Joanna Paul-Robie's screen career spans three decades, much of it under the name Joanna Paul. In that time she has done everything from reading the primetime news on TV3 to helping launch a new television network. En route, she has done time as a board member of Māori Television and organisation Te Māngai Pāho, which funds te reo programming.
Paul-Robie grew up in Hamilton, the middle sister of three. As a child, she took part in theatre and ballet. She also recalls having to play peacemaker to her parents, who later separated. An arts degree at Waikato University was soon abandoned, after she joined Radio New Zealand. She found herself in Tauranga, training to be a programme director at Radio Bay of Plenty.
She began the 1980s in radio, and ended it at new television network TV3. In-between, she was learning about film and television in a variety of ways. As Joanna Paul, she had already made her screen acting debut, in 1978 Ngaio Marsh mystery Colour Scheme. After joining the ensemble of Māori talent on 1982 teleplay The Protestors, she was invited to play Princess Te Puea in this 1983 episode of Pioneer Women. She also spent three months on soap Close to Home, "spewing out political rhetoric" as John Bach's "bit of fluff".
The acting roles taught her two things — that she "wasn't going to cut it" as an actor, and that the real power lay behind the camera. She got work as a TV researcher on both sides of the Tasman, and worked in a variety of production roles, including helping produce This is New Zealand, a weekly series for US cable television.
Among the treasured mentors she met in this period was director Merata Mita, who invited her to the East Coast to work on feature film Mauri. Paul-Robie began as a first assistant director, and was soon handling scenes as a second unit director. She did 15 hour days, and lost 16 kilos. "But I loved working under that pressure. The whole thing gave me an insight into the cultural differences of filming."
Māori voices were clambering to be heard more on-screen. Paul-Robie was among those working with Barry Barclay in creating Māori screen collective Te Manu Aute. The organisation campaigned for more funding for Māori stories. One of the results was anthology series E Tipu E Rea (1989). She was among the many Māori talents to contribute. Originally hoping to take on a contemporary woman's story, she was instead given Hone Tuwhare's male coming of age tale Eel to direct. She soon fell in love with it.
After six months presenting TVNZ's children's nature show Wildtrack, Paul-Robie was invited to join TV3. When the channel launched in November 1989, Paul-Robie was one of the first faces on air, presenting that day's breakfast bulletin. "The fact that TV3 was prepared for its first face to be a Māori face was an indescribable high for me as a broadcaster, a woman and a Māori," she later told The NZ Herald.
Six months after the network went to air, she took over the role of primetime newsreader at 6pm, from Philip Sherry. By then TV3 had added late night news show Nightline to its schedule. Paul-Robie read the day's headlines, then joined her colourful co-host Belinda Todd for Nightline's second section, which had a habit of "pushing the envelope". "The beauty was it was two chicks," said Paul-Robie, "not the banal banter of a pseudo hubby-wife on-screen combo". Elsewhere she commented that "simplistically one could say I was the straight act and Belinda was the colourful character. But our adlibbing has actually given us a lot more personality than other news shows allow." She reminisces about her time on Nightline in the second clip of the show's 20th Anniversary Episode.
Later Paul-Robie moved to current affairs at TV One, where she spent time as an anchor on the primetime One Network News. She also found time to direct 1997 short film Hei Konei Ra. It was one of four dramatised interpretations of waiata, collected together under the title Ihi Wahine.
Paul is "very proud" of the part she played in 2002 te reo series Aroha. The idea for the show was first discussed when Paul met with Melissa Wikaire and Karen Sidney, to mark the passing of a mutual friend, filmmaker Cherie O'Shea. Aroha was partly intended to address a lack of te reo content on-screen. The trio produced six half-hour episodes of the anthology show, which mixed emerging talents like writer Briar Grace-Smith with established names like Temuera Morrison and Cliff Curtis. Aroha was named Best TV Series at Canadian indigenous festival ImagineNATIVE.
From April 2002 to August 2004, Paul-Robie was General Manager of Programmes and Production at Māori Television. She talks about the birth of the network in this video interview. On leaving, Paul described her time at the channel as a career highlight. "It was the opportunity to bring together a team and to utilise all the skills I have learnt in over two decades in the broadcasting industry. Its success is my reward, and while I am sorry to be leaving the company, the time has come to seek new challenges."
Since then Paul has made further documentaries (some of them through her former production company Freckle Films), and worked with director Pietra Brettkelly. She has also been a media consultant and lectured in media studies.
Paul-Robie has sometimes been confused with late Hamilton-born artist and filmmaker Joanna Paul.
Profile updated on 29 June 2019
'Joanna Paul: portrait of an over-achiever...' (Video Interview), NZ On Screen website. Director James Coleman. Loaded 18 July 2011. Accessed 29 June 2019
Douglas Jenkin, ‘Life in the Zoo’ - The Listener (TV Times section), 5 November 1990, page 32
Sarah Lang, '3's company' - The NZ Herald, 23 November 2009
Wendyl Nissen and Jenny Scown (Photography), Filling the Frame - Profiles of 18 New Zealand Women (Auckland: Reed Books, 1992)
Unknown writer, 'New television love stories will bring together Māori talent' - Tū Mai, issue 24, July 2001, page 26
Unknown writer, '3's Musketeers - Joanna Paul' - The Listener (TV Times pullout), 27 November 1989, page 91