Toby Mills began as an actor (eg. short films Mananui and The Find). After managing theatre company Te Rakau Hua o te Wa o Tapu, he took up directing, and in 2000 was awarded for series Nga Morehu, which profiled Māori elders. Mills works often with his partner Moana Maniapoto; together they have won awards for docos on Syd Jackson and carver Pakaariki Harrison. Mills also helmed te reo short Te Po Uriuri.
Our passion is to film our people telling their own stories, and to capture it with integrity. Toby Mills
A request from Dutch museum Volkenkunde to acquire a Māori war canoe (waka taua) as a permanent exhibit resulted in a commission to master builder Hector Busby to craft one. Jan Bieringa’s doco looks at the history of waka, and follows the project from construction and launch, to the training of a Dutch crew and arrival in Holland. (Where the first waka to permanently leave New Zealand shores makes a surreal sight on the canals of Abel Tasman’s birthplace.) Onfilm reviewer Helen Martin praised the doco as, "a special film about a very special project."
This documentary examines an unusual Aotearoa first encounter: between Māori and Russians in 1820, when Queen Charlotte Sound was visited by Fabian Bellingshausen aboard the sloop the Vostok. Alongside reenactments of crew diaries, presenter Moana Maniapoto gets a history lesson from Tipene O'Regan, and visits Russia to look at traded taonga and archive material — and also find out what the famed Antarctic discoverer was doing in Ship Cove shortly after Napoleon was sent packing from Moscow. The doco screened on Māori TV and at Australia's Message Stick Festival.
This documentary looks at the history of the island of Motutaiko, the prominent landmark in the middle of Lake Taupō. Motutaiko is a sacred site for Ngāti Tūwharetoa. Directors Toby Mills and Moana Maniapoto use interviews and shots of island life to examine Motutaiko’s geological and mythological origins, its strategic place in Māori history (from the muttonbirds that gave the island its name, to its role as a stronghold), desecration of burial sites, and its contemporary place as a conservation bastion free of predators — and home to rare birds, insects and trees.
In 1991 six tribes took a major claim to the Waitangi Tribunal, encompassing everything from intellectual rights to management of indigenous fauna. Law professor David Williams describes Wai 262 as “the most important claim the tribunal is ever going to hear”. This backgrounder interviews key claimants from three Northland tribes. In 2011 the Tribunal’s Wai 262 report recommended major law reform, arguing for Crown and Māori to shift to a forward-thinking relationship of “mutual advantage in which, through joint and agreed action, both sides end up better off”.
In 2002, musician Moana Maniapoto was prevented from using her first name to market herself in Germany because it was copyrighted by someone else. That bewildering experience prompted this award-winning doco made with partner Toby Mills. It explores wider issues of commercial exploitation of 'exotic' indigenous cultures by global companies — a vexed area which Western intellectual property law seems ill-equipped to deal with. There are case studies of the good, the bad and the ugly over usage by brands including Lego, the All Blacks, Ford, Moontide and Playstation.
Aileen O'Sullivan's and Toby Mills' documentary follows troupe Black Grace as they prepare for an appearance at the world's premier dance festival, Jacob's Pillow in Massachusetts. The film also charts the personal journey of the 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 US performances shown here, Ieremia fired the entire touring company, rebuilding his vision from scratch. Ken Sparks' editing won an NZ Screen Award.
As Syd Jackson’s daughter Ramari tells it, there are some who sit on the couch and moan, and others, like her father, who get up and take action. Winner of Best Māori Programme at the 2003 NZ TV Awards, this edition of the Ngā Reo series profiles the fighter for Māori, women's and homosexuals' rights. The late "warrior" intellectual helped put Treaty debate on the agenda, and led Ngā Tamatoa and the Clerical Workers Union. His nephew, broadcaster Willie Jackson, credits his front-running uncle with rousing "the sleeping giant" of Māori activism in the 70s.
This 2003 documentary gives an insight into what drives two of New Zealand’s most internationally successful golfers. Future 2005 US Open champion Michael Campbell and Phillip Tataurangi look back on their careers to date and the part played by their Māori ancestry. Their natural talents are set against the hard work, supportive whānau, competitive desire and determination required to succeed on golf’s biggest stages: from both were both part of the Kiwi team that won the Eisenhower Trophy in 1992 to success as professionals on PGA and European Tours.
An urban Maori trust, Te Whanau o Waipareira has developed from modest beginnings as a vegetable selling co-op into the biggest employment and training organisation in West Auckland. This documentary by Toby Mills and Aileen O'Sullivan examines its operations through the eyes of four people who have had their lives turned around by its all encompassing social, health, justice and education programmes. Interviewees include Pita Sharples and trust CEO John Tamihere (who recounts early struggles to be accepted by government, council and business sectors).
This 2002 documentary profile of the late Ngāti Porou master carver and 2013 Arts Foundation Icon award winner Pakariki Harrison won that year’s Best Māori Language Programme at the TV Guide NZ Television Awards. The documentary follows Harrison, the eldest of 21 children from Ruatoria, who honed his practice while still a student at Te Aute College in Hawke’s Bay and who left a legacy as one of the finest tohunga whakairo (expert carvers) of his generation. It also examines the unique chisels used by the carver, and their specific uses and patterns.
Awatea, a young warrior, is enraged when his lover Te Po, a high-born chief's daughter, enters an arranged marriage. Retribution is swift and brutal. Set in the late 16th century and based on a Shakespeare sonnet ("my love is as a fever, longing still"), the storytelling of Te Po Uriuri is visceral, and suitably mythic in style. Ruru hoot, bloody patu gleam, and bodies and the oily black of the night are vividly shot by Waka Attewell. Directed by Toby Mills and filmed in te reo, it was selected for the Hamburg International Film Festival.
This series of portraits of Māori kaumatua, by Toby Mills and Moana Maniapoto, won Best Māori Programme at the 2000 NZ TV Awards. In this first episode, Kaa Rakaupai reminisces about catching crayfish with socks; master carver Paki Harrison spurns his family to follow his ambitions; Tawhao 'Bronco' Tioke's grandfather was jailed with prophet Rua Kenana; and Joan Mohi muses on being Pākehā and Māori. The millennial morehu ('survivors') talk of hopes for tamariki, and lament lost traditions — but not the bad old schooldays when they were forbidden to speak te reo.
Moana Maniapoto and Toby Mills' documentary series recorded interviews with end-of millennium Māori elders (including Maniapoto's nan Kaa Rakaupai) in four hour-long episodes, revisiting a time when tribal traditions, beliefs and customs were still strong, but when Māori children had their mouths washed with soap for speaking te reo at school. The series, filmed in te reo, was co-funded by Te Mangai Paho and screened on TVNZ and at French and Finnish film festivals. Episode tahi won Best Māori Programme at the 2000 NZ TV Awards.
In this 1998 doco, made for TV3’s Inside New Zealand slot, prisoners provide straight-talking descriptions of life on the inside. Collectively rejecting any idea of prison as a soft option, they talk about missing sunlight, closing up emotionally, and how even “the staunchest” end up crying. One long-timer argues that imprisonment is an expected part of becoming a gang member. Contemporary statistics provide provoking food for thought about the life cycle of criminality — 78 per cent of inmates have no school qualifications; 80 per cent were abused as children.
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 his 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.
Before The Gibson Group TV series Duggan there were two telefeatures: Duggan - Death in Paradise, and Duggan - Sins of the Father. Marion McLeod conceived the show; Donna Malane and Ken Duncum scripted it. New Zealand's answer to Inspector Morse finds John Bach, the troubled and brooding Detective Inspector Duggan, attempting to solve murders amid the tranquillity of the Marlborough Sounds. In this excerpt from the first of the two telefeatures, a reluctant Duggan is persuaded to investigate when police fish a body out of the water.
"Maybe if we looked after our living as well as we do the dead, he'd still be here." After returning to his Marae from the city, Mana (Cliff Curtis) finds himself caught up in arrangements for a tangi. But when another local commits suicide, Mana finds himself caught between traditional values and his own sense of right. Meanwhile in the forest, it seems that other powers may have the final word. Also featuring George Henare; directed and written by Poata Eruera.
A big smoke cousin to Mortimer's Patch, Shark in the Park was NZ's first urban cop show and first true genre police drama. Devised by Graham Tetley, it portrayed a unit policing Wellington's inner city under the guidance of Inspector Brian "Sharkie" Finn (Jeffrey Thomas). With its focus on the working lives of the officers, it was firmly in the mould of overseas programmes like The Bill and Hill Street Blues. The first of three series was the last in-house production for TVNZ's drama department. The other two were made independently by The Gibson Group.