Born in Greece and raised in Adelaide, Athina Tsoulis began making films after she moved to Auckland in the 1980s. Black comedy The Invisible Hand was invited to multiple festivals, including Clermont-Ferrand. Long keen to tell women's stories, Tsoulis made her feature film debut in 1998 with edgy comedy I'll Make You Happy. Her follow-up, small town drama Jinx Sister, starring Sara Wiseman, was Qantas-nominated for the Best Low-Budget Feature of 2008. Third feature Stars in Her Eyes (2016) involved both screen industry veterans, and students from Unitec — where Tsoulis has for a number of years taught directing.
… It’s an upbeat little number, peopled with the larger-than-life characters you would expect from its K’Rd setting, and shot through with a cheerful warmth rarely seen in New Zealand movies. Helene Wong, reviewing I’ll Make You Happy in The Listener, 10 April 1999
Set in Auckland’s Indian community and partly inspired by Bollywood movies, rom-com Stars in Her Eyes is the third feature for director Athina Tsoulis (Jinx Sister). Leila Alexander stars as Anousha, who uses her astrology column to try to start a romance with a bank teller she admires. Also appearing are comedian Eli Matthewson as Anousha's not-so-helpful best friend, and Colin Mathura-Jeffree as her brother, an ex cricket star. The film was shot with the help of over 100 students from Unitec, where Tsoulis has worked in a number of roles, including teaching film direction.
The light-hearted but star-heavy I'll Make You Happy unapologetically showcases a group of Auckland prostitutes, united by girl power — and a general distaste for their pimp (Michael Hurst). Jodie Rimmer dons many wigs and personas as Siggy, the spunky young sex worker who fends off Hurst's pleading advances, while pulling a nerdy banker (Ian Hughes) into her plans for a game-changing heist. The eclectic soundtrack is heavy on electronica, while the cast includes Rena Owen, Jennifer Ward-Lealand, dancer Taiaroa Royal, and a one-minute cameo by Lucy Lawless.
In this series, epitaphs on gravestones provide the starting point for presenter Paul Gittins to unravel skeletons in cupboards, lovestruck suicide pacts, and fatal love letters. Combining documentary and reenactment, the show used compelling personal stories to retell New Zealand history. An actor and history enthusiast, Paul Gittins became a household name on Shortland Street (as Dr Michael McKenna) before devising this series for Greenstone. Epitaph ran for three seasons, and won Best Factual Series at the 1999 New Zealand Television Awards.