Chris Dudman was raised in the South Island town of Haast. He went on to study painting at Ilam School of Fine Arts in Christchurch, with a minor in film. A Week in August, a short film funded by the QEII Arts Council, helped win him a place at London’s Royal College of Art. The first New Zealander to be selected for the RCA's film section, Dudman went on to complete a Master of Arts.
Dudman’s graduation film, the English-shot Blackwater Summer, revolved around two children on vacation, coping with the loss of a parent. For the next two years Dudman found himself being invited to festivals across Europe, as the film picked up various awards including Best European Short Film at Ireland’s Cork Film Festival, Best Film at the Munich International Student Film Festival, and the Young Jury Prize at the Clermont-Ferrand Short film fest in France. Blackwater Summer was also nominated for a Student Academy Award, a yearly film competition run by the US Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Over the next four years Chris tried various roles in the British screen industry; editing short drama, assistant directing documentary for Channel 4, and helping edit long-running (but now deceased) BBC arts series Omnibus. He also wrote and directed two arts documentaries for Thames Television. One of them, sculpture doco Sandman, won a British Television Society award and was exhibited by the Tate Gallery in 1993.
For the BBC and the British Arts Council, Dudman directed Lido, an impressionistic short chronicling the days when open-air swimming pools were common in Britain. He also worked on scripts for a BBC Scotland thriller which ultimately never went before the cameras (Cracker got the funding instead).
Dudman returned to New Zealand in 1995, to become an artist in residence at Ilam. There he worked on (as yet) unfilmed boy and dolphin tale The Dolphin of Dingle Bay. The following year he began an extended stint as part of the research and writing team on Communicado documentary series New Zealand at War. Dudman is credited with writing the final two episodes of the six-part series, which played in a 90-minute timeslot.
He went on to direct two documentaries for TV3‘s Inside New Zealand slot. Zoo followed a day in the life of Auckland Zoo, and Protecting the Border went behind the scenes of the customs service, including visits to Auckland Airport, the wharf, and an international mail centre. Both topics later became the basis of long-running TV shows made by others.
During this period Dudman began directing commercials with company Silverscreen, including high profile campaigns for Steinlager’s popular ‘Lust for Life’ campaign, and the memorable AMI clip where a young man accidentally encounters his girlfriend’s mother in the shower.
In 2006 Dudman launched commercials company Robber’s Dog Films, alongside director Adam Stevens and producer Mark Foster. Dudman's many high profile TV commercials include the beloved pukeko ad for Genesis Energy.
In 2008 he directed short film The Graffiti of Mr Tupaia, which took away three gongs at the Qantas Film & TV Awards (best short film, actor and script). Rawiri Paratene played the title role of a school cleaner who finds an unusual message in the girls' toilet. Dudman was keen on the challenge of telling the story "in a purely visual way", with little dialogue. The short won selection to over a dozen international festivals (including Locarno and Montreal) and awards at the Berlin Film Festival.
Dudman, Tupaia scriptwriter Paul Stanley Ward and producer Vicky Pope reconvened for rite-of-passage tale Choice Night. The film won invitation to several 'A-list' festivals, including BFI London, Melbourne, and Valladolid. It competed at Clermont-Ferrand in 2011, and won Best International Short at Cinema Tous Ecrans Film Festival in Geneva.
May 2013 saw the debut of crime series Harry, which won solid ratings and good reviews. As well as directing, Dudman was part of the writing and directing team. The show sees Oscar Kightley playing a Samoan-Kiwi detective and solo parent investigating a major murder. Sam Neill plays his boss and mentor.
Documentary The Day that Changed My Life began thanks to Dudman's cousin Sandra Close. After the Christchurch quakes, Dudman gave Close technical help to capture personal video accounts from 110 locals. Dudman "was blown away by the emotional intensity" of the recordings, "the openness and strength of feeling in them and by the gravity of what happened to people". Some were screened under at the title 12.51 at Canterbury Museum. Unable to win support for a TV series that would devote half an hour to each interview, Dudman weaved together selected excerpts and added new material to make one-off documentary The Day that Changed My Life, which debuted in TV One on 25 February 2015. It won awards for best NZ documentary and best director at the Documentary Edge Festival.
Dudman has also directed episodes of Filthy Rich and true crime series Murder is Forever, and handled the dramatic recreations for 2019 rugby documentary By the Balls. With producers Stephen O'Meagher and Polly Fryer, he executive produced four short films for the NZ Film Commission as Tom Thumb Shorts, part of the NZ Film Commission's Premiere funding scheme.
Profile updated on 24 June 2020
'Chris Dudman: On the mixed blessing of early success' (Video Interview) NZ On Screen website. Director Andrew Whiteside. Loaded 22 June 2015. Accessed 22 June 2015
‘Homegrown 2010 - Choice Night’ - Onfilm, June 2010, page 10 (Volume 27, No 6)
‘Chris Dudman - Director/Writer’ (Profile) Tom Thumb Short Films website (broken link)
'Chris Dudman' (Profile) Robber's Dog website. Accessed 12 February 2015
The Day that Changed My Life press kit