John Reid made his feature debut with an acclaimed version of hit Roger Hall stage play Middle Age Spread. He went on to direct three more features ranging from raw comedy to moody arthouse pieces — plus documentaries, TV dramas and commercials. Reid has also been head tutor at the New Zealand Film and Television School in Wellington, and written the definitive book on the history of Pacific Films.
New Zealanders have a thirst to see their own characters on screen. John Reid in an interview with The Sunday Times, 1 July 1979
Reluctant Revolutionary mines a wealth of then new interviews to trace David Lange's rise from pudgy doctor's son to lawyer, to Prime Minister leading the country through radical change. Along the way, writer/director Tom Scott asks how a man as gifted as Lange allowed his government to collapse around him after only five years in office. The film includes rare input from National leader Jim McLay (who praises Lange's wit at university), Rogernomics architect Roger Douglas, and the first television interview with Lange's second wife Margaret Pope.
The Strip centres around 30-something Melissa (Luanne Gordon), who sheds a legal career to set up a male strip revue. Created by Alan Brash, The Strip played to a certain demographic's desire for ogling naked men (warmed up by 1987 play Ladies Night and 1997 film The Full Monty), but with a focus on female characters, as Melissa juggles business with raising a teenage daughter. Taking cues from Ally McBeal (with fantasy sequences to match) the Gibson Group tale of g-strings, feminism and red light romance screened for two series on TV3 and sold internationally.
Duggan stars John Bach as brooding Detective Inspector Duggan, attempting to solve murders amid the tranquillity of the Marlborough Sounds. New Zealand's answer to Inspector Morse, the show was conceived by Marion McLeod, and scripted by Donna Malane and Ken Duncum. Eleven episodes of the Gibson Group series were made, following on from introductory tele-features Death in Paradise and Sins of the Father. The turquoise waters of The Sounds make for an evocative setting in this sharp, classy Kiwi whodunit. Rachel Davies writes here about Duggan's birth.
One of the most successful television shows shot on Kiwi soil, The Tribe was the brainchild of British-born Raymond Thompson. In a future where the adults have been wiped out by a virus, the children that remain have formed into competing tribes, some of whom live to terrorise. Running five seasons, The Tribe sold to more than 120 territories, and the cast toured performances from the soundtrack for overseas fans. The cast were almost entirely New Zealanders, as were most of the crew. Sequel The New Tomorrow, following descendants of the original characters, screened in 2005.
A Twist in the Tale was one of a series of kidult shows launched by The Tribe creator Raymond Thompson, after he relocated to New Zealand. The anthology series spins from a storyteller (Star Trek's William Shatner) introducing a story (often fantastical) to a group of children, some of whom appear in the tales. The show featured early appearances by many young Kiwi thespians, including Antonia Prebble, Chelsie Preston Crayford, Dwayne Cameron and Michelle Ang. Although the writing team were British, some of the directors and most of the crew were New Zealanders.
This 1994 ‘home front noir’ is set in World War II Wellington, where the plots — a murdered marine, exploited working girls and gonorrhea — spread amidst the invasion of US soldiers stationed at Paekakariki. Kerry Fox (An Angel at My Table) is a public health nurse who becomes romantically linked with the US investigating officer (Tony Goldwyn — Ghost, TV's Scandal) while pursuing the STDs and the truth. They’re supported by Oscar-winning US veterans Rod Steiger and Robert Loggia. John Reid (Middle Age Spread) directs, from a Keith Aberdein script.
This 38 episode series revolved around the ups and downs of a community house run by Tony Van Der Berg (Frank Whitten). The series was devised by Liddy Holloway to meet a network call for an Eastenders-style drama that might tackle social issue storylines. It was the first drama series to put a Māori whānau (the Mitchells) at its centre. Despite being well-reviewed, it was perhaps the last gasp of Avalon-produced uncompromisingly local drama (satirised as the ‘Wellington style’), before TV production largely shifted to Auckland to face up to commercial pressures.
This 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 trio of young Wellingtonions drawn together by a mysterious invitation. At an antique shop dinner they discover they share a colourful birth mother, before becoming players in a game for a legacy of $250,000. Conceived by Brian Bell, Seekers was one of a series of teen-orientated dramas made in the mid-80s (along with Heroes and Peppermint Twist). The 16 episodes screened from February 1986.
This 1985 film spins off Katherine Mansfield's request to her husband John Middleton Murry, to burn "as much as possible" of her letters and writing after her death. Three decades later Murry (Sir John Gielgud) is still haunted by Mansfield, as he works on a collection of her work. Brit Jane Birkin plays both Mansfield, and a Kiwi expat who reminds Murry of his ex lover. Initially charmed, she grows annoyed at Murry's narrow-minded view of Mansfield. John Reid took over directing two weeks before shooting began in France. Variety rated the Pacific Films drama nuanced and intelligent.
Shot on location in Wellington, often after dark, Inside Straight helped usher in a new era of Kiwi TV dramas, far from the rural backblocks. This Minder-esque portrait of Wellington’s underworld was inspired by writer Keith Aberdein’s experiences as a taxi-driver and all night cafe worker. Phillip Gordon (soon to win fame as a conman in Came a Hot Friday) stars as the former fisherman, learning the ways of the city from veteran taxi driver Roy Billing. A solid but unspectacular rater over 10 episodes, the show was scuttled by the launch of trucker’s tale Roche.
This film investigates and captures the dramatic changes to Wellington's cityscape in the 70s and 80s. "To get in before nature's earthquake we created one of our own". As a result of mass demolition of buildings deemed to be earthquake risks and the subsequent building boom, graveyards make way for motorways, and wood and stone for steel, glass and concrete. There are interviews with the boosters (Bob Jones, Sir Michael Fowler), demo workers, and laments for the loss of heritage and local culture (Harry Seresin, Aro Valley protesters, and surprisingly, Rex Nicholls).
One of an early 80s series of stand-alone dramas, Coming and Going is set in a boozy officers’ mess in Maadi in Egypt during World War II. Based on a short story by Dan Davin (who saw service in North Africa and Europe), it centres on Reading (David McPhail in a rare serious role) who will never be one of the blokes — but who is now facing ostracism and open hostility. Andy (Kevin Wilson) has just rejoined the unit after being wounded; and he gradually discovers that Reading’s plight is the result of something far more serious than standoffishness.
After hitting Wellington for a Ranfurly Shield game, two brothers from the sticks (Grant Tilly and Pork Pie's Kelly Johnson) have to sneak their abruptly deceased father back home. If the body isn’t buried there, they won’t inherit the family farm. Set back when "blokes were blokes and sheilas were their mums", director John Reid’s shaggy dog tale — a Weekend at Bernie's, reeking of stale beer and ciggies — both lauds and satirises the Kiwi male. Among the six clips, the final clip sees Tilly's character getting things off his chest, now that Dad is finally unable to answer back.
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.
An early case of a Kiwi play being adapted for the screen, Middle Age Spread asks whether adultery is inevitable (and whether it can stay secret). Grant Tilly won acclaim as "an antipodian Woody Allen" for his philandering deputy headmaster fearing a future of stress and marital dissatisfaction. Roger Hall's hit comedy was adapted in the first flush of the Kiwi film renaissance. It marks the movie debut of many talents — including Tilly, director John Reid, writer Keith Aberdein, and cinematographer Alun Bollinger. Middle Age Spread was the first Kiwi feature to screen on the BBC.
In 1979, Red Mole was arguably New Zealand's best-known alternative theatre troupe. During two seasons in New York they wowed audiences with their Dada-influenced shows. The Villager wrote: "All possible elements of theatre and spectacle are employed by the skilful members of the group." In this 49 minute film, Red Mole take a surreal journey through actual and imaginary New Zealand. Sam Neill had done time as a travelling actor in schools before directing this for the National Film Unit. He collaborated again with editor Judy Rymer on NZ screen history Cinema of Unease.
Pioneering soap opera Close To Home first screened in May 1975. For just over eight years, middle New Zealand found their mirror in the life and times of Wellington’s Hearte clan. At its peak in 1977, nearly one million viewers tuned in twice weekly to watch the series, which was co-created by Michael Noonan and Tony Isaac. They initially only agreed to make it on condition they got approval for The Governor. The popular family saga carved a regular niche for local drama on screen; the demands of creating a regular show helped develop the skills of Kiwi actors and crew.
The focus of this short film is a memorial service on Seatoun Beach, five years after the sinking of interisland ferry Wahine on 10 April 1968. More than 50 people died when the ship keeled over just inside Wellington Harbour, after hitting a reef during a ferocious cyclone. The ferry had been in service just 20 months. National Film Unit director Sam Pillsbury uses archive footage of the sinking, along with reconstructions and recreations of radio reports. The memorial service itself was recreated for the film. There are also images the attempted salvage operation.
This 1967 documentary offers a rare behind the scenes glimpse into the early days of Kiwi television, as a group of actors learn firsthand how the new medium differs from the stage. The actors' workshops were held in three cities as part of a push to create more local drama. After NZ Broadcasting Corporation producer Brian Bell introduces the actors to the camera, they try out some scenes. Five TV plays emerged, and two are seen getting made: The Tired Man, featuring Grant Tilly and Ray Henwood, and acclaimed Christchurch-shot drama Game for Five Players.