John A Givins is a television producer and director. His company Livingstone Productions produced the award-winning historical series Captain’s Log, and eleven seasons of Queer Nation. Givins has gone on to produce programmes and develop formats for Māori Television.
Story-telling has to be passionate, personal and privileged. True, honest and real performance transcends cultural limits and illuminates the joy of life. John A Givins
The birth of television in the 1960s meant that suddenly protests and civil unrest could be broadcast directly into Kiwi homes. This episode of 50 Years of New Zealand Television looks at many of those events — involving everything from the Vietnam War and the Springbok tour, to Bastion Point and the Homosexual Law Reform Act. It also examines how being televised altered their impact. Interviews with both protestors and reporters provide a unique insight into what it was like to be living through extraordinary periods of New Zealand history.
From early teleplay The Evening Paper to the edgy Outrageous Fortune, this episode of 50 Years of New Zealand Television talks drama and comedy. Key players, from actors to executives, recall a host of signposts in the development of storytelling on Kiwi TV screens. John Clarke recalls 1970s sitcom Buck's House; Paul Maunder remembers the drama that likely helped introduce the DPB; and TV executive John McRae recalls worries about the projected cost of global hit Hunter's Gold, and mentioning the word 'placenta' on the first episode of Shortland Street.
"I love the idea of bringing sexiness into the classical arena ..." Made for TVNZ's Artsville series, documentary Farr From Heaven follows Gareth Farr composing and rehearsing a variety of musical pieces, from stage plays to a piece for percussion and orchestra. Written and directed by Roz Mason and narrated by Farr, the documentary shows the versatility of his work as a classical composer and performer (including as transvestite Lilith Lacroix). The full range of his creative process is captured, from composing and arrangement failures, to successful world premieres.
Satire Futile Attraction follows a dysfunctional reality television crew as they make a show about dating. The unfortunate 'couple' being manipulated for the cameras are a phone-obsessed nerd, and a woman consumed with being ecologically sound. In real life, director Mark Prebble became the first New Zealander to get funding for his movie via an online crowdfunding campaign (as detailed in the making of video). Alongside lead actors Danielle Mason (Black Sheep) and Peter Rutherford (Event 16), the late Alistair Browning shines as a smarmy television host.
The episode opens with a story about the Maxim Institute, an international think tank that has been linked to anti-gay fundamentalist groups. The main feature focuses on Marilyn Waring, an MP from 1975 until 84. She talks candidly about the personal cost of being in parliament — especially when she was outed as a lesbian. Waring also shares her opinions about the Civil Unions Bill and why she is opposed to it. The show finishes with a gay literature review and an interview with James Hadley, the incoming programme manager of Wellington's Bats Theatre.
A special episode which asks ten queer people from all over New Zealand about issues affecting their lives. Subjects include health, looking at HIV and safe sex; issues around homophobia, especially focusing on opposition to the Civil Union Bill (passed after this programme was made); the importance of family and relationships; bringing up children within gay relationships; and attitudes to gay marriage (or civil unions). It winds up with comments on how much more tolerant New Zealand society has become since homosexual law reform, in 1986.
In this Queer Nation edition 'QNN' (queer news headlines) leads, with stories about moves to introduce gay marriage in Australia and Canada, and a dramatic rise in the number of HIV cases in New Zealand. Crew involved in Takatāpui, on Māori Television, promote their (new at the time) programme. The third part of this episode focuses on the first reading of the Civil Union Bill, on 24 June 2004. With still some confusion surrounding the bill, its workings are explained to viewers.
Part One looks at lesbian relationships - how different are they? A light-hearted romp through subjects such as butch and femme, monogamy, lesbian bed death, and raising children. Two gay farmers feature next, and talk about farming in the Waikato, and their jobs as horse trainer and shearer. Part Three takes us inside Mt Eden Prison where we meet a lesbian prison officer. She talks about working in this tough, testosterone-filled environment and reveals how observing men living in these conditions has made her a more compassionate person.
This Queer Nation episode focuses on the Gay Games, held in Sydney in 2002. With more than 12,000 participants (including 441 New Zealanders) the event was Australasia's largest queer event ever. It begins with an overview of the event, looking at the benefits it had for the community, business, and tourism. The second part is less upbeat, addressing the massive $2m loss the Games incurred, with discussion around the reasons for this. Part three is about the next Gay Games, to be held in Montreal in 2006, along with a brief historical overview of the event.
This is the second part of a Queer Nation special about Peter Ellis, who was accused of molesting children in a Christchurch crèche in 1992. It examines how Ellis's sexuality permeated the case and its coverage, and influenced public opinion. It also focuses on the gay community's lack of support, and proposes reasons. Interviewees include Lynley Hood, whose book A City Possessed argued the case had the hallmarks of a witch hunt, Gay NZ editor Jay Bennie, and lesbian psychologist Miriam Saphira, who helped set up the guidelines under which the children were interviewed.
The first part of this disturbing double documentary focuses on the man accused of molesting seven children in a Christchurch crèche in 1992. The programme is divided into seven chapters, in which Ellis talks about his accusation and arrest, the trial, his prison sentence, his two appeals and his eventual release in 2000. Ellis initially thought the accusation was so ridiculous that it would soon get sorted out. Instead, he was found guilty on 16 charges and convicted to 10 years imprisonment, despite the lack of any conclusive evidence.
This Queer Nation episode, presented by Max Currie, is an overview of the capital city's queer history. The literary demimonde is first up: Katherine Mansfield's lesbian affairs and a scandal involving Norris Davey (aka Frank Sargeson). Then the role is explored of the Dorian Society (1962-1986) and its subgroup the Homosexual Law Reform Society, which paved the way towards decriminalisation in the 1980s. The programme also introduces viewers to NZ’s most famous trannies: Carmen and then-MP Georgina Beyer. Interviews and archive material spice up the history.
Eddie (Stacey Tukariri) is a 10-year-old skater who, like many a suburban dreamer, has his sights set on riding the steepest slope in town (the Bullock Track in a pre-gentrified Grey Lynn). Although his father isn't happy about it, Eddie's hero is his teen neighbour Duane: wheelchair bound after wiping out on ‘the hill’. Directed by Tainui Stephens — his first dramatic short — and written by Brett Ihaka, the young Māori odd couple story screened at the Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals. Future Mt Zion director Tearepa Kahi plays Duane, and the score is by hip hop legend DLT.
Actor/presenter Peter Elliott traces Captain James Cook’s first voyage around New Zealand in this four-part series, which was named Best Documentary Series at the 2002 NZ Television Awards. Starting from the North Island’s east coast, he ventures north before hitching rides down the island’s western side, nipping through Cook Strait on his way down to Lyttelton. The conservation history of Fiordland is explored, as are the rugged seas of the West Coast. Among the many ships Elliott journeys on is Spirit of New Zealand, a square rigger quite similar to Cook's HMS Endeavour.
This fourth episode of Captain’s Log sees host Peter Elliott journeying around the bottom of the South Island, tracing the end of James Cook’s first journey around New Zealand. The precarious Otago Harbour is navigated in an oil tanker, before a much smaller boat takes Elliott around the bottom of Stewart Island to Fiordland, where his captain Lance Shaw describes major conservation efforts in the area. A trip up the treacherous West Coast in a concrete carrier is cause for nerves, then a sail aboard Spirit of New Zealand offers a chance to reflect on the journey.
In this third episode of Captain’s Log, Peter Elliott tracks Captain Cook’s journey down the west coast of the North Island. First he takes the Ranui down to Kaipara Harbour, before hitching a ride on the old kauri schooner Te Aroha to Queen Charlotte Sound. Elliott recounts the story of Cook’s realisation that a strait existed between the two islands, before a brief trip to Wellington on (now defunct) catamaran The Lynx. The episode's final stop is Elliott’s hometown of Lyttelton on the peninsula formerly known as Banks Island, where he takes a hair-raising dive on a lifeboat.
For this 2001 series Peter Elliott retraced Captain James Cook’s first voyage around Aotearoa. The second episode heads from Mercury Bay to Cape Reinga. Elliott diverts from Cook’s wake to Waitemata Harbour to investigate New Zealand boatbuilding history, and sail a Team New Zealand America’s Cup yacht with Tom Schnackenberg. Elliott then boards HMNZS Te Kaha to "hoon" up the coast to rejoin The Endeavour's path. In the Bay of Islands he meets Waitangi waka paddlers, crews on tall ship R Tucker Thompson, and dives to the Rainbow Warrior wreck off the Cavalli Islands.
In late 1769 Captain James Cook first reached New Zealand, charged with charting the area. Peter Elliott chronicles Cook's journey in this award-winning four-part series. This first episode looks at his first encounters with local Māori, on the east coast of the North Island. While some greeted Cook with pōwhiri, others took exception to the murder and kidnapping the Europeans brought in spite of their declarations of peace. Amongst the locals Elliott meets on the coast is a young sailor in Tauranga who bears a striking resemblance to America’s Cup winning sailor Peter Burling.
The intrepid Ice TV trio — Jon Bridges, Nathan Rarere and Petra Bagust — head to Nelson to host the 1998 Montana New Zealand Wearable Art Awards. They meet the creators of the fantastic fashion catwalk extravaganza, whose garments are inspired by everything from Alice in Wonderland, roadkill, X-rays, birds, and the Buzzy Bee, to taniwha and Pasifika. The 'Illumination Illusion' section (designed to be seen in ultravoilet light) is a highlight. Bridges and Rarere revel in going behind the scenes of the 'bizarre bras' section, and Bagust tries on a possum-skin bikini.
Marching girls and boys, Camp Mother and Camp Leader and synchronised lawnmowers dance down Auckland’s Ponsonby Road in a celebration of gay pride. The theme of this edition of the (nearly) annual 90s street parade was Age of Aquarius, fitting given the heavy rain. The parade went ahead thanks to sponsorship from Metro magazine, after controversy when the City Promotions Committee declined the request for funding. The parade attracted 70 floats, and up to 200,000 spectators. Among those watching are Julian Clary and Shona Laing, who is one of the judges.
Queer Nation was a factual series made by, for and about lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) New Zealanders. Produced by Livingstone Productions with John A Givins at the helm, it screened on TVNZ for 11 seasons over nine years from 1996 till 2004 and was the world's longest running free-to-air TV programme made for the LGBT community. Long-serving presenters included original host (and future NZ On Screen ScreenTalk director) Andrew Whiteside, Libby Magee and Nettie Kinmott. Queer Nation won Best Factual Series at the NZ Television Awards 2003.
Corbans Fashion Collections was a live event and TV special staged annually in the 1990s, where local fashion houses showcased their upcoming collections. The producer of both the live shows and the TV programmes was Pieter Stewart, who went on to launch NZ Fashion Week. This 1995 show is narrated by Craig Parker and Alison Mau; Fashion Quarterly editor of the time, Paula Ryan, gives style tips; and Geeling Ng and Hinemoa Elder feature as celebrity models stepping out for Francis Hooper and Denise L'Estrange-Corbet's World label.
Shortland Street is a fast-paced serial drama set in an inner city Auckland hospital. The long-running South Pacific Pictures production is based around the births, deaths and marriages of the hospital's staff and patients. It screens on TVNZ’s TV2 network five days a week. In 2017 the show was set to celebrate its 25th anniversary, making it New Zealand’s longest running drama by far. Characters and lines from the show have entered the culture — starting with “you’re not in Guatemala now, Dr Ropata!” in the very first episode. Mihi Murray writes about Shortland Street here.
Hosted by Phil Keoghan not long before he left for the US, Short Sportz was a TV3 sports show encouraging kids to get involved in sports. Keoghan (later to win fame as host of Amazing Race) often kitted up himself Paper Lion-style: here he takes base against Black Sox pitches and cycles with future ironman champion Cameron Brown. This 1991 ‘best of’ show is notable for a segment presented by a rising Wainuiomata league star who’s just been signed by Newcastle Knights: Tana Umaga. Umaga’s NRL career was short-lived, and he went on to become an All Black legend.
Corbans Fashion Collections was a live event and TV special staged annually in the 1990s, where local fashion houses showcased their upcoming collections. The producer of both the live shows and the TV programmes was Pieter Stewart, who went on to launch NZ Fashion Week. The first special screened in 1990, and the last in 1997 (the 96 and 97 shows changed names to Wella Fashion Collections as a new sponsor came on board). In 1998/99 the show morphed into the Wella Fashion Report, four seasonal specials screening in Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.
Peppermint Twist’s pastel-tinted portrait of 60s puberty floated onto New Zealand television screens in 1987. Despite winning a solid teen following, it only lasted for one series. Set amongst a group of teens in small town Roseville (in reality the outdoors set on the edge of Wellington, originally used for Country GP), the show’s stylised look and sound had few Kiwi precedents — though its links to American perennial Happy Days are clear. Peppermint made liberal, and increasingly confident use of period music, with each episode named after a pop song of the day.
For this 1987 Kaleidoscope report, architectural commentator Mark Wigley uses Kiwi resort towns as fuel for an essay on local architecture. He visits Waitangi, arguing that Aotearoa should have followed the "rich ornamental example" of the Whare Rūnanga, instead of the restraint of the Treaty House. He praises Paihia’s "cacophony of bad taste" motels. In part two, he compares Queenstown and Arrowtown, and admires a gold dredge and the Skyline gondola. Wigley, then starting his academic career in the United States, would become an internationally acclaimed architectural theorist.
This Wellington-set 80s TV series sees real estate agent Selwyn, TV producer Nardia (early turns from Temuera Morrison and Jennifer Ward-Lealand) and art student Ben (Kerry McKay) as a young trio united by a mysterious invitation. At an antique shop dinner the three adopted children discover that they share a colourful birth mother, before becoming players in a game for a legacy of $250,000 (and more existential prizes). This first episode features ouija boards and a funeral at Futuna Chapel; alongside 80s knitwear, a saxophone score and du jour animated titles.
Country GP was a major 80s drama series that charted the post-war years 1945 to 1950 in a rural central South Island town. Using fast-turnaround techniques that anticipated later series like Shortland Street, 66 episodes of Country GP were shot in 18 months at a specially built set in Whiteman’s Valley, Lower Hutt. It was groundbreaking as the first NZ series to cast a Samoan in a title role (Lani Tupu as Dr David Miller); but it also provided a nostalgic look back to an apparently kinder, gentler time than mid-80s New Zealand with its major social reforms and upheavals.
This episode in the Pioneer Women series dramatised the story of Hera Ngoungou. In 1874 in Taranaki, Māori kidnapped an eight-year-old Pākehā girl — Caroline “Queenie” Perrett — possibly in retribution for her father breaking a tapu. Her family didn’t see her again until she was 60, when she was a grandmother and had spent more than 50 years living with, and identifying as, Māori. A moving (Feltex award-winning) performance from Ginette McDonald (aka Lyn of Tawa) mixes stoicism with an acknowledgement of good times and a sense of loss for what might have been.
Beyond Reasonable Doubt reconstructs the events surrounding a notorious New Zealand miscarriage of justice. Farmer Arthur Allan Thomas was jailed for the murder of Harvey and Jeanette Crewe. Directed by John Laing, and starring Australian John Hargreaves (as Thomas) and Englishman David Hemmings (Blowup, Barbarella), the drama benefitted from immense public interest in the case. Thomas was pardoned while the film was in pre-production, and he saw some scenes being made. It became New Zealand's most successful film until Goodbye Pork Pie in 1981.
While convalescing down under Sir Charles Pemberton (Terence Cooper) schemes to build a thermal spa in the town of Wainamu c.1900. Conflict ensues as the spa’s planned location is on Māori land. The action is seen through the eyes of youngsters: hotelier’s son Tom, and Pemberton’s granddaughter Sarah Jane; who — along with an erupting volcano — eventually impart on Sir Charles a lesson about colonial hubris. The 13-part series was a marquee title from a golden age of Kiwi kidult telly-making: it won multiple Feltex awards, and screened on the BBC in 1980.