Playwright turned director Toa Fraser grabbed the theatre world with award-winning play No.2, which he then directed for the screen. At the 2006 Sundance Festival it won the coveted audience award. Follow-up Dean Spanley won seven gongs at the 2009 Qantas Film Awards, including best director. Fraser went on to helm ballet documentary Giselle, te reo action movie The Dead Lands, and hostage drama 6 Days.
My inspirations are from people and the street. It’s not from sitting in a room and formulating things from the back of my head. Toa Fraser, in an interview with Catherine Bisley for website Lumière, May 2007
With The Free Man, genre-hopping director Toa Fraser (The Dead Lands) takes on the world of extreme sport. The globetrotting documentary is built around encounters between Kiwi freestyle skier Jossi Wells and The Flying Frenchies, known for their base jumps, wingsuit flying and tightrope walks at terrifying heights. As Wells gets direct experience in the art of walking a highline, director Fraser investigates what adrenaline junkies gain — and lose — when putting their lives on the line. The Free Man gets its Kiwi premiere during the 2017 NZ International Film Festival.
Toa Fraser's second English-set film (following 2008's quirky drama Dean Spanley) dramatises a real life siege at the Iranian Embassy in London, when gunmen held 26 people hostage in April 1980. Fraser and Dead Lands writer Glenn Standring take many angles on the tense six day siege: from politicians favouring a more aggressive approach than their lead negotiator, to the SAS team ready to storm the building, to BBC reporter Kate Adie (Bright Star's Abbie Cornish) covering events live on television. The film's international sales included a deal with Netflix.
Action movie The Dead Lands joins the short list of screen tales set in Aotearoa, before the pākehā. James Rolleston (star of Boy) plays Hongi, the son of a Māori chief. After the massacre of his tribe, Hongi sets out into the forbidden Dead Lands, hoping to enlist the help of a legendary warrior (Lawrence Makoare). The Anglo-Kiwi co-production marked new screen territory for director Toa Fraser (No. 2) and writer Glenn Standring (fantasy Perfect Creature). After debuting at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival, The Dead Lands topped the Kiwi box office and won three Moa awards.
This documentary sees Dean Spanley director Toa Fraser and producer Matthew Metcalfe swap dialogue for dance. Based on The Royal NZ Ballet's acclaimed 2012 production of Giselle, the movie features American Ballet Theatre star Gillian Murphy as the dance-mad villager, wooed by a prince in disguise. Inspired by concert film The Last Waltz, a Leon Narbey-led camera team filmed the performance, with scenes of the lead dancers in Shanghai and New York counterpointing the onstage action. Following its Kiwi festival debut, Giselle screened at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival.
After being diagnosed with breast cancer, TV presenter Helena McAlpine enlisted a chorus of NZ's most recognisable music voices to cover Chris Knox’s classic love song. McAlpine was determined that mothers, daughters, wives and friends get the message that the “best form of defence against breast cancer is to catch it early”. Directed by Toa Fraser, the video for the NZ Breast Cancer Foundation awareness campaign shows a run of well-known Kiwis holding pictures of women they love, in front of a backdrop of Derek Henderson photos. McAlpine died on 23 September 2015.
This offbeat father and son feature was written by Scotsman Alan Sharp, and mostly filmed in the UK by a Fijian-Brit Kiwi. Lawrence of Arabia legend Peter O'Toole plays a stiff upper lip Englishman whose frosty relationship with his son warms after hearing an extraordinary tale of reincarnation from Reverend Dean Spanley (Sam Neill). Based on an Edward Plunkett novella, Toa Fraser's second feature won praise for its cast, and mix of comedy and poignancy, "intertwined to the last" (The Age). Spanley won a host of Qantas awards; GQ rated it their film of the year.
Don McGlashan wrote this rousing secular gospel number for a key scene in No. 2, Toa Fraser's cinematic tribute to the Auckland suburb of Mount Roskill. Beyond the screen it won an APRA Silver Scroll and spent 22 weeks in the charts. That sales success was helped in no small part by this Fraser-directed video which recreates the film's (eventually) joyous, party vibe. Cast and crew gather to watch the fruits of their labours and witness a backyard performance by Hollie Smith, McGlashan and the other members of the Mount Raskil Preservation Society.
Nanna Maria, the matriarch of a Fijian family living in Auckland feels that the heart has gone out of her clan. Nanna demands that her grown grandchildren put on a traditional feast at which she will name her successor. The grandchildren — Soul, Charlene, Hibiscus, Erasmus, and Tyson — reluctantly turn up. But tiffs send the day into chaos and Nanna calls the whole thing off. The lovo-warmed love letter to his Mt Roskill hometown was the debut feature for director Toa Fraser. It screened at many festivals and won the World Cinema audience award at Sundance 2006.
Vincent Ward's fifth feature follows an Irishwoman in 1860s New Zealand, as Māori tribes resist the occupation of their land by the British. Sarah (Samantha Morton) has had an affair with a Māori and borne his child. Years later the boy is kidnapped by his grandfather, a powerful tribal leader. Sarah embarks on a search for her child, aided by warrior Wiremu (Cliff Curtis). When she finds him, both mother and son must decide to which culture they belong. This excerpt from the notoriously ambitious film sees Sarah encountering charismatic chief Te Kai Po (Temuera Morrison).
Staunch follows the politicisation of Ariana (Once Were Warriors’ Mamaengaroa Kerr-Bell) a young Māori woman who’s run into trouble with the law. Guided by a sympathetic social worker (Tamati Patuwai) she defends herself against assault charges following a police raid on her home. The Auckland-set TV3 drama was inspired by fact, and co-written by director Keith Hunter and playwright Toa Fraser; it won multiple gongs at the 2002 NZ TV Awards. Staunch was an early screen credit for Fraser (director of feature films No. 2, Dean Spanley, and ballet doco Giselle).