Across the mediums that she works in, Anna Marbrook values collaboration and power-sharing. She uses a sailing metaphor to describe the role of director: at the helm, yet expressing the voices of the group – "the collective voice that appears as a unique voice".
Marbrook mainly grew up in Auckland, but also had stints in Canada, France and Australia. A household of scientists fostered a love of libraries and the arts, and instilled in her a curiosity to "browse, delve, and compare".
At Auckland University she completed a Bachelor of Arts, where she absorbed the films of pioneering directors Leni Riefenstahl and Maya Deren. She also completed studies towards an MA, where she directed 4 Frames with Tara Pradhan, a documentary on women filmmakers which included young Elam student Niki Caro as a subject.
In 1990 Marbrook co-founded company Theatre at Large with Christian Penny. Influenced by studies with British physical theatre company Théâtre de Complicite and "amazing" French clown master Philippe Gaulier, the duo took a free-form approach to devising and staging shows, emphasising collaboration and play. In 1996 documentary In the Shadow of King Lear, Marbrook and Penny can be seen rehearsing with actor Ian Mune for a production of King Lear.
Marbrook had acted on screen as a teen (she has a small role in The Scarecrow). In the late 90s she mooted to friend Caterina De Nave that she was keen to turn her storytelling and performance coaching skills to the screen. The veteran TV producer encouraged Marbrook to learn the ropes from the bottom up. After eight months as an assistant director on Hercules, it was clear that the role she wanted was director.
In 1999 she co-produced short film Jumbo, for director (and brother) Jim Marbrook. Later the two shared directing duties on The Rules of Dogs and Men (2005), a 46 minute drama performed by Toi Whakaari acting students.
In the mid-2000s Harriet Crampton gave Marbrook a break as a trainee director with South Pacific Pictures, which led to director credits on 150+ episodes Shortland Street. The "stamina test" of a fast-turnaround soap provided a "good groundwork in television" — plus the chance to bring discussions about issues like gay marriage into people's lounges.
In 2008 she directed four dramas for series Table Plays, which was made for Māori Television and regional TV. Each of the six stories was set around a table. Her first full-length documentary followed in 2009. A Little Love Story followed the search for love of a man who has dwarfism; it was produced by Theatre at Large member Heather Lee.
In 2012 Marbrook began a run of documentaries and factual programmes that consciously explored Pacific themes. In 2013 she joined Lee's Auckland company Zoomslide Media, as Head of Television and Film.
Marbrook was series creator of Real Pasifik; she directed episodes across two seasons of this roving celebration of Pacific food and culture. Globetrotting Kiwi chef Robert Oliver was presenter.
While filming Real Pasifik, the film crew crossed paths with a waka fleet that was retracing the epic paths of the original Pacific voyagers. Marbrook came onboard the waka project after they landed; with co-director Mike Single, she shaped the story into award-winning feature-length documentary Te Mana o te Moana – The Pacific Voyagers. It celebrated "the astronauts" of their era — who used celestial navigation to cross oceans — and their modern century students.
Marbrook witnessed the transformative effect that voyaging on the seven waka had on young Pacific sailors. One of the vessels was Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr's Haunui. Recognising Barclay-Kerr as one of those inspirational figures "who hold the bridge between past, present and future", Marbrook worked with him on Māori TV reality show Waka Warriors. The 10-part Zoomslide series followed three rangatahi, circumnavigating the North Island aboard Haunui. Marbrook went on to make LOIMATA, The Sweetest Tears, which followed waka builder Lilo Ema Siope as she takes her family back to Samoa in her final weeks. The feature-length documentary was set to debut at the 2020 NZ International Film Festival.
Marbrook made the waka shows and Real Pasifik "in response to a deep sense of urgency" she felt about global challenges like climate change. She argues that the South Pacific tales provide a model of "co-existence based on solidarity and connectedness" which can "illuminate the way forward" for the northern hemisphere. Marbrook has since helped direct another journey: following Pio Terei on his Aotearoa-long hikoi, Te Araroa - Tales from the Trail.
As Marbrook told Kim Hill in 2016, theatre and factual television are actually not so different. "You still work with principles of getting a good performance; it’s just when you’re making factual television you’ve really only got one shot. You’re just trying to work and capture moments as they occur."
Marbrook has mentored in theatre and film (she is a longtime patron of Massive Theatre Company), lectured at tertiary level, and guided emerging female directors. She continues to direct and develop live performance projects.
With waka-master Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr and designer Kasia Pol, she developed A Waka Odyssey, a multi-day event based around a fleet of waka arriving in Wellington Harbour. It launched the 2018 New Zealand International Festival of the Arts in Wellington.
Profile updated on 30 June 2020
'Anna Marbrook: from waka hourua to Hotel Europa' (Radio Interview), Radio New Zealand website. Loaded 11 June 2016. Accessed 21 September 2017
Unknown writer, 'Zoomslide Ride on a New Wave' (Press Release) Scoop website. Loaded 13 March 2013. Accessed 21 September 2017