Although he may not be keen to do so, Bill Toepfer can claim a place in global television history as the man behind the Popstars reality TV juggernaut. Toepfer has enjoyed a long and accomplished career in New Zealand television, editing and producing hundreds of hours of documentaries and TV specials.
I love the clarity Bill brings to a concept and often he brings the concept as well! ‘Just tell the story’ is his maxim and it works every time. Producer Fiona Copland
This award-winning Attitude episode follows an ‘early onset’ sufferer of Parkinson’s disease — 48-year-old Auckland marketing consultant Andy McDowell. McDowell narrates as he struggles with the effects of the degenerative neurological condition on his relationship with his wife, family, and career. The episode includes a visual poem made to communicate his condition to his two young daughters, and an Outward Bound stint. McDowell hopes to qualify for Deep Brain Stimulation — a risky ‘bionic’ surgery that may help his co-ordination and uncontrolled movements.
In this Attitude episode, 14-year-old Sean Prendeville faces up to a complex and radical surgery: rotationplasty. For the bone cancer survivor the operation involves attaching his lower leg to the hip joint, rotating it and using the ankle as a ‘hinge’ for a prosthetic limb. The programme tracks the nature-mad Sean’s journey, from pre-surgery anxiety to rehab on his backwards right foot/knee; and the things that helped him through: his blue tongue lizard, challenge beads, Mum and family, and design student Jessica Quinn (who underwent the procedure when she was younger).
On 1 July 2001, John Scott and his partner Greg Scrivener were killed in their home in Suva. John, from an old European-Fiji family was the Director-General of the Fiji Red Cross and worked as a go-between in the hostage crisis during the 2000 coup. The documentary traces the colourful story of the Scott family, the political crises that have marked Fiji's recent history, the killings and their aftermath, and the complex mix of tribal authority and democracy. It won best documentary and camera gongs at 2008 Qantas Film and Television Awards.
Who Laughs Last profiles Roger Hall, New Zealand’s most successful playwright. Three decades after the opening of Hall's Middle Age Spread became a hit, the original cast return for 2006 follow up Spreading Out. The Shirley Horrocks doco explores the secrets behind Hall’s successful brand of comedy (25+ stage plays, plus TV series and musical comedies) and closely explores the popularity of Middle Age Spread and Spreading Out. Among those interviewed are John Clarke, Ginette McDonald, the late Grant Tilly, and Hall himself.
Attitude is a weekly series that addresses the issues and interests of people living with a disability. The high energy series launched in 2008, with a strong thread of advocacy journalism. Attitude has a number of team members who themselves have a disability, including all the onscreen researcher/reporters. Much of Attitude's content has been loaded onto online hub Attitude Live, which launched in 2013 and later beat 86 countries to win a World Summit Award in the 'inclusion and empowerment' category — plus praise for digital innovation.
Arriving downunder from London in 1958, Marti Friedlander began photographing New Zealand, partly as a way of coming to terms with what she saw as its foreignness. In the process she captured aspects of Aotearoa that familiarity had made invisible to its inhabitants. She photographed artists, Springbok Tour protesters, and kuia with moko (for a book with historian Michael King). After screening on TV One, Shirley Horrocks' documentary was one of 20 chosen to screen at Doku.Arts 2007, a German festival devoted to films about artists. Friedlander passed away in November 2016.
Subtitled A Journalist's View, this award-winning documentary makes the case that Scott Watson shouldn't have been imprisoned for murdering Ben Smart and Olivia Hope — because he couldn't have done it. Returning to Endeavour Inlet, veteran director Keith Hunter talks to witnesses, and argues the prosecution fumbled vital details of the murderer's yacht and description, then advanced a new theory without evidence to back it. Hunter went on to write 2007 book Trial by Trickery, further critiquing what he calls “New Zealand's most blatantly dishonest prosecution”.
This documentary tells the story of the legendary Flying Nun music label up to its 21st birthday. The label became associated with the 'Dunedin Sound': a catch-all term for a sprawl of DIY, post-punk, warped, jangly guitar-pop. The Guardian: "[it's] as if being on the other side of the world meant the music was played upside down". Features interviews with founder Roger Shepherd and many key players, the spats and the glory. The label's influence on the US indie scene is noted, and Pavement's Stephen Malkmus covers The Verlaines' 'Death and the Maiden'.
Early Days Yet, directed by Shirley Horrocks, is a full-length documentary about New Zealand poet Allen Curnow, made in the last months of his life. The poet talks about his life and work, and visits the places of some of his most important poems. It includes interviews with other New Zealand poets about Curnow's significance as an advocate for New Zealand poetry. As Curnow famously mused in front of a moa skeleton displayed in Canterbury Museum: "Not I, some child, born in a marvellous year / Will learn the trick of standing upright here."
In this documentary, writer and adopted Cantabrian Joe Bennett explores the north/south divide, where the dividing line is the Bombay Hills — Jafa being an acronym for a somewhat impolite term for Aucklanders. Bennett is in sparkling form, mischievously stirring the pot of regional prejudice as he travels the country, asking exactly what non-Aucklanders think about the inhabitants of the City of Sails. The deep south has never looked so hardy, cold or desolate; meanwhile the congested motorways of Auckland appear to be paved with lattes and cellphones.
Political cartoonist Malcolm Evans tells his father's story of war in this documentary. Major Hilary Evans was exempt from conscription, but chose to fight in World War II. He was a prisoner of war who escaped and lived rough in Italy's hills and mountains, to avoid recapture. Using his father's letters and diaries as well as interviews shot in Italy, Evans builds up a picture of his father, the soldier. Il Magiorre - My Father's War in Italy played as part of the Documentary New Zealand strand on TV One, and was named Best Documentary at the 2002 Qantas Media Awards.
In June 1886 Mt Tarawera spectacularly erupted, and this documentary tells the story of the people who were caught in the catastrophic events. Around 120 people lost their lives, and the internationally famous Pink and White Terraces were destroyed. The documentary features an animated re-creation of the eruption, archival images, interviews with descendants of those involved, and readings from written eyewitness accounts. The author of the book Tarawera, Ron Keam, is also interviewed.
With a cast of stars from television, music (TrueBliss, Bunny Walters) and sports (Stu Wilson), this 2000 documentary offers a close-up on fame — Kiwi-style. There are insights on local paparazzi from women's magazine editors, who have lost friends over what they have chosen to publish. Angela D'Audney reveals the 'intimate' relationship between TV personality and audience — looking animated is a job requirement, if she wants to walk in public unaccosted; and swimmer Danyon Loader describes the challenges of being forced into the media spotlight as a shy teen.
Made before websites like Airbnb spurred a massive jump in homestay-style accommodation options, this documentary from 2000 visits New Zealanders who have chosen to open their houses to tourists. From Warkworth to Stewart Island, from farm stays to a gay-friendly house in Golden Bay, Kiwis talk about the positives of homestays — and the long hours. Two of the couples mention how their own relationship benefits from having visitors. Narrated by Jim Mora, The Real New Zealand was directed by Shirley Horrocks (hit documentary Kiwiana).
This NZ TV award-nominated documentary tells the story of radio station Mai FM. Founded in 1992 by Auckland iwi Ngāti Whātua, its mix of hip hop, r’n’b and te reo soon won ratings success. Original breakfast host Robert Rakete recalls early days when the station was a CD player hooked up to an aerial, while Mai FM's champions argue the station has executed its kaupapa: promoting Māori language and culture to the youth of Auckland, including the breakout phrase, “it’s cool to kōrero!” The introduction by Tainui Stephens was done for Māori TV's doco slot He Raranga Kōrero.
Haunui Royal directs this 1999 documentary on the people who live in the Far North, and their guardianship (kaitiakitanga) connection with the land and sea. Royal looks at how this traditional ownership is under pressure: from urban sprawl, pollution, and changing land use. Kaitiaki include farmer Laly Haddon, fisherman Rick, paralegal Ani Taniwha (whose work with ōi (shearwater) helped deepen her connection to the land); Ngāti Kuri members looking after Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Reinga), and a group of rangatahi from Auckland.
Popstars was a key forerunner of the late 1990s reality television explosion. The series followed the creation and development of an all-girl pop band called TrueBliss (Carly Binding, Keri Harper, Joe Cotton, Megan Alatini and Erika Takacs), who went on to record several NZ chart-topping singles and a platinum-selling album. Also a hit was the series format, which sold globally and helped inspire Pop Idol/American Idol, the franchise that would dominate reality TV for years to come. These excerpts are from each episode of the series, from the second to the final.
The search for a New Zealand Spice Girls is underway in the first episode of this pioneering reality series. Manager Peter Urlich (formerly of Th' Dudes) and record company executive Mark Tierney (ex-Strawpeople) hold public auditions to find an all-female pop group for their record deal and TV series. The good, the bad and the unfortunate are out in full force. After an exhaustive selection process, Urlich and Tierney whittle down the talent to 15 hopefuls. The format for the show sold to multiple countries.
Postwar Māori, Pākehā and Pacific Island migrants made Ōtara the fastest growing area in New Zealand. But as local industries closed, it became a poster suburb for poverty and crime. This TV3 Inside New Zealand documentary sees eight successes from Ōtara telling their stories — from actor Rawiri Paretene and MP Tau Henare, to teachers and entrepreneurs. They reflect on mean streets, education, community and the Ōtara spirit. The first documentary from Ōtara-raised producer Rhonda Kite (who is also interviewed), it won Best Māori Programme at the 1999 NZ TV Awards.
On 28 April 1995, the collapse of a viewing platform at Cave Creek, in Paparoa National Park on the West Coast, caused 17 students and a Department of Conservation Field Centre manager to plunge 40 metres into a chasm. 14 died, and four were injured. The documentary (from which NZ On Screen has three excerpts) explores what happened and why, with accounts by family members, survivors, and DoC staff. Made three years after the tragedy, the programme looked at its lasting impact on those left behind. It won Best Documentary at the 1998 NZ Television Awards.
After befriending Sir Edmund Hillary over Irish whiskey, Tom Scott won Hillary’s endorsement to document his life story for TVNZ. In this four-part series Scott bags the storied peaks of ‘Sir Ed’s’ adventuring and humanitarian career, but also visits the lesser-known tragedies and struggles that the “surprisingly shy” that Hillary has faced; from gangly student and beekeeper to the man who Scott calls “an icon, benchmark and metaphor in his own lifetime”. View from the Top screened in September-October 1997, and won Best Factual Series at the 1998 TV Guide Awards.
This edition of the Rangatira (‘chief’) series on Māori leaders, looks at academic and politician Dr Pita Sharples, a key figure of the Māori cultural renaissance. The future Māori Party co-leader visits his Takapau home, acknowledges his pivotal time at Te Aute College, talks candidly about the pressures his tireless schedule places on his whānau, demonstrates his cherished taiaha, and goes ten pin bowling. In extensive interviews he enthuses about realising the dream of kaupapa Māori (education, language, prison) cultures, and on the importance of kapa haka.
This documentary unearths the story of the soldiers in the New Zealand Tunneling Company, whose daring World War I raids involved digging tunnels through chalk rock, laying explosives underneath enemy lines, and countermining German tunneling efforts. The story is told through the eyes of a New Zealand woman who retraces her grandfather’s war story to Arras, France, and sees the Kiwi-tagged cavern 'city' nearly 80 years later. The company played a key role on the Western Front, and was especially recruited in NZ, made up of miners, bushmen and labourers.
Gary McCormick visits the West Coast mining town of Reefton in this full length episode. He takes an early morning trip down Surprise Mine, and gains insights into the tough life of a coal miner. Meanwhile, miners' wives talk about being married to someone with a high risk occupation. McCormick also attends the First Light Festival, held to mark Reefton being the first town in the southern hemisphere with electric lighting. Later he heads to the abandoned gold mining town of Waiuta, and back in Reefton meets a woman with a doll collection which takes up her whole house.
This four-part series from 1996 presents the game of rugby as a mirror for New Zealand social history. Written by Finlay Macdonald, it sets out to explain how rugby became such an intrinsic part of New Zealand's identity. Each episode visits iconic paddocks (from schools to stadiums) and players (from amateurs Nepia, Meads, and Shelford, to professional star Lomu); and observers muse on the influence of the inflated pig's bladder on Kiwi culture, including historian Jock Phillips, writer Ian Cross and journalist TP Mclean.
Award-winning series Revolution examined sweeping changes in 1980s New Zealand society. This second episode argues that in its first term in office, the Labour Government promoted neoliberal reform via illusory ideas of consensus and fairness, while PM David Lange mined goodwill from its indie anti-nuclear policy (famously in an Oxford Union debate, see third clip). The interviews include key figures in politics, the public service and business: an age of easy lending and yuppie excess is recalled, while those in rural areas recount the downside of job losses.
Four-part series Revolution examined radical changes in New Zealand society in the 1980s and 1990s. This final episode sums things up, after examining "the second wave" of neoliberal reform when National took power in 1990, shortly after Telecom was sold to American interests. Incoming finance minister Ruth "mother of all budgets" Richardson oversaw a reduction of welfare payments, a shake-up of the health system, and a curbing of union powers. Richardson: "in a human sense I understood that [community outrage], but that wasn't going to deflect me".
Documentary series Revolution mapped the social and economic changes in New Zealand society in the 1980s and early 1990s. This first episode focuses on NZ's radical transformation from a heavily regulated welfare state to a petri dish for free market ideology. It includes interviews with key political and business figures of the day, who reveal how the dire economic situation by the end of Robert Muldoon's reign made it relatively easy for Roger Douglas to implement extreme reform. Revolution won Best Factual Series at the 1997 Film and TV Awards.
Four-part series Revolution examined sweeping changes in New Zealand society that began in the 1980s. This third episode looks at the lurch of the Kiwi stock market from boom to bust in 1987, and the growing philosophical divide between the “head boys”: PM David Lange and finance minister Roger 'Rogernomics' Douglas. Within two months of the October 1987 stock market crash, $21 billion was lost from the value of NZ shares. Lange and Douglas give accounts of how their differing views on steering the NZ economy eventually resulted in both their resignations.
A jandal-shod journey through Kiwi pop culture. Kiwiana takes a light-hearted look at the fashion, art, architecture, attitudes, and icons (Buzzy Bees, Edmonds, Swanndri, Pavlova etc) we call our own. Directed by Shirley Horrocks, and shot by Leon Narbey, it featured personalities Gary McCormick, Ginette McDonald, John Clarke, Peter Jackson, and others. Screening at a time (1996) when New Zealanders were just beginning to appreciate these neglected everyday objects as ‘collectibles,' it rated highly, and inspired a sequel, Kiwi As.
This four-part series explores New Zealand social history through rugby, from the first rugby club in 1870 to the 1995 World Cup. In this episode commentators muse on the roots of rugby in a settler society, in "a man's country". Rugby's unique connection with Māori, from Tom Ellison and the Natives’ tour to a Te Aute College haka, is explored; as well as the national identity-defining 1905 Originals’ tour, and the relationship between footy and the battlefield. As the Finlay Macdonald-penned narration reflects: “Maybe it's just a game, but it's the game of our lives”.
This episode of rugby series The Game Of Our Lives looks at the impact the sport has had on race relations in New Zealand. The country's history of rugby forging bonds between Māori and Pākehā is a stark contrast to South Africa's apartheid policy. Tries and Penalties focuses on the troubles between Aotearoa and South Africa — from coloured players George Nepia and Ranji Wilson being excluded from All Blacks tours to South Africa, to the infamous 1981 Springboks tour, and Nelson Mandela opening the 1995 Rugby World Cup final between the two teams.
Flip & Two Twisters is Shirley Horrocks' documentary about New Zealand-born artist Len Lye. Motion maestro Lye's international reputation rests on his work as a filmmaker and kinetic sculptor, and his lively contributions to the London and New York avant-garde. The documentary explores Lye's career and ideas, with the help of historical footage and excerpts from his films. It includes footage of Lye in typically exuberant form outlining his process, introduces many of his kinetic works, and documents how some of his most ambitious plans are being realised in New Zealand.
This documentary looks at the attempts by New Zealand's small towns to attract attention: ranging from giant statues of fish, fruit, and soft-drink bottles to festivals devoted to local vegetables or wild food. Actress Miranda Harcourt travels from Paeroa to Alexandra to explore the colourful expressions of small-town identity and pride. Shot by Leon Narbey, this was one of a series of documentaries directed by Shirley Horrocks about kiwi popular culture. A book by Claudia Bell and John Lyall (with the same title) was the film's starting-point.
Occasional Heartland host Kerre Woodham visits the annual Easter races at Riverton in Southland. Riverton is New Zealand's second oldest town, and the close knit locals have a big passion for horse-racing. Woodham talks to owners, trainers (one of them at his freezing works job), jockeys and punters, as well as the judges of 'Best Dressed Lady at the Races', who are looking for a nice line in matching hats, bags, shoes and gloves. The documentary contains some good examples of the Southland rolled 'r' from some of the locals who are interviewed.
This NHNZ documentary looks at the fierce debate between animal lovers and ecologists over the wild horses of the Kaimanawa Ranges (with striking footage of them running free). At issue: a delicate tussock land ecosystem with rare native plants dating back thousands of years, increasingly at risk from horses recognised for their uniqueness — but whose numbers have grown tenfold in 15 years. Reducing the herd size is the favoured option. But only younger horses can be sold and, with older ones going to an abattoir, the plan is opposed by the horse lobby.
Apemen, Barbie dolls, and hairy shoes ... as this documentary demonstrates, hair turns up everywhere — or not, as one man's poignant and matter-of-fact testimony to the horrors of losing it demonstrates. Hair's co-director, artist Judy Darragh, uses her fascination with all-things hirsute as a springboard for wit, thought-provoking theories, and some unusual artwork. She also phones Welsh author Elaine Morgan, who believes our ancestors lost much of their hair thanks to a semi-aquatic past. Producer Fiona Copland joins Darragh as co-director.
Heartland host Gary McCormick finds himself in the middle of a local conflict when he visits Port Chalmers in early 1993. Port Otago Limited is working on a major port development project that includes excavations on Observation Hill, and reclamations in Carey's Bay. Many locals are opposed to the project and tensions are running high. Local residents interviewed for the programme include celebrated artist Ralph Hotere, and McCormick also visits Hotere's art studio.
"Jazz is an attitude ... how you look at yourself, how you look at the world." So argues the subject of this rich and moody Work of Art documentary: jazz pianist Mike Nock. The Ngaruawahia-raised muso first went on the road in his teens, and by 18 had left New Zealand for a long career in Sydney, London and New York City. Director Geoffrey Cawthorn and his film crew travel with Nock in small-town New Zealand and big city NY, capturing memories of childhood, touring and inspiration. Also included: some beautifully-lit performances by Nock and his cohorts.
Brian Edwards was working as a television reporter when the Wahine sank on 10 April 1968 in Wellington Harbour. Twenty-five years later Edwards presented this TV3 documentary about the tragedy, which remains New Zealand's worst modern maritime disaster. Wahine - The Untold Story interviews passengers and crew, and features harrowing rescue footage and stills. Interviewees criticise the way the evacuation was handled — "we'd been lied to continually" — while helmsman Ken MacLeod remembers the challenges of trying to keep the Wahine on course.
Produced by George Andrews, Great New Zealand River Journeys is a three-part series exploring the history and majesty of the Waikato, Wanganui and Clutha rivers. In this episode, Jon Gadsby explores the Clutha River and surrounds, and finds out about jet-boating and rafting (the cameraman falls in when he gets a little too close to his subject), bungy jumping, the Clyde Dam, Cromwell's giant fruit and Alexandra's giant clock. Gadsby enjoys the ubiquitous whitebait fritters offered by the locals before the journey ends at the mouth of the river.
Hosted by Phil Keoghan not long before he left for the US, Short Sportz was a TV3 sports show encouraging kids to get involved in sports. Keoghan (later to win fame as host of Amazing Race) often kitted up himself Paper Lion-style: here he takes base against Black Sox pitches and cycles with future ironman champion Cameron Brown. This 1991 ‘best of’ show is notable for a segment presented by a rising Wainuiomata league star who’s just been signed by Newcastle Knights: Tana Umaga. Umaga’s NRL career was short-lived, and he went on to become an All Black legend.
Great New Zealand River Journeys was a three part series produced by George Andrews that examined the history, geography and people of three of New Zealand's most iconic rivers: comedian Jon Gadsby explores the Clutha river, poet Sam Hunt the Whanganui, and musician Lynda Topp takes on the Waikato.
Heartland was a long-running series where, in each episode, affable presenter Gary McCormick explored a Kiwi community. Location and local legend are relayed as McCormick (or occasionally Annie Whittle, Maggie Barry, or Kerre McIvor) interacts with the natives, most famously, tiger slipper-shod Chloe of Wainuiomata. The popular, award-winning series, was inspired by a collaboration — Raglan by the Sea — between McCormick and director Bruce Morrison; it connected mostly-urban Kiwis with faraway corners of the country, and a homely sense of shared identity.
Cowboys of Culture is director Geoff Steven's personal perspective on the Kiwi cinema renaissance of the 1970s. It traces the development of the local film industry from the ‘she'll be right' days when filming permits were unknown, and all that was needed to get a picture up were a Bolex camera, enthusiasm and ingenuity. Raw they might have been, but the films (Wild Man, Sleeping Dogs, Goodbye Pork Pie, Smash Palace) represented a vital new cultural force. The film features interviews with the major players, and clips from their movies.
This TVNZ production screened at the end of 1989, just before the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Filmed at Government House, presenter Ian Johnstone oversees passionate kōrero as a panel of youngsters, academics and Māori and Pākehā elders debate the place of New Zealand’s founding document. Don Selwyn and Angela D’Audney explore its history, and Sir Paul Reeves begins by musing on chief Te Kemara’s famous about-turn, when, after first opposing the Treaty, he turned to Hobson and said: “How d’ye do Mr Governor”.
This TVNZ documentary captures the early days of NewstalkZB, shortly after Radio New Zealand gambled on relaunching it with an all talk format. Previous breakfast host Merv Smith has taken most of his audience to rival Radio i; his replacement is Paul Holmes. The former king of the Wellington airwaves is soon grappling to make an impact in Auckland. Competition amongst the stations is cutthroat, but Holmes is the focal point here. He’s under pressure and surrounded by a battery of often conflicting opinions. By 1988 he'd hauled the show from ninth to second in the ratings.
This classic short film provides an unusual showcase for Don McGlashan and Harry Sinclair, the founders of musical theatre group The Front Lawn. The slice of life narrative unravels like a baton relay; the duo play every character, revolving around pedestrians on Auckland's Karangahape Road. Walkshort was directed by editor Bill Toepfer. Sinclair went on to do some directing of his own (Topless Women Talk about their Lives), while McGlashan would pay musical tribute to another famous Auckland street, Dominion Road. Costa Botes writes about Walkshort here.
Regular Māori programmes started on Television New Zealand in 1980 with Koha, a weekly, 30 minute programme broadcast in English. It explored everything from social problems, tribal history, natural history, about weaponry, to the preparation of food, canoe history, carvings and their meanings, language and how it changed through time. It was a window into te ao Māori for Pākekā, and provided a link to urban Māori estranged from their culture. It was the first regular Māori programme to be shown in prime time.
Mortimer’s Patch was a popular drama series following Detective Sergeant Doug Mortimer (Terence Cooper) at work in the town of Cobham. Mortimer plays a city cop returning to his rural roots; Don Selwyn is Sergeant Bob Storey. The series was NZ’s first police drama, and a rare local drama to top ratings. Mortimer's Patch was made when the archetype of the ‘community cop’ everyone knew was still a powerful one, and it was a counterweight to the faceless riot policing of the Springbok Tour. Three series were made.
In 1975 TV One launched with a flagship 6.30 news bulletin which went largely unchanged with the move to TVNZ in 1980. In a 1987 revamp, it became the Network News with dual newsreaders Judy Bailey and Neil Billington (replaced by Richard Long). In 1988, the half hour programme moved to 6pm. With the advent of TV3 in late 1989, it was rebranded One Network News; and, from 1995, extended to an hour. The ill-fated replacing of Long with John Hawkesby in 1999 saw it make headlines rather than report them. In 1999, there was another name change to One News.