Greg Stitt has worked extensively as a filmmaker on both sides of the Tasman. Aside from many documentaries, he also directed the shorts Fastest Gun Down-Under and Just Me & Mario, the tale of a young man obsessed with singer Mario Lanza.
What I’m interested in are the fantasies ordinary people need to survive. The more ordinary people are, the more interesting they may be if you look under the surface. Greg Stitt, in the June/July 1989 issue of Onfilm
In this award-winning Montana Sunday Theatre drama, Cliff Curtis plays Jim, a grungy rocker who can’t (and doesn’t want to) commit to a straight life with his misguidedly hopeful girlfriend Sina (Sarah Smuts-Kennedy). A night of emotional turmoil in the city ensues as Sina does her best to avoid the reality of her situation (as well as home invasion and Jim’s dodgy manager). Fiona Samuel's darkly funny script and top-notch casting underpin this look at the not-so-delicate nature of relationships amongst a group of Generation X Aucklanders.
Ever wondered why artist Peter Peryer photographed himself holding a chicken? This documentary provides the answer. Directed by Greg Stitt (Just Me and Mario), it traces the path of one of New Zealand's most significant, and intriguing, art photographers — from "crucified Christ to laughing Buddha" — through Catholic themes, to a more minimalist approach. Also showcased are some of Peryer's captivating images: the "bodies of work, families of photos, and images that rhyme". The photographer passed away on 18 November 2018.
This stylishly high camp melodrama from directors Stewart Main and Peter Wells won acclaim, after debuting at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival. In the imaginary 19th-century town of Hope, draper Dorothea Brooks (Jennifer Ward-Lealand) is desperate to save her sister from the clutches of opium, sex and the dastardly Fraser. She begs hunky migrant Lawrence Hayes to help; but complications ensue. Inspired partly by 1930s and 40s Hollywood melodramas, Desperate Remedies was sumptously shot by Leon Narbey (Whale Rider). Richard King writes about the film here.
One of a select few Kiwi dramas about filmmaking, The Footstep Man centres on a man whose job is creating footsteps and sound effects for movies. Lonely, toiling under a demanding director, Sam (Brit Steven Grimes) gets trapped between real life and reel life. Cinematographer Leon Narbey’s second movie is a portrait of the strange pressure cooker of creating films, a luminous film within a film — with Jennifer Ward-Lealand as muse to painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec — and a reminder that for all the technology involved, moviemaking is about the human touch.
Director Greg Stitt's 50min short sees actor Mark Hadlow playing Kevin: a pie cart worker obsessed with the singer Mario Lanza. Kevin's idolatry turns into an identity crisis as operatic-scale fantasising clashes with his meek disposition. Further complications arise from a friendship with his brash punk neighbour, and from stage fright ahead of a fundraiser for Kev's Lanza fan club (Lanza also had a noteworthy teenage fan club in Heavenly Creatures). Will Kev get his Susan Boyle moment? The black comedy was written with Scarecrow scribe Michael Heath.
Astronomy-obsessed worrier Richard meets part-Italian Johnny, a man whose idea of a holiday involves breaking into the nearest bach. Pitched at gay and straight alike, the pair's lighthearted but occasionally troubled romance featured extensive footage of central Auckland circa 1988 (courtesy of director Garth Maxwell’s own central Queen Street digs), plus images of space — for Richard a place of both beauty and potential disaster. Beyond Gravity won local theatrical screenings, and a scriptwriting award in France. This excerpt features the opening 10 minutes of the 48 minute film.
The Mighty Civic offered a delirious and colourful celebration of Auckland's grandest old movie palace, made at a time when the building's future was under threat. The film uses a mixture of stylised sequences, archive footage, personal memories and poetic narration to evoke the spirit of the theatre in its heyday. Director Peter Wells' film galvanised public support, and ultimately the building was saved and refurbished, to remain the crown jewel of Queen Street's cinema district. This clip features the first 10 minutes of the hour long film. Costa Botes writes about the film here.
A young boy is afflicted by apocalyptic visions in medieval Cumbria. Believing he is divinely inspired to save his village from the Black Death, he persuades a group of men to follow him into a tunnel. They dig deep into the earth and emerge ... in Auckland, New Zealand, 1987. Following portents, the time travelers must negotiate the terrors of a strange new world, (motorways, nuclear submarines) — while seeking to save their own. Nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes, it scooped the gongs at the 1988 AFI and 1989 NZ Film & TV Awards.
“An ironic comedy about a disconnected New Zealand family” is the tagline to this early Alison Maclean short. Recently widowed Nan (Yvonne Lawley) assesses her life and the roles prescribed by her family as she readies a Sunday roast. Her new plans — “I won’t be able to make the Christmas Cake this year” — rattle the shackles of her Old Testament-bashing husband and her ex-All Black son. Nan was a comeback leading role for Lawley after time away raising a family. Written with playwright Norelle Scott, Maclean’s short screened with the About Face TV series.
When people tell the amazing story of Kiwi legend Julian Harp, Nicky doesn't get a mention. Now, in one of the New Zealand screen's classic monologues, Nicky (Lucy Sheehan, from Talkback) takes the opportunity to let us in on what really happened: her relationship with Julian, his plan to destabilize the Government via a letterwriting campaign, and the couple's preparations for the day he achieved engineless flight and rose into the sky from the Auckland Domain. This episode of anthology series About Face is based on the classic story by CK Stead, author of Smith's Dream.
The stars in an Auckland harbour master’s eyes are of the cowboy variety in this documentary that goes behind the scenes of the Western Districts' Fast Draw Club. The westie club takes literal inspiration from its name, as its members — from truck drivers to accountants — meet in the basement of a dairy to recreate scenes from the American wild west. Director Greg Stitt aimed to explore, “the fantasies ordinary people need to survive”; and his partly-dramatised doco details the impressive preparation (and passion) that goes into the live shows and stunts.
This early 80s series aimed to introduce and encourage young Kiwis into the outdoors. Fronted by legendary climber Graeme Dingle, and based at Turangi's Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre (co-founded by Dingle in 1973), it was produced for the Department of Education. In this fifth episode Dingle and a bevy of young Kiwis learn about the basics of alpine travel: traversing and belaying on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu. The team tackles an igloo build, before practising self arrest using a pick axe, and ultimately, summiting the volcano.
This series aimed to introduce and encourage young Kiwis into the outdoors. Fronted by climber Graeme Dingle, and based at Turangi's Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre (co-founded by Dingle in 1973), it was produced for the Department of Education. In this sixth episode Dingle surveys the history and confidence-building philosophy of the centre, showing rafting, rope courses, and a bush rescue. He also revisits influential moments in his adventuring career, from heading up the Ganges in a jetboat, to helping disabled climber Bruce Burgess up Ruapehu.
This series aimed to introduce and encourage young Kiwis into the outdoors. Fronted by legendary climber Graeme Dingle, and based at Turangi's Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre (co-founded by Dingle in 1973), it was produced for the Department of Education. The activities, from climbing Mt Ruapehu to rafting and bushcraft, represent the confidence-building philosophy of the centre: "to provide opportunities for New Zealanders, in particular youth and those disadvantaged in some way, to learn and grow through exposure to a range of adventurous activities."
This award-winning NFU short focuses on the tuatara, the sole survivor of a reptile species extinct for 135 million years. An NZ Wildlife Service (now DoC) team search for the nocturnal reptiles on Stephens Island sanctuary (aka Takapourewa) as they hunt for insects. Voiceover is eschewed in favour of natural sound and composer Jack Body’s evocative soundtrack.The tuatara are weighed and measured; they can grow up to 80 centimetres, weigh over a kilogram and live 150 years. There were about 100,000 tuatara on Stephens Island when the documentary was made in 1981.
The bid to raise the level of Fiordland’s Lake Manapōuri (to provide hydro-electricity for an aluminum smelter) resulted in controversy between 1959 and 1972. This film charts a (still-timely) debate as arguments for industrial growth and cheap energy vie with views advocating for ecological values. New Zealand’s first large-scale environmental campaign ensued, and its “damn the dam” victory was a spur for the modern conservation movement — drawing an unprecedented petition, Forest and Bird, and figures like farmer Ron McLean and botanist Alan Mark into the fray.
This headline-grabbing 1979 documentary examines inequality via interviews with an unemployed student, a young widow and a Porirua family of eight; plus visits to a Fijian village and a Hong Kong housing estate. The film's arguments that business and government monopolies had caused poverty in “egalitarian New Zealand”, and that NZ trade practices had added to it elsewhere, displeased Prime Minister Robert Muldoon. State television refused to screen the Greg Stitt-directed documentary; CORSO, the charity who commissioned it, was removed from the government’s funding list.
Bookended by cameo appearances from the Queen and Robert Muldoon, this National Film Unit short offers a brief history of the various buildings that graced Wellington’s parliamentary lawns, before moving to the main event: the design and building of the Beehive. Plans are drawn up after acceptance of Scottish architect Sir Basil Spence’s “bold, circular design”. Then we watch as one of NZ’s most iconic structures is born from a gaping hole in the ground in 30 seconds of swift cuts. At the official launch, a still youthful looking Queen expresses her approval.
A 1978 documentary that follows the attempt by three young people to be the first windsurfers to cross Cook Strait. Directed and narrated by Sam Neill (soon to be famous as an actor) for the National Film Unit. The skeptical Cook Strait pilot John Cataldo asks them: "do you wanna have a crack?" "Yeah, bloody oath" one of the surfers replies. They face the Strait's infamous winds, tides, swells, sharks and exhaustion. Some stunning helicopter shots include a windsurfer clipping through whitecaps with a pod of dolphins in its wake.
Before he achieved worldwide fame as an actor, Sam Neill directed documentary films for the National Film Unit. This film examines the philosophy, early achievements and frustrations of one of New Zealand's most innovative architects, Ian Athfield. Athfield won an international competition in 1975 to design housing for 140,000 squatters in Manila, in the Philippines, yet struggled to gain recognition back home. This film culminates in Athfield's trip to the Philippines to pursue the project. Shooter John Toon later memorably shot feature film Rain.