Cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh has helped create some of the most iconic images of New Zealand cinema: the girl with a mop of red hair, standing at the end of a country road in Angel at my Table; the piano on a deserted beach in The Piano, and the charged kitchen scenes of Once Were Warriors.
... it was a kind of old fashioned look, a glamour look — and it worked very well. We were doing glamour lighting in a dirty old state house. Stuart Dryburgh on shooting Once Were Warriors
When his father dies, Paul (Matthew Macfayden), a world-weary war journalist, returns to his Central Otago hometown. He strikes up an unlikely friendship with a teenage girl (Emily Barclay). Their relationship is frowned upon and when she disappears, the community holds him responsible. The events that follow force Paul to confront a tragic incident he fled as a youth, and face dark secrets. Critically-acclaimed, In My Father's Den marked the debut of a formidable fledgling talent: it was the only feature from writer-director Brad McGann, who died of cancer in 2007.
Two families spend the day at a deserted beach on the hottest day of the summer in this short film which marks a directing debut for long time producer and production manager Dorthe Scheffmann. While husbands and children occupy themselves, Margie (Donogh Rees) discovers a terrible secret about her friend Anne (Elizabeth Hawthorne) and her marriage. Margie’s explosive reaction shatters the languor created by the overexposed footage in this Hamburg Film Festival prize-winner (which was also selected for competition at Cannes and Telluride).
Luscious fruit, truckies, and Lucy Lawless feature in this Christine Parker short. Sal (Tania Simon) is gifted a peach and meets a saucy tow truck driver (Lawless) en route home to her toddler, and domestics with boyfriend Mog (Joel Tobeck). Mog’s truckie mates arrive for beers, including the nameless driver, whose presence (and peach-eating advice) stirs up desire. “Watch it rot, or taste it when it’s ripe.” A roster of leading NZ film talent worked with Parker on the film, and Lawless' turn hints at the cross-sexual appeal of her breakthrough role on Xena - Warrior Princess.
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.
Director John Bates' 1993 documentary examines the life and work of photographer Robin Morrison, who captured iconic images of everyday New Zealand life and landscape. Part biography, part travelogue, the film goes on the road with Morrison to revisit some of his best-loved locations. Stunningly shot by Stuart Dryburgh (The Piano) before Morrison died on 12 March 1993, Sense of Place won Best Documentary at the 1994 New Zealand Film and Television awards, and a certificate of merit at the 37th San Francisco International Film Festival.
Ada (Holly Hunter) has been mute since she was six. She travels from Scotland with her daughter (Anna Paquin) and her grand piano to colonial New Zealand, for an arranged marriage. When her husband, a stoic settler (Sam Neill) sells the piano to Baines (Harvey Keitel), Ada and Baines come to a secret agreement. She can win her piano back key by key by playing for him, as he acts out his desire for her. An especially big hit in Europe, Jane Campion's Oscar-winning tale of sexual emancipation in the bush is the only NZ film to have won the top award at the Cannes Film Festival.
This muscular early 90s cover of The Fourmyula’s pastoral 1969 classic comes from the first album by Don McGlashan’s band The Mutton Birds. The award-winning music video was directed by Fane Flaws — the first of six he made with the band (after previously working with McGlashan on The Front Lawn’s Beautiful Things clip). Guest vocalist Jan Hellriegel features amongst the battery of kaleidoscopic and psychedelic digital effects used to evoke the joys of nature. In 2001 the original tune was voted best NZ song in 75 years by songwriters’ association APRA.
Directed by Jane Campion, An Angel at My Table is adapted from author Janet Frame's renowned three-part autobiography. It threads together a series of images and scenes to evoke Frame's dramatic life story. Originally made as a TV drama, the much-acclaimed dramatisation won cinema release in 35 countries; it established Campion as a global director, launched actor Kerry Fox, and introduced new audiences to the "mirror city" of Frame's writing. This excerpt follows Frame's life-saving escape from Seacliff Asylum, to first publishing success at Frank Sargeson’s bach.
This motors and mullets documentary focuses on a group who are obsessed by stock car racing. Shot by Stuart Dryburgh (Once Were Warriors) and Richard Scott, it follows a group of drivers and their crews and families, as they ready for Saturday night racing at Onehunga's Waikaraka Park Speedway. Hours are spent preparing and repairing the one-and-a-half tonne cars, which travel at up to 112 kilometres an hour in one of the few full contact motor sports. Passion, ego and cunning fuel the drama. Injuries and personal sacrifices are the price for the part-time petrol heads.
Ambitious kids' sci fi series Space Knights pitched the King Arthur myth into a zany universe of Knights of the Round Space Station, Vader-esque villains, rainbow rocket exhaust, and laser lance jousting. The distinctive look of this early South Pacific Pictures series — like a picture book come to life — was led by cartoonist Chris Slane who achieved it by using actors in life-size puppet suits and blue screen effects. In this excerpt, the evil Mordread creates an android Trojan horse to infiltrate Castle Spacelot. The 'Space Junk' theme song is by Dave Dobbyn.
In Haka Māori myth is re-told through a series of stirring haka performances. Men stomp, invoke, and do pūkana (tongue out, eyes wide) amidst spitting mud and fire and ... in Paremoremo Prison and under a motorway. These scenes are intercut with archive imagery of post-pākehā Māori life, from first contact to Maori Battalion, urban drift and protest. The film is a tribute to the raw power, and art, of haka. Ultimately the Once Were Warriors-like message "is positive because of the fierce, irresistible pride of the performances." Peter Calder, (NZ Herald, 1989).
Gregor Nicholas explores the outer edges of obsession in this deliciously fruity comedy. The syncopated medley of music, strange noises and varied eccentrics doing their special thing shares similarities with a fondly-recalled scene in cult film Delicatessen; though Delicatessen was yet to emerge when this short film first debuted. Rushes played in multiple festivals, including the prestigious Clermont-Ferrand. The soundtrack is by ex Techtones guitarist Steve Roach. Director Nicholas followed this with another oddball romp: his feature debut User Friendly.
The Mighty Civic offered a delirious and colourful celebration of Auckland's grandest old movie palace, made at a time when the building's future was under threat. The film uses a mixture of stylised sequences, archive footage, personal memories and poetic narration to evoke the spirit of the theatre in its heyday. Director Peter Wells' film galvanised public support, and ultimately the building was saved and refurbished, to remain the crown jewel of Queen Street's cinema district. This clip features the first 10 minutes of the hour long film. Costa Botes writes about the film here.
This collaboration between dancer Douglas Wright and director Gregor Nicholas was one of a series of music and movement-based shorts that established Nicholas’ reputation. A dramatised film noir sequence leads to a cross-dressing dance duel between Wright and Debbie McCulloch, shifting between an Orwellian cityscape and retro nightclub. Wright choreographs the bodies, and Nicholas the bold and sensual visual rhythms (shot by Stuart Dryburgh). Nicholas went on to direct high profile commercials and movie Broken English. Wright passed away in 2018.
Michael Firth's follow-up to his 1977 Oscar-nominated ski documentary Off the Edge, but this time with a plot and scripted dialogue. Canadian Matt hitches from Auckland to meet a bunch of Kiwi extreme thrill-seekers at a southern ski field. They throw themselves off volcanoes, glaciers, mountains and into an Iron Man with "get more go" abandon. Cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh's first feature shoot — "I was relatively cheap and I could ski" — is notable for its action sequences (set to an 80s pop soundtrack) and Billy T James as a mad pilot.
The last novel by Taranaki author Ronald Hugh Morrieson revolves around a freezing plant worker (Peter McCauley) in an inter-racial marriage. The role of an English remittance man was expanded in a failed attempt to cast Peter O'Toole (the role ultimately went to NZ-born Bruce Spence). Morrieson's view of small town NZ is a dark one, as he explores racism, violence, murder, suicide and blackmail. Bruno Lawrence contributes to Jonathan Crayford's jazz-tinged score, and features in the wedding band. The freezing works scenes were shot at the defunct plant in Patea.
Peking Man's self-titled album took away a stack of awards in 1986. It also spawned chart-topper 'Room that Echoes', followed by number six hit 'Good Luck to You'. Directed by The Piano lensman Stuart Dryburgh, thw NZ Music Award-nominated video highlights sibling singers Pat and Margaret Urlich, sax and gel-assisted hairstyles. The Auckland cityscape is littered with construction cranes and glass high rises, shortly before the stock market crash of 1987; and legendary central city cafe DKD (at the back of the Civic Theatre) also takes a starring role.
In the vein of 'We are the World' and 'Do They Know It’s Christmas', 'Don’t Go' rallied NZ musicians to express their opposition to the proposed 1985 All Black tour of South Africa. Don McGlashan, Chris Knox and Rick Bryant were the front row for this one-off single: a catchy number written by McGlashan, Frank Stark and Geoff Chapple. The video — directed by Alison Maclean and shot by Stuart Dryburgh — never attempts to get in the way of the message, placing the ensemble cast in front of red, white and black backdrops (interspersed with rugby imagery).
"I mean to say, shouldn't I be in love with a fella or something?" Mandy, a man who dresses as a woman, talks about his relationship with transsexual Jewel (played by future politician Georgina Beyer). Jewel's Darl concentrates on the fine details of their relationship: tea and biscuits in bed, Jewel's belief in staying strong against other people's mockery, and Mandy's memories of a troubled childhood. Nominated for multiple NZ Film and Television awards, this Peter Wells-directed TV drama was inspired by an Anne Kennedy short story, which won the 1983 Katherine Mansfield Award.
“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.
Toss is an 11-year old girl living on a remote hill country farm. While out with her father herding sheep, he falls and is killed. Ethan, a bearded stranger appears, carrying his body, and plants himself on the farm. Toss fears he’s Lucifer and is confused when he and her mother become lovers. It is through Ethan, however, that Toss comes to terms with her father’s death and the first stirrings of womanhood. Vincent Ward’s debut feature was the first NZ film selected for competition at Cannes; LA Times’ critic Kevin Thomas lauded it as “a work of awesome beauty”.
This pirates of the South Seas tale stars Tommy Lee Jones (Men in Black, The Fugitive) as rogue Bully Hayes, who helps a missionary save his kidnapped-by-savages wife. Produced by Kiwis Rob Whitehouse and Lloyd Phillips (12 Monkeys, Inglorious Basterds), the film was made in the 80s ‘tax-break’ feature surge and filmed in Fiji and New Zealand (with an NZ crew and supporting cast). John Hughes (Breakfast Club) and David Odell (Dark Crystal) scripted the old-fashioned swashbuckler from a Phillips story. It was released by Paramount in the US as Nate and Hayes.
In a lawless fuel wars future, marauders roam the wasteland looking for oil. Their malevolent leader Straker threatens his daughter Corlie; she’s rescued by loner Hunter and they harbour with eco-sensitive folk in the Clearwater Commune ... but not for long: there will be blood on the Central Otago plains! Following in the exhaust of Mad Max, the cult film was made during the 80s tax-break feature surge, with US director (Harley Cokliss) and leads flocking south during a Hollywood writers’ strike, and Kiwis as crew (“artists with chainsaws”) and supporting cast.
Goodbye Pork Pie was a low-budget sensation, definitively proving Kiwis could make blockbusters too. Young Gerry (Kelly Johnson) steals a yellow Mini from a Kaitaia rental company. Heading south, he meets John (Tony Barry), who wants his wife back, and hitchhiker Shirl (Claire Oberman). Soon they're heading to Invercargill, with the police in pursuit. High on hair-raising driving and a childlike sense of joy, the Blondini gang are soon hailed as folk heroes, on screen and off. Remake Pork Pie (2017) was directed by Matt Murphy — son of Geoff, who drove the original film.
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.
Three friends cruise inner-city Auckland in a 1946 Ford pickup, as they cope with the changing dynamic of their friendship and encroaching demands of the adult world. In the tradition of American Graffiti it captures the hope promised by a night on the town and a reality that struggles to meet expectations — punctuated by hoons, officious cops and dodgy tow truck operators. Queen Street is a fascinating look at Kiwi car and street culture in the pre-boyracer era, and a snapshot of a downtown that has changed markedly since 1981 when the film screened on TV.
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.