Born in Turkey to Greek parents, 1958. Costa Botes grew up in New Zealand. An early love of cinema led to experiments with filmmaking at high school, and then to studying film at Ilam School of Fine Arts in Christchurch.
After graduating, Botes made several short films — including ambitious parallel worlds piece The Godel Sentence — before becoming a full time filmmaker in 1985. In between freelance assignments, he has continued to write and direct original work for film and television.
In 1985 he directed an episode in the About Face TV drama series, The Lamb of God, long predating Black Sheep with a comic-horror about an alternative Kiwi countryside where the sheep have got restless.
His short film Stalin's Sickle won the jury prize at the Clermont-Ferrand short film festival in 1988. Based on a story by Michael Morrissey (himself the subject of a future Botes doco) the film revolves around a 60s-era youngster who imagines his neighbour is Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Costa also directed four episodes of anthology series Ray Bradbury Theatre, working alongside actors ranging from American Oscar-winner Louise Fletcher, to a dinosaur-hunting John Bach.
Forgotten Silver, the tale of pioneering filmmaker Colin McKenzie, began as a Botes idea. Made for television, the film argues that McKenzie was the first New Zealand filmmaker to introduce colour and sound to the medium — and that he filmed Richard Pearse flying, nine months before the Wright Brothers achieved controlled flight. Botes co-wrote and co-directed with Peter Jackson.
When Forgotten Silver screened in a Montana Sunday Theatre slot in October 1995, many believed it, and there was some anger when the show was revealed to be an elaborate hoax (Botes can be seen talking about reaction to Silver's unveiling in documentary Behind the Bull). "To my mind a hoax is something you keep up, and we never had any intention of not coming clean," said Botes at the time. "We thought the next day it would all come out. And it's actually come out with very little help from us."
Forgotten Silver went on to win the duo a Best Director prize at the New Zealand Film and Television Awards 1996, and Special Critics' Prize at Venice the same year.
Botes' first feature Saving Grace, completed in 1997, was selected for competition at Valladolid and Asia-Pacific festivals. Based on the play by Duncan Sarkies, the two-hander tells the story of a relationship between a troubled teenager (Eau de la Vie's Kirsty Hamilton) and an unemployed carpenter (Jim Moriarty) who claims to be Jesus Christ.
In 1999, Botes began documenting the making of Peter Jackson's epic trilogy The Lord of the Rings. Much of Botes' footage was used in the extensive behind the scenes material included when the films were released on DVD. Botes' three feature-length documentaries arrived on DVD in 2006.
In recent years Botes has directed a number of documentaries about musicians — among them the feature-length Struggle No More (about veteran group The Windy City Strugglers, which played in the 2006 NZ International Film Festival) and Yes that's Me - Dave Murphy Plays the Blues.
He also worked on a number of projects with director Zoe McIntosh, starting with Qantas award-winning documentary Lost in Wonderland (2009). The film is a portrait of controversial, sometimes skirt-garbed lawyer Rob Moodie. Botes produced and edited; NZ Herald reviewer Peter Calder praised his "sensitive editing", and McIntosh's "gentle and intelligent touch".
Botes then offered McIntosh another project he'd been developing for many years: short film Day Trip. The tale of a gang member at a point of change was based on a true story he'd been told by late writer Bill Payne. After debuting at New York's Tribeca Film Festival, Day Trip was awarded a prize at Mexico's largest film festival (Guanajuato) from Signis, a group of Roman Catholic media professionals. Triple nominated at the local Qantas awards, the film took away Best Actor for its star, ex Mongrel Mob leader Tuhoe Isaac. In 2017 McIntosh and Botes' immersive, low dialogue tale The World in Your Window scored multiple global awards.
In January 2010 Botes' documentary Candyman premiered to a standing ovation, after being selected for both indie film festival Slamdance, and Canadia's Hot Docs fest. The film, which chronicles the life of American jelly bean pioneer David Klein, later played at the Wellington Film Festival.
Botes continues to create a run of feature-length documentary projects. Most have won festival slots. In 2011 saw the release of two films chronicling journeys into the outer limits: The Last Dogs of Winter, shot in Canada, won a standing ovation after being selected for the 2011 Toronto Film Festival (as well as the 2012 NZ round of film festivals). The film follows a man's efforts to preserve the Canadian Eskimo Dog, the rarest breed of dog on the planet. Daytime Tiger examines manic depression through the life of Kiwi writer Michael Morrissey (note: not the actor of the same name). Reviewing the film at the 2011 NZ Film Festival, Dominion Post critic Graeme Tuckett called it Botes' best film yet, and "one of the most honest, engaging, and provocative portraits of an extreme personality you will ever see".
Documentary Act of Kindness premiered in the 2015 NZ Film Festival. Made by Botes and Sven Pannell, the film chronicles Pannell's attempt to relocate a homeless beggar in Rwanda, who helped him at a difficult moment during his travels. A dramatised take on the story is in development.
Angie won praise went it debuted at the 2018 festival. The film looks at the life of Angie Meiklejohn, who once spent time at controversial commune Centrepoint.
Aside from making films, Botes has worked extensively as a film critic (The Dominion, 1986-96), and also teaches: screenwriting at Wellington's NZ Film and TV School, and film at Victoria University.
Profile updated on 6 May 2020
Costa Botes website. Accessed 6 May 2020
Peter Calder, 'Lost in Wonderland' (Review) - The NZ Herald, 20 August 2009
Graeme Tuckett, 'Provocative portrait of a perplexing personality' (Review of Daytime Tiger) - The Dominion Post, 30 July 2011
'Costa Botes' The Last Dogs of Winter to Premiere in Toronto International Film Festival' (Press release) - New Zealand Film Commission, 4 August 2011