays lazy surfer Wayne, while Robbie Magasiva is the sales assistant whose plans of climbing the career ladder go awry. Marcus Lush plays a DJ who links a series of interviews with people either working or training. Later Lush interviews experts on youth employment prospects.
This Work of Art documentary follows veteran actor and director Ian Mune as he works with NZ Drama School graduates, to write and shoot a 15 minute film in just two days. Many of the actors (who include future bro'Town voice David Fane and Saving Grace's Kirsty Hamilton) have little experience acting for the camera. Mune passes on lessons learned in a career that began long before such tuition was available locally. Shot at Wellington Railway Station, Rush Hour, the resulting film, is included in its entirety during this fascinating insight into the creative process.
In this documentary for TV One, director Aileen O'Sullivan turns the camera on three sets of mother/daughter artists, and asks whether art is in the genes. Interviewing each other about their creative lives are actor Kate Harcourt and actor/acting teacher Miranda Harcourt; weaver Erenora Puketapu-Hetet and weaver/painter Veranoa Hetet (née Hauwaho); and painter Jacqueline Fahey and performer/sculptor Augusta McDonald. Frank yet loving discussions abound, like when Hetet tells her mother "sometimes you come up with silly things".
In this full-length Heartland episode, Gary McCormick travels to the Hokianga in Northland, where he attends the annual rowing regatta in the town of Horeke. Locals compete in ironman (swimming, running and... woodchopping), before McCormick delves into the region’s logging past and sees local bone carvers at work. He also visits the Motuti Marae, then drives on to Panguru where he interviews local resident and Māori land march leader Dame Whina Cooper. The programme (gently) reflects on Māori and Pākehā race relations in the area.
"Space — big hills, snow-capped, blue skies ... that's the Maniototo, Central Otago." So says local poet Ross McMillan, describing the landscape that inspires much of his work. The Maniototo plain has also inspired writing from James K Baxter, Janet Frame, and Gary McCormick, the host of this full-length Heartland episode. McCormick finds a strong sense of community amidst the poetry of isolation: whether in the shearing shed, the sports field or the ice-skating rink. He also talks to local high-schoolers, some resigned to having to leave the area to find work.
Marlin Bay was a drama series following the comings and goings of a far-north resort and casino. Andy Anderson, Ilona Rogers, Don Selwyn, Pete Smith, Katie Wolfe and others made up the cast of earthy locals, wealthy foreigners, and city weekenders. Created by writer Greg McGee, Marlin Bay was one of the first primetime drama series from South Pacific Pictures. Kevin Smith received a 1995 Best Supporting Actor nod for his role as villain Paul Cosic.
Actor and casting legend Diana Rowan (who discovered both Anna Paquin and Keisha Castle-Hughes) turns her hand to writing and directing, with this darkly comic half-hour television drama based on an original story by Shonagh Koea. Veteran actor Helen Moulder (Fallout) gives a stand-out performance as a recently widowed woman, who arrives at a novel solution to well-meaning but hideous friends and family. The Wall is dedicated to director of photography Bayly Watson, who passed away soon after working on it.
Produced by George Andrews, Great New Zealand River Journeys is a three-part series exploring the history and majesty of the Waikato, Wanganui and Clutha rivers. In this episode, Jon Gadsby explores the Clutha River and surrounds, and finds out about jet-boating and rafting (the cameraman falls in when he gets a little too close to his subject), bungy jumping, the Clyde Dam, Cromwell's giant fruit and Alexandra's giant clock. Gadsby enjoys the ubiquitous whitebait fritters offered by the locals before the journey ends at the mouth of the river.
Great New Zealand River Journeys was a three part series produced by George Andrews that examined the history, geography and people of three of New Zealand's most iconic rivers: comedian Jon Gadsby explores the Clutha river, poet Sam Hunt the Whanganui, and musician Lynda Topp takes on the Waikato.
Heartland was a long-running series where, in each episode, affable presenter Gary McCormick explored a Kiwi community. Location and local legend are relayed as McCormick (or occasionally Annie Whittle, Maggie Barry, or Kerre McIvor) interacts with the natives, most famously, tiger slipper-shod Chloe of Wainuiomata. The popular, award-winning series, was inspired by a collaboration — Raglan by the Sea — between McCormick and director Bruce Morrison; it connected mostly-urban Kiwis with faraway corners of the country, and a homely sense of shared identity.
In this full-length Heartland episode, Gary McCormick travels to New Zealand's southernmost community: the town of Oban on Stewart Island's Half Moon Bay. Another gently discursive ramble through time and geography is held together by a focus on the island's annual Festival of The Sea, and appearances by a range of locals from fishermen to conservationists. The highlight of this marine mardi gras is the drag competition ‘Miss Catch of the Day', where hairy blokes dress like sheilas and walk on stage. Thankfully Gary keeps his pants on.
Set over a Christmas beach holiday in 1935, The End of the Golden Weather chronicles the friendship between a teenage boy and the wild-limbed Firpo, dreamer and social outcast. Writer/director Ian Mune spent more than 15 years "massaging" Bruce Mason's classic solo play into a movie, before assembling a dream team to bring it to the screen. The finished film captures the world view of a boy for whom fantasy, hope and disappointment intermingle. Among an impressive awards haul, 12-year-old star Stephen Fulford was recognised at America's Youth in Film Awards.
Fresh from the larger than life comedy of Came a Hot Friday, Ian Mune made an abrupt turn to horror with this, his second feature as director. Friday alumni Phillip Gordon joins a brat pack of young Kiwi actors; going bush, they meet gun-totting cattleman Bruno Lawrence and a young woman. He is not happy. In this clip the group begin to crack under the strain of being the hunted. Originally written by American Bill Baer, the film was pre-sold to a US investor. Mune was later told by his LA agent that having the dog die did not help its commercial chances in the US.
Comedian Billy T James presents an introduction to The America’s Cup as Team New Zealand challenges for The Auld Mug for the first time. Billy T visits Fremantle in Western Australia — where the Cup is being contested — and meets members of the NZ team including skipper Chris Dickson and backer Michael Fay. Rules and strategy are explained and there’s occasional product placement for sponsor Sony. Billy’s sense of humour is never too far away but this is a largely-factual exercise from a time before The America’s Cup was (briefly) “New Zealand’s Cup”.
This documentary follows the Vintage Car Club of New Zealand on a 1985 commemorative tour. On 24 March 1985, over 90 vehicles and their owners gathered in Invercargill to honour a century of motoring. Then the Vauxhalls, Chevrolets and Fiats embark on a reverse Goodbye Pork Pie as the lovingly-restored vintage cars head from the deep south all the way to Cape Reiga, meeting Prime Minister David Lange en route. A rare directing credit for veteran cameraman Allen Guilford, Milestones is narrated by John Gordon, who swaps A Dog's Show commentary for motoring trivia.
This 1985 film spins off Katherine Mansfield's request to her husband John Middleton Murry, to burn "as much as possible" of her letters and writing after her death. Three decades later Murry (Sir John Gielgud) is still haunted by Mansfield, as he works on a collection of her work. Brit Jane Birkin plays both Mansfield, and a Kiwi expat who reminds Murry of his ex lover. Initially charmed, she grows annoyed at Murry's narrow-minded view of Mansfield. John Reid took over directing two weeks before shooting began in France. Variety rated the Pacific Films drama nuanced and intelligent.
Stunt driver Judd (US Oscar winner Cliff Robertson) and his mechanic Casey (ex child star Leif Garrett) are in NZ racing 'Shaker' — their pink and black Trans-Am — when they're enlisted by scientist Dr Christine Ruben on a fast and furious dash from Dunedin. Unknown to the Yanks, Ruben (Lisa Harrow) has stolen a deadly virus that she's aiming to smuggle to the CIA, and away from the NZ military — who plan to use it for bio warfare! Touted as "fantasy car violence", the chase and stunt-laden Run was one of dozens of films sped out under an 80s tax break scheme.
Long before the comedy of Flight of the Conchords, Heroes followed the triumphs and pitfalls of a band trying to make it in the mid-80s NZ music biz. It marked the first major role for Jay Laga’aia, and early lead gigs for Michael Hurst and Margaret Umbers. In this first episode the band gets together as Dave (Hurst) ditches his covers band, flunks a TV audition, and hooks up opportunist flatmate Ron (Laga’aia), synth player Peter (John Gibson, who co-wrote the series music) and bass player Maxine (Umbers). Synth and leopard skin abound.
“The funniest, liveliest, most exuberant film ever made in New Zealand”. So said critic Nicholas Reid, a year after Came a Hot Friday became 1985's biggest local hit. Though Billy T’s loony Mexican-Māori cowboy is beloved by fans, he is but one eccentric here among many — as two scheming conmen hit town, and encounter bookies, boozers, country hicks, nasty crim Marshall Napier, and Prince Tui Teka playing saxophone. Until the arrival of The Piano in 1993, Ian Mune and Dean Parker’s award-loaded adaptation remained NZ's third biggest local hit. Ian Pryor writes about the film here.
Heroes followed a band trying to make it in the mid-80s music biz. Teen-orientated, the show marked a first major role for Jay Laga’aia (Star Wars), and an early gig for Michael Hurst (with blonde Billy Idol spikes). Band keyboardist John Gibson co-wrote the series music; he later became an award-winning film composer. Margaret Umbers (Shortland Street, Bridge to Nowhere) was a non-musician in the cast (with Hurst), but since has sung regularly in a jazz band. A second series follow in 1986.
An early case of a Kiwi play being adapted for the screen, Middle Age Spread asks whether adultery is inevitable (and whether it can stay secret). Grant Tilly won acclaim as "an antipodian Woody Allen" for his philandering deputy headmaster fearing a future of stress and marital dissatisfaction. Roger Hall's hit comedy was adapted in the first flush of the Kiwi film renaissance. It marks the movie debut of many talents — including Tilly, director John Reid, writer Keith Aberdein, and cinematographer Alun Bollinger. Middle Age Spread was the first Kiwi feature to screen on the BBC.