Andrew Bancroft began writing and directing plays in the late 1980s. Then he got the idea for his first short film: man has baby. After a dummy run on video, he won funding from Creative New Zealand to make it, under the title Made Man. Craig Parker played the main role in this science fiction comedy — although it was screen wife Vanesa Valentine who took away an acting award at the 1994 NZ Short Film Festival. Made Man was named Best Comedy.
Bancroft followed it with another high concept science fiction tale. Planet Man (1995) took him to the Cannes Film Festival. The stylish, noir-inflected short saw Tim Balme’s character narrating the lonely experience of learning that all women appear to have vanished. Pavement magazine found it a "skilfully-paced and tightly structured work that sustains a knife-edge tension throughout, combining melodrama and sardonic humour with ease".
In the Critics' Week section at Cannes, a panel of international critics voted Planet Man the Best Short Film on offer. It was only the second time a Kiwi short had won a major award at Cannes (Bancroft comes first if you discount Kiwi Jane Campion — her 1986 winner Peel was filmed and set in Australia).
Bancroft then made two more shorts, children’s tale Making the Rain Breathe (funded by French TV channel Canal Plus) and rural horror Home Kill, starring Craig Hall. In 2000 he directed Ngā Tohu: Signatures. Moving between past and present, the one-off TV drama followed a Māori family taking a Waitangi tribunal claim over their Pākehā neighbour’s land. On top of an NZ Television Award for Bancroft’s direction, three of the cast scored gongs for their work, including George Henare and Nancy Brunning in double roles. Bancroft wrote the script with playwright Hone Kouka.
Bancroft then began moving into documentary. With Mine Eyes Dazzle (2004), the poetry-keen director profiled poet Alistair Te Ariki Campbell. Bancroft would go on to direct documentaries for arts slot Artsville on part-Chinese artist Simon Kaan, painter Michael Smither, wedding photographers, and the challenges of turning books into movies.
After helping select films for Creative New Zealand in 2003, Bancroft formed a special company (or as the NZ Film Commission called it, a ‘pod’) with producer Nik Beachman and writer Hone Kouka. Short Intercept was one of three companies charged by the Film Commission with finding and developing local short films. The trio's hit rate was remarkable. For Bancroft the reason was simply: "We simply spent longer getting the scripts right." Three of the five shorts that emerged — Nature’s Way, Run and Fog — were invited to compete at Cannes. The Graffiti of Mr Tupaia (2008) took away awards for Best Screenplay, Actor and Short Film at the 2008 Qantas Film and TV Awards.
Final decisions over which films would get made were left as late as possible, allowing for extensive script development across a number of shortlisted teams. “We really pushed it as far as we could because we knew development would end, the minute we greenlit anything,” said Bancroft. “Nobody comes to make a short film or applies to a pod because they’re dying to develop; they’re dying to shoot.”
Bancroft has also completed a script analyst course at EU training organisation Arista, worked as a script editor on both sides of the Tasman, and directed commercials. In-between his screen work, he has taught film and storytelling at film schools, universities and screen organisations, and helped develop films alongside students. Bancroft currently teaches scriptwriting to Masters level students at Auckland University of Technology's Centre for Creative Writing.
Bancroft argues that telling stories on-screen merges six disciplines, including editing, acting and photography. The key to teaching screen storytelling, he says, is to concentrate on how each of those elements can be used to serve the story — rather than treating each as a standalone skill.
Profile updated on 21 July 2019
Ande Schurr, 'The film school advantage' (Interview) The Big Idea website. Loaded May 2014. Accessed 21 July 2019
Nick Grant, ‘The Long and the short of it’ (Interview with Andrew Bancroft and Nik Beachman) - Onfilm, November 2008, page 26
'Staff in the Centre for Creative Writing - Andrew Bancroft' Auckland University of Technology website. Accessed 21 July 2019
Planet Man press kit