Gemma Gracewood produced arts series Frontseat over five seasons, then followed it with the ambitious New Artland. Her career has also included stints as radio producer, arts publicist, Metro film reviewer, parliamentary press secretary, and musician.
New Zealand is a very young country and although we’ve grown up fast, our artists and documentary makers are extremely important in helping us to develop our identity. Gemma Gracewood
A kārearea named Fern handles the storytelling duties in this child-friendly documentary about New Zealand’s only falcon. Fern (voiced by ex Māori TV newsreader Kimiora Kaire-Melbourne) introduces some of the other kārearea who live at the Marlborough Falcon Trust, then brings out her human friend Diana, who sadly “can’t fly yet”. Fern and Diana meet a group of children and show them the aerobatics of Aotearoa’s only endemic raptor species, while talking about the threats the falcons face. The trust aims to ensure the endangered birds have a future.
This Artsville TV documentary plucks its way through a Kiwi-focused history of the ukulele, from Waikiki to Wellington, using the dream of “godfather of Polynesian music” Bill Sevesi as its starting point: namely “that the children would be playing the ukulele all over the country.” Presenter Gemma Gracewood (of the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra) reveals the instrument’s Pacific adoption and burgeoning popularity, and meets acolytes of ‘the uke’: from Herman Pi’ikea Clark to Jennifer Ward-Lealand, to Sevesi strumming with onetime pupil Sione Aleki.
The format for New Artland was to film a leading Kiwi artist devising an artwork, in collaboration with a community that they have some kind of bond with. In this episode host Chris Knox meets Karl Maughan, known for his vibrant paintings of garden flowers. Maughan returns to Palmerston North's Freyberg High School (where he was encouraged to enrol at Elam School of Art) and enlists 20 students over a week to make a 30 metre long mural. He explains why rhododendrons are his main subject, and gets permission from the principal to help the kids graffiti the art block.
Hosted by musician and artist Chris Knox, this series pairs Kiwi artists with communities to create epic works of art. Reuben Paterson, who is well-known for using glitter and big bold patterns, heads to Bethells Beach in West Auckland to create an optical illusion on the black sand shoreline. Locals, including mayor Bob Harvey, pick up shovels to create the masterpiece, racing against the clock before high tide arrives. A relaxed Paterson pushes on, despite plans going awry. "I’m so used to doing big art projects, we’ve got to think positive and that everything is possible.”
This series sees Kiwi artists creating a new work while the cameras are rolling, in collaboration with a community that they have a personal connection with. Hosted by musician and artist Chris Knox, the series was produced by Gemma Gracewood and Neil Stichbury, from a concept by Luke Nola. Two seasons were produced for channels TVNZ 6 (2008) and TVNZ 7 (2009). Season one was nominated for Best Format/Reality Series at the 2008 Qantas Film and TV Awards. The artists included Lisa Reihana, Michel Tuffery, Phil Dadson, Karl Maughan and Seung Yul Oh.
During WWII the Post Office photographed letters, enabling mass mailing to soldiers via rolls of film. Post Office worker Ngaire (Yvette Reid) deals with mail for soldiers serving overseas. On this small, handsomely-framed canvas, writer-director Paolo Rotondo explores how war and distance affect relationships. Dead Letters makes a persuasive case that the memories preserved in words and film contain their own magic, even when that magic is tinged with sadness and death. It won best short screenplay at the 2006 New Zealand Screen Awards.
This episode of arts show Frontseat visits the inaugural edition of the Māori Film Festival in Wairoa, with Ramai Hayward and Merata Mita making star turns, alongside a tribute to teenage filmmaker Cameron Duncan. Elsewhere, Deborah Smith and Marti Friedlander korero about their She Said exhibition, and about photographing kids and staging reality; and Auckland’s St Matthew in the City showcases spiritual sculpture. A ‘where are they now’ piece catches up with Val Irwin, star of Ramai and Rudall Hayward's interracial romance To Love a Māori (1972).
With five series and close to 100 episodes, Frontseat, produced by The Gibson Group, was the longest-running arts programme of its time. Billed by TVNZ publicity as a "topical and provocative weekly arts series investigating the issues facing local arts and culture", and hosted by actor Oliver Driver, it (sometimes controversially) took a broad current affairs approach to the arts of the day, covering "all the big events, reporting the stories, and interviewing the personalities."
A weekly TVNZ arts series hosted by Oliver Driver, Frontseat was the longest-running arts programme of its time, aiming a broad current affairs scope at arts issues and events. In the excerpts from this episode journalist Amomai Pihama investigates Māori arts brand, Toi Iho. Winston Peters, gallery owner Kataraina Hetet, and CNZ's Elizabeth Ellis are among those interviewed. In another story Driver speaks with artists and the curator of the Telecom Prospect 2004 show at Wellington's City Gallery and Adam Art Gallery.
Gibson Group series Frontseat was the longest-running arts programme of its era. Hosted by actor Oliver Driver, the weekly series aimed a broad current affairs scope at the arts. The first excerpt asks the question "is there really an art boom, and if so, why aren't the artists benefiting?" Art dealer Peter McLeavey, late artist John Drawbridge and others offer their opinions. The second clip asks whether NZ really needs eight drama schools. Richard Finn, Miranda Harcourt and newcomer Richard Knowles (later a Shortland Street regular) are among those interviewed.
In this early, Edinburgh-centric episode of arts show Frontseat, Flight of the Conchords return to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for a sellout third season — although they argue the new show is “a shambles”. Also present at the fest are an array of Kiwi technicians, performers, and arts programmers. Meanwhile in his Marlborough vineyard, globetrotting cinematographer Michael Seresin critiques Kiwi society and its ugly towns, and calls New Zealand a “lonely, soulless sort of nation”. Also on offer: Artist Phil Dadson in Antarctica, and award-winning dancer Ross McCormack.