Justin Pemberton's work for the screen can be split roughly into two. His eclectic and award-winning run of documentaries includes motor-racing story Love, Speed and Loss and acclaimed Olympic saga The Golden Hour. He has also worked on many music projects, from music videos to documentaries about Anika Moa and the NZ Symphony Orchestra.
Its makers deserve gold medals ... this was our Chariots of Fire. Just hope they show it to the team in London. Russell Baillie reviewing The Golden Hour, The NZ Herald 26 July 2012
After tackling documentaries about sporting legends and surveillance, Kiwi director Justin Pemberton (Chasing Great) began his most ambitious project yet. Inspired by the brick-sized bestseller by French economist Thomas Piketty, Capital in the 21st Century examines the disproportionate amount of cash and power wielded by a small global minority. The French-Kiwi co-production blends talking heads (including Piketty and Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz) and pop culture imagery of the rich and famous. Jean-Benoît Dunckel (from French duo Air) supplies the music.
This feature documentary follows All Black Richie McCaw on his 2015 quest to become the first skipper to defend the Webb Ellis Cup. Directors Justin Pemberton (The Golden Hour) and Michelle Walshe were given unprecedented access to the subject to create a portrait of McCaw the person, and chronicle the psychology of achievement in international sport. McCaw got involved as a chance to “inspire some young kids”, ending his policy of keeping “the private stuff private”. The film's opening day set a Kiwi record for a local documentary; in its first week, it beat all competition.
The Five Eyes spy network was set up after WWll to monitor and share intelligence between the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand. According to this interactive documentary, the network sought a new justification for its existence after the Soviet Union's collapse, and found it in digital communications. Narrated by Lucy Lawless, I Spy aimed to inform viewers about just what their local intelligence agencies are up to. Interviewees included author Nicky Hager and ex NSA/CIA director Michael Hayden. I Spy was funded by a joint Canadian-NZ Digital Media Fund.
Tickled sounds like a comedy, but the film traces a path from quirky to the stuff of fear, mystery and intimidation. The documentary began when then TV3 reporter David Farrier saw a cash offer for athletes to fly to Los Angeles for 'Competitive Endurance Tickling'. Farrier and co-director Dylan Reeve headed to the United States, and found ticklers scared to go on camera — and threats from those behind the scenes. At the 2016 Sundance Film Festival Tickled quickly won rave reviews and sales; Vogue and The Hollywood Reporter named it one of 2016's ten best documentaries.
This documentary tells the story of New Zealand sport’s ‘golden hour’, when on 2 September 1960 in Rome, two Arthur Lydiard-coached runners won Olympic gold: 21-year-old Peter Snell in the 800 metres, then Murray Halberg in the 5000 metres. The underdog tale mixes archive footage with recreations and candid interviews (Halberg talks about his battle with disability and doubt). The NZ Herald's Russell Baillie praised the result as “riveting” and “our Chariots of Fire”. It screened on TV prior to the 2012 London Olympics and was nominated for an International Emmy Award in 2013.
Frequent collaborators singer Anika Moa and director Justin Pemberton crossed paths again for the music video of this track, from Moa's 2008 album In Swings the Tide — her first, slightly countrified album for EMI. In a tastefully furnished room, Moa wakes in a bed of chocolate satin sheets, only to find the day is nearly done for her and the mysterious bedmate sleeping next to her. Moa exhorts her lover, “please don't be mean to me 'cos I really tried ...”, before stripping the duvet off the relationship to see what's underneath.
Love, Speed and Loss is an extended documentary about racer Kim Newcombe, who turned heads in the 1970s on a König motorbike he developed and designed himself. Built around home movie footage and interviews with his charismatic, straight-talking widow Janeen, the film charts the couple's travels in Europe, and triumph on the track. Newcombe was killed racing in 1973, and posthumously finished second in that year's World 500cc Championship. Love, Speed and Loss won best documentary at the 2007 Qantas TV Awards and three Air NZ Screen gongs.
The making of this Anika Moa video arguably puts the singer's heady early rise in a nutshell. American label Atlantic Records flew an executive down to New Zealand to monitor proceedings, and ensure that the singer looked as slim on screen as possible. Moa and director Justin Pemberton came up with the idea of Moa lusting after every male she passes. The taxi is driven by actor Antony Starr (before Outrageous Fortune). As for Moa, she soon returned home from the US. A local top five hit, the song ended up on the soundtrack of Julia Roberts romance America’s Sweethearts.
Shipwreck told dramatic stories of mystery, heroism and tragedy at sea, as it explored eleven notable shipwrecks in New Zealand's maritime history. In each episode tales of buried treasure, massacre, death and survival are evocatively retold. Wrecks covered included The Boyd,The Ariadne and The Orpheus, the worst martime disaster in the nation's history. Shipwreck was presented by actor Paul Gittins (Epitaph). The Greenstone Pictures production won Best Information Programme at the 2000 Qantas Media Awards.
When Bic Runga broke out in 1996, 'Drive' was the lead single from her hit album of the same name. Opting to stay with the simplicity of her original demo clearly paid off: the song earned then 20-year-old Runga the 1996 APRA Silver Scroll Songwriting Award. Director Justin Pemberton wisely creates a video that matches the song. Alternating black and white with colour provides a moody feel without drawing attention to itself, leaving Runga to deliver a delicate performance on a song that would have a major impact on her career.
Director Justin Pemberton takes this love song by Paul Casserly and Fiona McDonald (from fourth Strawpeople album Vicarious) and transforms it into an exercise in noir influenced, brooding unease. His video takes place over a night at a rural motel (with McDonald as a receptionist, and Casserly up to no good with a range of medical equipment). A tarot card-reading, yoga-practising new-ager, a traveller with unexplained cages, and random appearances from stringed instrument-playing senior citizens contribute to the growing sense of disquiet.
Kiwi music show Music Nation introduced young presenter Bic Runga to the nation, shortly before she took her microphone skills in another direction. In this debut episode, the show's 'field reporter' Ian Hughes (aka Hugh Sundae) interviews winners at the 31st NZ Music Awards, while Runga introduces many of the accompanying videos. There are double helpings of Supergroove, who took away five awards on the night, and Che Fu sings a thank you speech a cappella. But there are murmurs of discontent over Purest Form taking the public vote for best single.
Long before the website of the same name, Music Nation was a mid 90s television show devoted to Kiwi music. Hosted by Hugh Sundae and Bic Runga — shortly before Runga's debut album Drive conquered the nation — the show mixed video clips and interviews. Modelled loosely on legendary Sunday night music show Radio With Pictures, Music Nation was produced by former RWP hosts Karyn Hay and Richard Driver. Two seasons, each running 13 episodes, went to air.
Condemned as "designer news" before it had even been to air, Newsnight was TV2's foray into late night news for a younger audience (with one eye on the success of TV3's Nightline). Strongly influenced by the celebrity and human interest focus of women's magazines, it received an unsuccessful BSA complaint for not covering a major story (a teacher's strike). Simon Dallow made his TV debut alongside Lorelei Mason and then Alison Mau — while Marcus Lush's idiosyncratic take on the world earned the show a degree of cult (if not always critical) success.