Donald Duncan has worked underwater, on snow, and in Narnia. Raised on a Waikato farm, Duncan trained in sound, then moved into camerawork. The early 90s saw him shooting comedy User Friendly, the darkly stylish Jack Be Nimble and acclaimed short Lovelock. After helping set the style of Xena: Warrior Princess, Duncan was NZ Film-awarded for Snakeskin. He has shot a number of US productions down under.
...just leave me with the camera assistant, the camera and the actors and on the way back to lunch we’ll shoot some stuff. On executing one of his favourite shots, for road movie Snakeskin
In this family-friendly feature, Santa (Finnish actor Kari Väänänen) does a runner to a beach in Aotearoa days before his big night of the year, fed up with bureaucracy and brats. It falls to two Kiwi kids to get him out of the southern sun, and back to global gift giving. Director Tony Simpson (Kiwi Flyer) pitches the North Pole native against Kiwi biosecurity and a bickering camping family (including Step Dave's Sia Trockenheim). Sunday Star Times critic James Croot praised the trio of writers for delivering "a rare 21st century effort that evokes the memory of the great kidult dramedies."
This documentary sees Dean Spanley director Toa Fraser and producer Matthew Metcalfe swap dialogue for dance. Based on The Royal NZ Ballet's acclaimed 2012 production of Giselle, the movie features American Ballet Theatre star Gillian Murphy as the dance-mad villager, wooed by a prince in disguise. Inspired by concert film The Last Waltz, a Leon Narbey-led camera team filmed the performance, with scenes of the lead dancers in Shanghai and New York counterpointing the onstage action. Following its Kiwi festival debut, Giselle screened at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival.
This first episode of this 2013 crime drama begins with a meth-fuelled bank heist gone very wrong. Harry is a Samoan-Kiwi detective (played by Oscar Kightley, a million miles away from Morningside) pursuing justice in South Auckland. Sam Neill, in his first role on a Kiwi TV series, plays Harry’s detective buddy. Off the case, Harry struggles with his teen daughter in the wake of his wife’s suicide. The Chris Dudman-directed series screened for a season on TV3. Broadcaster John Campbell tweeted: “Not remotely suitable for kids. But nor are many excellent things.”
Qantas-nominated 'dramedy' Rude Awakenings revolved around the conflict between two neighbouring families, living in the Auckland suburb of Ponsonby. Rush family matriarch Dimity (Danielle Cormack) has her eyes on climbing the property ladder, by acquiring the house next door (occupied by solo Dad Arthur and his teenage daughters). Created by Garth Maxwell (movie Jack Be Nimble), the 2007 series was produced by Michele Fantl for TV One. The Listener’s Diana Wichtel welcomed it as a rare contemporary satire on New Zealand television, but it only ran for a single season.
This Kiwi neighbours at war ‘dramedy’ pitted the Rush family — newly arrived in Ponsonby —against the Shorts, who are long-time renters next door. Arthur Short (Patrick Wilson) is a Kiwi battler solo Dad, with two teenage daughters; Dimity Rush (Danielle Cormack) the right wing HR manager whose partner is an anaesthetist, with two teen sons. In this first episode, Dimity aspires to climb the property ladder by scheming to get the Shorts’ house as an investment doer-upper. The satire of gentrification screened on TV One on Friday nights. The cast includes Rose McIvor (iZombie).
Noel (Patrick Smyth) and Faith (Kate Harcourt) are happily retired; they while away their time digging into the earth beneath their house and sifting for treasure from the knick-knacks and 'thingamajigs' of history. Then a tremor shakes up “Dad’s excavations”. Adopting a low-dialogue storytelling approach, this reflective tale of finding life and meaning in the small things marked a rare screenwriting credit for Vintner's Luck author Elizabeth Knox (collaborating with director Neil Pardington). It screened as part of Kiwi shorts showcase at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival.
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.
John O'Shea was godfather to generations of Kiwi filmmakers; he was an inspirational force committed to bringing new perspectives to the screen. As Ngati actor Wi Kuki Kaa put it, "had he been a Māori, he would have been a kaumatua years ago". This documentary backgrounds O'Shea and his pioneering indie production company Pacific Films, ranging from his efforts to put Māori on screen, to banned 60s ads. The cast provides proof positive of O'Shea's influence — amongst the ex-Pacific staff interviewed are the late Barry Barclay, Tony Williams and Gaylene Preston.
In director Garth Maxwell’s 1993 gothic horror twins Jack and Dora (late US actor Alexis Arquette and Kiwi Sarah Smuts-Kennedy) are separated while young; their adult reunion sees them battling the trauma of their past while being pursued by Jack’s sadistic step sisters. Complete with ESP,and a steam-driven hypnosis machine, Maxwell makes an exuberant and surreal contribution to the cinema of unease. New York Times’ Stephen Holden lauded the heady head-spinner as “a superior genre film” with a “feverish intensity that recalls scenes from Hitchcock and De Palma.”
Based partly on two tragedies that occurred in Europe, this darkly comic tale centres on a butcher who works near Parliament. The butcher leaves his young son to handle the customers so that he can go upstairs and engage in some hanky panky with his wife. But with rent payments due, underlying tensions soon erupt into bloody nightmare. Director Stuart McKenzie and his real-life partner, actor Miranda Harcourt, would later collaborate again on the feature film For Good.
Jack Lovelock won New Zealand’s first Olympic athletics gold medal. He did so in spectacular fashion, winning the 1500 metres at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. In front of Hitler and 110,000 spectators, the famous ‘Lovelock kick’ unfurled into NZ’s sporting and collective consciousness: from Timaru to Oxford, to Berlin triumph. Yet Lovelock was an enigmatic achiever. In this short film, the race — the supremely judged apex of a sporting career — is contrasted with his mysterious and tragic death, in front of a train on the New York subway in 1949.
Donogh Rees stars as Jo, a wife on the brink of madness, in this short film from Christine Parker (Channelling Baby). Struggling to deal with raw meat in the kitchen, Jo lapses into a dream-state and fantasies about fronting a girl group (featuring backing singers costumed as the Virgin Mary, a dominatrix and a Barbie doll). Flashbacks show her partner James (Alistair Browning) arriving home drunk; she goes alone to a dinner party where the host asks about his absence. The story is based on Waiting for Jim, a short story by author Frances Cherry.
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.
This epic Lee Tamahori-directed promo for the 1990 Auckland Commonwealth Games imagines the stirrings of Games spirit in the mud of the Western Front, 1917. Behind the lines, soldiers from various 'British Empire' nations (Bruno Lawrence, Tony Barry and a young Joel Tobeck) lay bets to see who is the fastest. After racing they pledge to "do this again sometime eh brother" (referring no doubt to the shared joy of competition, as opposed to 1,115,597 Commonwealth war dead). The first Commonwealth Games were held in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada), in 1930.
This documentary showcases some of the tricks of the trade used by Peter Jackson in the making of his first feature — the aliens-amok-in-Makara splatter classic, Bad Taste. Compiled following the film's 1988 Cannes market screening, it's framed around an extensive interview with a 25-year-old Jackson at his parents’ Pukerua Bay home. These excerpts offer fascinating insight into his ingenuity: from building a DIY Steadicam, to the making of the infamous sheep-obliterating rocket launcher scene, to PJ musing on the impetus that being an only child provided him.
Opera in the Outback offers a wry, fly on the wall view of the lead-up to a most unusual event: the first concert by Kiri Te Kanawa in the Australian outback. Kiwi director Stephen Latty and writer Michael Heath realise the people are the story, from affable locals to those preparing for 9000 joyful, sometimes drunken arrivals. The inhabitants of Beltana — population roughly 12 — risk building a new racetrack for visitors less operatically inclined, while Australian National Railways send all the rolling stock they can. Some of the Kiwi film crew were awake for 52 hours, trying to capture it all.
This documentary comprehensively traces the history of skiing and winter sports in New Zealand. From Mannering and Dixon, who used homemade skis in an almost-successful ascent of Mt Cook and the hut-building pioneers of recreational ski clubs in their pre-Gore-tex garb, to commercial ski fields and lifts, superb archive footage shows the advances. New Zealand teams at the Winter Olympics in Oslo in 1952 and Sarajevo 32 years later had come some way from the days when carrier pigeons were used to report snow conditions from Canterbury's ski fields to Christchurch.
Director John Laing followed acclaimed romance Other Halves with an equally stylish but very different big city tale: a thriller in which three orphans plan an international heist to avenge the killing of one of their fathers. The expected diet of shootings, skulduggery and globetrotting accents is enlived by side trips to Geneva, songs from romantic interest Jennifer Ward-Lealand, and a cast of villains to die for (Peter Bland, Ian Mune, Anzac Wallace, Grant Tilly). When Dangerous Orphans was sold in Europe it set an early record for a New Zealand film.
On 28 November 1979, an Air New Zealand DC-10 crashed into Mt Erebus, Antarctica, killing all 257 people on board. It was the worst civil aviation disaster in NZ history and at the time, the fourth worst in the world. Made independently of state TV, Flight 901 was the first in-depth documentary on the accident. It surveys the novelty of Antarctic tourist flights, the search and rescue operation, and controversy over causes stirred by the Peter Mahon-led Royal Commission of Inquiry. This 15 minute excerpt was edited for NZ On Screen by director John Keir.