Editor Annie Collins worked on the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and won awards for her editing work on Scarfies and Out of the Blue. But she is also known for an extensive resume of documentaries, having edited such landmark productions as Patu! and The Neglected Miracle.
What I do know is films have to breathe just the same as humans have to breathe. And if you want to know what I mean by that, just think of all the different ways we have of breathing ... Annie Collins, in an October 2004 interview with Onfilm
Merata Mita argued forcefully that the voices of Māori and of women were sorely lacking on-screen. Best known for her Springbok tour documentary Patu!, the straight-talking director and actor later set up an indigenous filmmaking programme in Hawai'i, and spoke about indigenous film around the globe. After Mita passed away in 2010, her youngest son Hepi began making a film about her — discovering new sides to his mother as he trawled through footage, and interviewed his older siblings. The feature-length documentary debuted at the 2018 NZ International Film Festival.
Writer/director Tusi Tamasese won multiple awards for his first feature, Samoan drama The Orator - O Le Tulafale. This New Zealand-set follow-up involves a Samoan father whose daughter Ilisa (Shortland Street's Frankie Adams) returns home, pregnant and badly beaten. Uelese Petaia (star of Albert Wendt adaptation Sons for the Return Home) is the boxer turned baker, in a tale of family, redemption and revenge. One Thousand Ropes debuted in the Panorama section of the 2017 Berlin Film Festival. The clip captures the recording of the movie's soundtrack in a Wellington chapel.
In 2001 New Zealander Paul Wolffram was in Papua New Guinea studying music for his PhD, when he began making films about the Lak people he was staying with. Fifteen years later he headed back for another film, utilising his connection with the Lak to undergo a gruelling initiation into the world of Buai magic. The experience involved dehydration, fasting and isolation over the course of five days, with the intent of enhancing creative powers. What Lies that Way is set to get its world premiere at the 2017 New Zealand International Film Festival.
The HeART of the Matter looks at major changes in New Zealand teaching which began after World War ll. A group of bureaucrats and arts specialists set about introducing a "thoroughly bicultural and arts-centred education system" to schools — in contrast to the rote learning of the past. Combining interviews and archival footage, Luit and Jan Bieringa (The Man in the Hat) examine this period of radical educational reform, and ask what lessons can be applied to the present. In the excerpts above, pupils and teachers reminisce about their time in the classroom.
The Great Maiden's Blush hinges on two people from very different backgrounds: a girl-racer in prison for manslaughter (Hope and Wire's Miriama McDowell), who plans to adopt out her baby, and a failed classical pianist (Renee Lyons) whose own baby is due for a risky operation. Each must confront their own secrets in order to move forward. Andrea Bosshard and Shane Loader's acclaimed third movie continues an interest in character-rich stories where "big themes play out in modest circumstances". It won awards for McDowell and Best Self-Funded Film at the 2017 NZ Film Awards.
Paul Wolffram's film melds sounds from noted musicians Richard Nunns and Horomona Horo, recorded in spectacular locations around New Zealand, to demonstrate that the sounds of the natural world are a form of music too. Nunns is a renowned expert in taonga pūoro - traditional Māori instruments like wood and bone flutes. Debuting at the 2014 Wellington Film Festival, Voices of the Land pays tribute to Nunn's role in their revival, while Wolffram's powerhouse creative team use image and sound to show ways "landscape and the voices of the land can be heard".
Gardening with Soul follows four seasons in the life of irresistible gardening nun Sister Loyola Galvin. Director Jess Feast (Cowboys and Communists) unearths sage gems from the nonagenarian on everything from compost to Catholic Church sex abuse scandals. The cycles of Wellington’s weather are charted via its influence on Loyola’s Island Bay garden, from the 2011 snow to flax-drunk tui. Feast worked with editor Annie Collins to piece together a paean to a life lived with zest and compassion. Soul won the Best Documentary at the 2013 Moa (NZ Film) Awards.
Shopping marks the feature debut of Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland, who were acclaimed for their short films. Set on the Kapiti Coast, the 80s-set drama follows half-Samoan teenager Willie (Kevin Paulo), who is seduced into a world of petty crime. Adrift in muscle cars and boozy lawn parties, he finds stirrings of love, and escape from his volatile Pākehā father. Little brother Solomon (Julian Dennison) must fend for himself. Selected for the Berlin and Sundance Film Festivals, Shopping went on a winning spree at the 2013 NZ Film Awards (including Best Film and Screenplay).
This 2012 documentary explores the economic and creative potential of one of the icons of New Zealand’s forest: the kauri. Logging and fire have destroyed 95% of Aotearoa’s great kauri forests (this film was made before kauri dieback disease became a major threat). Director Mathurin Molgat poses a solution to the tree’s survival: commercial harvest. He frames the film around Laurie Williams, who makes guitars from the wood. In this excerpt, musician Tiki Taane talks about Tāne Mahuta, and a tree is prepared for felling. The film screened at a number of festivals in the United States.
Two Little Boys follows the misadventures of two Invercargill bogans. When a Scandinavian tourist fatally encounters his fender, Nige (Bret McKenzie) runs to his mate Deano (Australian comedian Hamish Blake). "Trouble is, Deano's not really the guy you should turn to in a crisis." Mateship is challenged by flatmate Gav (Maaka Pohatu), a rogue sea lion, and some dunderheaded decision-making. Directed by Rob Sarkies (Scarfies) and written with his brother Duncan (from his novel), the black comedy is also known by the title Deano and Nige's Best Last Day Ever.
PJ (Rangimoana Taylor) has been driving trucks for 35 years. But one day after a medical test, he is told to get off the road. PJ’s worries over becoming instantly useless are exacerbated when his partner Ronnie and Ronnie’s ambitious sister go into business. A tale of love, family, and ordinary people struggling to process the type of news none of us ever needs to hear, Hook, Line and Sinker is the second, semi-improvised feature from longtime collaborators Andrea Bosshard and Shane Loader. The Dominion Post called the result “likeable, admirable and hugely enjoyable”.
The creation of Aotearoa gets spectacular treatment in this quirky short film, which won a 2010 Tourism New Zealand contest aimed at capturing the spirit of "the youngest country on earth". Argentinian writer/director/actor Andrés Borghi dominates the screen as a man having breakfast, before having an unexpected encounter with the tangata whenua. Your Big Break judge Peter Jackson found the film "fresh and original". The competition gave finalists a chance to have their script realised with help from producer Barrie M Osborne (The Lord of the Rings).
The Camera on the Shore is a feature-length portrait of a man who argued eloquently for the rights of indigenous people to control the camera. Based on extensive interviews with Barry Barclay and those who knew him — and footage from his work — it traces the path of one of the first people to bring a Māori perspective to the screen. The documentary ranges from Barclay's early years in a monastery to speeches at his tangi, touching en route on landmark TV series Tangata Whenua, battling corporations on doco The Neglected Miracle, and behind the scenes conflict on Te Rua.
Taro planter Lui’s grief for his dead wife is blighting his life and crops. A widow, Malia, is bound by anger to the grave of her abusive husband, as the rising sea slowly drowns it. When Lui and Malia meet by chance, he’s provided with a path from his hurt. Filmed in Samoan on the island of Upolu, and directed by Samoan-born Tusi Tamasese, the short is a fable-like meditation on communion, cooking and sacred places. It was selected for the Clermont-Ferrand and Hawaii film festivals, and was the precursor to Tamasese’s Venice-selected debut feature, The Orator.
This short follows Joe Warbrick (Calvin Tuteao, from Nights in the Gardens of Spain), captain of the New Zealand Natives rugby team, as he tries to rouse his battle-weary players to head unto the breach once more, for a test against England. It’s midwinter during the trailblazing, 17 month long 1888-89 tour which left a black jersey legacy. In a changing room that resembles a casualty ward, Warbrick draws breath and leads a stirring haka. Made by brothers Pere and Meihana Durie, Warbrick inspired the All Blacks the day before they demolished Australia by 33-6 in 2009.
In November 1990 misfit loner David Gray (played by Matthew Sunderland) killed 13 of his neighbours in the seaside town of Aramoana, near Dunedin. His rampage lasted 22 hours before he was gunned down by police. Out of the Blue is a dramatised re-enactment of these traumatic events. Directed by Rob Sarkies and co-written with Graeme Tetley, this gut-wrenching film did respectable box office and was lauded at 2008's Qantas Film and TV Awards, winning most feature categories, including best film and screenplay. Warning: excerpt contains realistic gun violence.
The ‘OE’ is a Kiwi rite of passage, but for those travelling in a Kombi van, the trip can feel “like mixed flatting in a space the size of a ping-pong table” (Peter Calder). In Kombi Nation, Sal sets off to tour Europe with her older sister and friend; they’re joined by a dodgy male and a TV crew, recording the shenanigans. Shot guerilla style after workshopping with the young cast, Grant Lahood’s well-reviewed second feature anticipated the rise of observational ‘reality TV’, but its release was hindered by the collapse of production company Kahukura Films.
Monstrous spiders, dragon-aided epic battles, endangered hobbits and final farewells ... the finale of the Lord of the Rings trilogy boldly upped the ante. Although the first two films had excited viewers, critics and accountants, Return of the King sealed Peter Jackson's place in movie legend. Reviewers praised it with gusto and the film won a staggering 11 Oscars, a total matched only by Titanic and Ben-Hur. Return anointed a Hollywood empire in the Wellington suburb of Miramar. The box office figures weren't half bad, and nor was the effect on New Zealand tourism.
In 1996 Tony Sutorius got his hands on a new digital video camera, days before the start of an election campaign in Wellington Central. Made on the proverbial shoestring, this feature-length documentary chronicles five of those battling for the crown as a new political age — MMP — dawns. Richard Prebble joins a new party called Act, the National candidate joins United New Zealand… and one of the five will be sacrificed by their own party. Sutorius sat through 55 hours of footage to forge the result, which won enthused, sellout audiences at the 1999 NZ Film Festival.
In Scarfies, five Dunedin students find themselves in a free squat, and a dark place, after taking a criminal captive in their basement. The debut feature from Rob Sarkies starts as a comic tribute to Otago student days, then turns into a psychological thriller. Outside of the two Warriors movies, Scarfies was the most successful Kiwi release of the 90s on home turf. It went on to scoop best film, director and screenplay awards at the 2000 NZ Film and TV Awards. This excerpt sees the scarfies torn between dealing with the crim and a footy match at Carisbrook.
Seven decades after he began shooting films, Ted Coubray got his close-up in Mouth Wide Open. The documentary emerged shortly after his death in late 1997. It captured the hive of filmmaking activity that was 1920s Aotearoa — and Coubray's role as a pioneering cameraman, who even directed his own movie (horse racing hit Carbine's Heritage). The arrival of synchronised sound upped film budgets considerably; Coubray was one of the first in Australasia to create his own sound camera. In this opening sequence, he demonstrates one of his many camera-related inventions.
In the theatre world of the 70s and 80s, playwright Mervyn Thompson was an outspoken figure. He wrote, directed, and acted in theatre that presented New Zealand working class history and experience. This doco features a rare interview with Thompson before he died in 1992, as well as footage from his last work Passing Through (1991). Thompson discusses his upbringing on the West Coast of the South Island, his approach to theatre, and alludes to some of the controversies that beset his career.
Naturalist Ramari Stewart never tires of the view from a subantarctic hut. "This is the only place I know where I can see a whale out my window and it’s never let me down." The documentary follows Stewart as she spends a summer and winter monitoring wildlife at remote Northwest Bay in Campbell Island. Southern right whales, Hooker's sea lions and elephant seals all feature. Stewart, who later became a whale expert, displays a jaw-dropping bond with the animals. At the end of the programme, the whales cause a stir when they play perilously close to Stewart's boat.
This documentary about the sex industry in New Zealand features frank but sympathetic interviews with sex workers (including the Prostitutes Collective) and their clients. Topics discussed include the sex workers' reasons for doing the job, physical and sexual safety, the impact of AIDS, the role of drink and drug abuse, and managing a relationship with a husband or boyfriend. The film screened on TV3 after arguments about censorship, which Costa Botes writes about here. A Double Standard makes a compelling case for the industry to be decriminalised. Law change occurred in 2003.
Made to mark the Women’s Suffrage Centennial in 1993, this documentary features seven women in their 90s. By telling their own personal stories, the women give an insight into NZ history in the 1900s. The women speak frankly about their lives, with often very moving stories of losing boyfriends and family members to the world wars, having small children die from illnesses that would now be easily treatable, getting married with no knowledge of the facts of life, and dealing with illegitimate babies from liaisons with American soldiers.
Originally conceived as a TV series, Gaylene Preston's comedy was a local hit, uplifting recession-era audiences with its tale of resourceful misfits. Ruby (Yvonne Lawley), an 83-year-old trying to dodge a retirement home, rents a room to Rata (Vanessa Rare in her screen debut) — a solo mum with sidelines in music and benefit fraud. Rata's son is into shoplifting, while Simon Barnett plays a hapless yuppie wannabe. Marginalised by the deregulated economy of the 80s and living on their wits, they may just find common cause despite themselves, in this tale from writer Graeme Tetley.
TV One drama Shark in the Park followed the lives of cops policing a Wellington city beat. This episode from the second series sees the team bust a street fight, and search for a missing teenage girl. An elderly shoplifter and a joyrider test the ethics of the diversion scheme, where minor offences don't result in a criminal record. Actors Tim Balme and Michael Galvin (Shortland Street) feature in early screen roles, as youngsters on the wrong side of the law. Galvin plays the dangerous driver – he also happens to be the son of Sergeant Jesson (Kevin J Wilson).
This uplifting promotional clip is as famous as the chartbusting song. Accompanied by Jo, the breakdancing guide, for a tour of Patea and surrounds, the Patea Māori Club are captured "bopping and twirling like piwakawaka": at the local marae, in Wellington's Manners Mall, and on Patea’s main street, where milk tankers and sheep trucks pass by the Aotea canoe remembrance arch. So does the impresario himself: Dalvanius does a pūkana out a car window. In 2010 'Poi E' re-entered the charts thanks to Taika Waititi hit Boy. A documentary on the song was released in 2016.
"If you don't like the beat, don't play with the drum". Taken from Sharon O'Neill's 1983 album Foreign Affairs, the song chronicles "case 1352, a red and green tattoo". It was inspired by a prostitute who worked the streets of King's Cross. The clip starts with O'Neill hitting Auckland Airport. Look out for leopard skin tights and a dress straight off Logan's Run. Other highlights: a steamy sax solo, heavy eye shadow and backlit silhouettes in "rain-slicked avenues." Two clips for 'Maxine' exist: the Australian version won controversy for images of a fictional prostitute, shot in King's Cross.
Hooks and Feelers tells the story of a painter haunted by an accident in which her son lost a hand. Written and directed by Melanie Rodriga, the 45-minute psychological drama explores guilt and reconciliation as the family adjusts to his disability. An adaptation of the short story by future Booker Prize-winner Keri Hulme, Hooks and Feelers starred jazz singer Bridgette Allen and Keith Aberdein (Smash Palace). It screened on TV in 1984. With producer Don Reynolds, Rodriga (then known as Melanie Read) would go on to make pioneering feminist thriller Trial Run (1984).
Merata Mita’s Patu! is a startling record of the mass civil disobedience that took place throughout New Zealand during the winter of 1981, in protest against a South African rugby tour. Testament to the courage and faith of both the marchers and a large team of filmmakers, the feature-length documentary is a landmark in Aotearoa's film history. It staunchly contradicts claims by author Gordon McLauchlan a couple of years earlier that New Zealanders were "a passionless people".
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.
The line “where the bloody hell are you?” generated controversy when used in a 2006 Aussie tourism campaign; so who knows what 1980 audiences made of this promo’s exhortation to “Come on to New Zealand.” But as the narration assures: “It’s a safe country. You can walk without being molested.” Aimed at the US market, the film was made as long haul air travel was opening up NZ as a destination. Māori culture, sheep and pretty scenery are highlighted, alongside skinny dipping and weaving (!). Narrated by Bob Parker, the NFU promo marked an early gig for editor Annie Collins.
Expat Kiwi Rewi Alley became one of the best known foreigners in 20th Century China and advocate for the Communist Revolution. When China was under siege from Japan in the late 1930s, Alley instigated an industrial co-op movement he termed ‘gung ho' (work together). Its success led to the phrase entering the global idiom. For this documentary a Geoff Steven-led crew travelled 15,000km in China in 1979, filming Alley as he gave his account of an engrossing, complex life story. Co-writer Geoff Chapple later wrote a biography of Alley.
This film documents the influential 1979 New Zealand tour of a black theatre group from London arts centre Keskidee. They visit marae, perform at The Gluepot, prisons and youth centres; meet gang members, Ratana ministers and a young Tame Iti; and korero about roots and fights for rights. The made-for-TV film was directed by Merata Mita and Martyn Sanderson. On the tour Sanderson met his future wife, Kenyan actor Wanjiku Kairie. Tour instigator Denis O’Reilly argued in 2009 that the doco is “full of insights at a time of huge social and cultural shifts in Aotearoa.”
Filmed on a 15,000 km journey through China in 1979, this documentary captures a country in transition: one where billboards are emerging on the streets of Shanghai, while commune workers still toil in the countryside. The film compiles images of people and landscape to observe China's then-recent emergence from the repressive Cultural Revolution; including memories from long-term resident, Kiwi Rewi Alley. Named after a description by Alley of China, it was made alongside companion documentary: Gung Ho: Rewi Alley of China.
This headline-grabbing 1979 documentary examines inequality via interviews with an unemployed student, a young widow and a Porirua family of eight; plus visits to a Fijian village and a Hong Kong housing estate. The film's arguments that business and government monopolies had caused poverty in “egalitarian New Zealand”, and that NZ trade practices had added to it elsewhere, displeased Prime Minister Robert Muldoon. State television refused to screen the Greg Stitt-directed documentary; CORSO, the charity who commissioned it, was removed from the government’s funding list.
This 1978 National Film Unit documentary chronicles the daily lives of New Zealanders in various places: factory, beach, hospital, oil rig, country town, sheep farm, market garden, Auckland produce market, art gallery and primary school. Narration-free, the film features montages of stills by photographer Ans Westra. The impression is of New Zealand as a busy nation of makers and growers, alongside singing ‘Oma Rapiti’ at the bach and visiting the art gallery. Terry towelling, walk shorts, and denim shirts are date stamps. The script is by onetime Variety film reviewer Mike Nicolaidi.
A 1978 documentary that follows the attempt by three young people to be the first windsurfers to cross Cook Strait. Directed and narrated by Sam Neill (soon to be famous as an actor) for the National Film Unit. The skeptical Cook Strait pilot John Cataldo asks them: "do you wanna have a crack?" "Yeah, bloody oath" one of the surfers replies. They face the Strait's infamous winds, tides, swells, sharks and exhaustion. Some stunning helicopter shots include a windsurfer clipping through whitecaps with a pod of dolphins in its wake.
Smith (Sam Neill, in his breakthrough screen role) is devastated when his wife runs off with his best friend Bullen (Ian Mune). Smith escapes to the Coromandel. Meanwhile, the government enlists an anti-terrorist force to crack down on its opponents. Bullen, now a guerrilla, asks Smith to join the revolution. Directed by Roger Donaldson, this adaptation of CK Stead's novel Smith's Dream heralded a new wave of Kiwi cinema; it was one of the only local films of the 1970s to win a big local audience. This excerpt includes a much talked about scene: a baton charge by government forces.
Solo is a story about three people on the edge of nowhere, struggling to decide how much of themselves to share with those they care about. Young Australian hitchhiker Judy romances solo Dad Paul, who finds peace flying fire patrol planes above the forest. Paul's precocious son reacts badly to losing pole position to Judy, and takes to the air. Inspired partly by the oft-painful times when we are "more acutely in touch” with our emotions, Tony Williams' romance helped launch the Kiwi movie renaissance. But as he writes in the backgrounder, there was no fun in filming it three times.