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Chris Graham


A son of a diplomat, director Chris Graham was raised in Wellington, Bangkok, and Canada's capital city of Ottawa.

Passionate about graffiti art and photography, he developed his skills at Wellington's Onslow College, drawing inspiration from early 80s New York graffiti bombers documentary Style Wars. Graham says his affinity for graffiti art gave him "a very early sense of graphic design and balance and composition and perspective and all those basics of the visual arts. I would do it in the middle of the night and sometimes I would get chased by security or police and it was exciting."

At 18 years old, Graham was accepted into a filmmaking course at New York's School of Visual Arts. He made documentaries about New York graffiti artists, which took him on some wild rides, including being robbed and held at gun point by undercover police.

After four years he graduated with honours in film directing in 1993; his thesis film Life Before Me was judged best film (and Graham best director) from more than 100 works submitted by the school's thesis students. It also won a Best Film Student Jury Prize at the 1994 Tel Aviv Student Festival. Graham started out in the film industry as a production runner, before landing the director gig for Puerto Rican hip hop DJ-producer Frankie Cutlass music video, Clap Ya Hands in 1996. He says "that video was my leverage tool when I moved back to New Zealand..."

After moving back home to New Zealand, Graham joined commercials company Flying Fish, where he began making both music videos and commercials. He is one of the country's most awarded music video directors, including 11 awards over a six year span. Among them are a trio of Tui awards for Smashproof's Brother, Dei Hamo's We Gon' Ride & Scribe's Stand Up. Graham can be seen working on the Brother video in this making of film

Graham has described the mid-2000s as a "golden age" of Aotearoa hip hop."It was supportive and competitive at the same time". Later he would chronicle the country's hip hop history by directing multiple episodes of Radio New Zealand documentary series NZ Hip Hop Stand Up .

In 2009 Graham made the video for Wild Out a collaboration by hip hop artists Savage, Angel Dust and Baby Bash  before shooting I Love the Islands with Savage across the Samoan islands. In 2018 Graham was nominated for his work on Louis Baker video Black Crow

Graham has an affinity for Māori and Pacific Island artists, and has directed award-winning music videos for Tha Feelstyle (Su'Amalie) and Trinity Roots (Little Things). In 2022 he won an NZ TV Best Director award for documentary series Scribe: Return of the Crusader, which he called "a story of inspiration and just getting past trauma and following your dreams". The same year, Graham was nominated for his work on music-infused drama The Panthers. The show dramatises the birth of the Polynesian Panthers Party, which in the 1970s began advocating for Pasifika people.

Graham admits that part of his motivation to direct Sione's Wedding (2006), his first feature, was because it starred The Naked Samoans, a group of Pasifika comedians. "As a cinemagoer, I was dying to see a New Zealand comedy and leave the theatre with a bounce in my step, in a good mood, feeling optimistic about life."

After an impressive opening weekend, Sione's Wedding went on to become the fourth highest grossing New Zealand film on its home territory at the time. Herald critic Peter Calder praised the film for being "so infectiously energetic, so drenched in joy and so bloody funny that to give it less than a top rating would be churlish. It is, whatever its shortcomings, impossible to imagine it being done better." It was nominated for 10 NZ Screen Awards, including Best Film and Best Director.

Graham followed it with horror feature The Ferryman, in which a group of tourists sailing in the South Pacific encounter a mysterious man with a secret (played by Welsh actor John Rhys-Davies, from The Lord of the Rings). The cast also includes An Angel at My Table discovery Kerry Fox and Julian Arahanga.

In 2014 Graham co-directed this documentary on the first decade of television channel Māori Television. In the same period he directed the dance scenes for hit movie Born to Dance. He also directed items for the first season of award-winning arts series The Living Room.

Graham's short films include Bus Stop (which played at the Melbourne Film Festival) and Water, in which a family find their home overcome by rising waters. Bus Stop, which Graham wrote and directed, follows a group of bus passengers thinking upon their lives. Black comedy Water competed at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. Graham argued that it was about how people can procrastinate "with our lives, relationships and problems". He also made a 42 second film for Vodka brand 42 Below, which screened in short film festival One Dream Rush.  

Profile updated on 29 November 2022

Sources include
Chris Graham
GoodLife Films website. Accessed 28 November 2022
Russell Baillie 'Chris Graham Keeps it Reel' (Interview) - The NZ Herald, 2004
Peter Calder, 'Sione's Wedding' (Review) - The NZ Herald, 24 March 2006
Chris Schulz, 'Behind the scenes on Scribe's new documentary' (Interview) The Spinoff website. Loaded 27 November 2021. Accessed 28 November 2022
Water press kit