Perhaps best known in New Zealand as the psycho who stares from the poster of 1984's Death Warmed Up, Dave Letch has played ghosts (Mr Wrong) and suitors to writer Janet Frame (An Angel at My Table). In the 90s he left acting to co-found Australian theatre company Renegade, and has since done turns as theatre director, acting teacher, and film assessor. In 2006 Letch directed community-driven feature Wishbone.
As I’m sitting in the cottage, watching the screens, watching every shot as we lay them down and decide which part of the jigsaw best goes where, I am astounded at what we did. Nearly a year’s worth of dedication, commitment, belief. Dave Letch, on making 2006 adventure movie Wishbone
Directed by Jane Campion, An Angel at My Table is adapted from author Janet Frame's renowned three-part autobiography. It threads together a series of images and scenes to evoke Frame's dramatic life story. Originally made as a TV drama, the much-acclaimed dramatisation won cinema release in 35 countries; it established Campion as a global director, launched actor Kerry Fox, and introduced new audiences to the "mirror city" of Frame's writing. This excerpt follows Frame's life-saving escape from Seacliff Asylum, to first publishing success at Frank Sargeson’s bach.
A dog-goddess effigy possessing aphrodisiac powers is the quarry for a cast of oddball pursuers in this caper comedy — from a cosmetics tycoon to a duo of doctors using retirees as guinea pigs in a quest for eternal youth. The dog's handler is geeky Billy, aided by his girlfriend Gus and their bull terrier Cyclops. The chaotic Auckland romp was the debut feature for Gregor Nicholas (he would go on to helm acclaimed short Avondale Dogs and feature film Broken English). This excerpt features a take on Space Odyssey's docking scene, as interpreted by Benny Hill.
Created by actor/writer Jonathan Hardy, comedy series Porters was based around a group of porters working in a big city hospital. This episode features an early screen appearance by Rima Te Wiata (Hunt for the Wilderpeople); she guest stars as a worried nurse who calls on junior porter Peter (Stephen Judd from Bridge to Nowhere), after hearing some strange noises on the night shift. An encounter in the mortuary awaits. The episode also includes appearances by fellow porters George Henare, Peter Bland and Bill Johnson, with Roy Billing playing their long-suffering boss.
Frank Whitten won probably his biggest audience when 10 million Brits saw him play an outrageous bastard in this primetime melodrama. This first episode sees Ceci (Glaswegian actor Valerie Gogan) arriving from England hoping for a better life, and instead finding herself trapped on a rundown farm with a rapist, a bitter old man and a simpleton. NZ producers Lloyd Phillips and Rob Whitehouse won finance from TVNZ, Westpac and the UK's Central Television for the six-part mini-series, written by Brit Elizabeth Gowans. There were 118 speaking parts, most of them Kiwi.
In director Gaylene Preston's genre-bending tale, Meg (Heather Bolton) buys a stylish old Jaguar so she can be more independent. While driving on a country road, she hears screams in the back – but there's no one there. In the excerpt above, she picks up a mysterious woman in the rain. Later she discovers that the woman was the car's previous owner, and she is missing. Now her killer might just be stalking Meg too. For their first, acclaimed feature, Preston and producer Robin Laing rented out local cinemas, conclusively proving that Mr Wrong had an audience.
Michael Firth's feature film tells the story of writer and educator Sylvia Ashton-Warner, as she forges her visionary philosophy of “organic teaching” while teaching Māori children at an isolated school in the 1940s. Taking in romance and struggle, the drama was widely praised: Village Voice named it one of the 10 best films of 1985, while critic Andrew Sarris found “the intensely interacting performances" of the four principals "nothing short of breathtaking”. The film is based on Ashton-Warner’s books Teacher and I Passed This Way. Supporting actor Mary Regan won a GOFTA award.
Pre-dating Peter Jackson's arrival (Bad Taste) by three years, New Zealand's first horror movie sees Michael Hurst making his movie debut as he fights mutants (including Bruno Lawrence) on Waiheke Island. Hurst's character is out to avenge the mad scientist who forced him to kill his parents. A grand prize-winner at a French fantasy festival (with cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky on the jury), David Blyth's splatterfest marked the first of many horrors funded by the NZ Film Commission. It was also the first local showcase of the smoothly-flowing Steadicam camera.
This pirates of the South Seas tale stars Tommy Lee Jones (Men in Black, The Fugitive) as rogue Bully Hayes, who helps a missionary save his kidnapped-by-savages wife. Produced by Kiwis Rob Whitehouse and Lloyd Phillips (12 Monkeys, Inglorious Basterds), the film was made in the 80s ‘tax-break’ feature surge and filmed in Fiji and New Zealand (with an NZ crew and supporting cast). John Hughes (Breakfast Club) and David Odell (Dark Crystal) scripted the old-fashioned swashbuckler from a Phillips story. It was released by Paramount in the US as Nate and Hayes.