Veteran actor Kate Harcourt was named a Dame Companion of the NZ Order of Merit in 1996, for her contribution to theatre. Her long performing career also encompasses many roles on screen (Plain Tastes, The Dig, Apron Strings), often playing maternal figures. In her ninth decade she won Best Actress at Rhode Island International Film Festival as the plucky rest home rebel in short film Pacific Dreams.
Acting is my life and I so enjoy the work. I’ve found the more you do the more you can do and as I get older I’ve found it easier to learn the lines. Kate Harcourt, in an October 2011 interview with Capital Times
The movie version of Margaret Mahy's first novel for young adults is still set in Christchurch, but the time period is now post-quake. Teenager Laura Chant (newcomer Erana James) encounters a very strange man (Brit actor Timothy Spall, from Mr Turner) and a boy with a secret. The coming of age fantasy has been a longtime passion project for husband and wife team Stuart McKenzie and Miranda Harcourt, who have worked to keep their version as "dark and scary" as the Carnegie Award-winning original. The cast also includes Melanie Lynskey (Heavenly Creatures) and Lucy Lawless.
Edwin Rouper has a habit of annoying people within seconds of meeting them. Cursed with 'Koontz-syndrome', a neurological condition in which temper and confidence dominate, he travels to Hollywood, trying to assemble a team of stars to raise awareness for the Koontz cause. Jason Stutter’s mock-documentary gleefully skirts the borderland between the koontz 'condition', and an expletive with a very similiar sound. Acting newbie Bryce Campbell scored an LA comedy award as Edwin; Raybon Kan, Jeremy Corbett and scribe Nick Ward all have cameos as sundry wackos.
PJ (Rangimoana Taylor) has been driving trucks for 35 years. But one day after a medical test, he is told to get off the road. PJ’s worries over becoming instantly useless are exacerbated when his partner Ronnie and Ronnie’s ambitious sister go into business. A tale of love, family, and ordinary people struggling to process the type of news none of us ever needs to hear, Hook, Line and Sinker is the second, semi-improvised feature from longtime collaborators Andrea Bosshard and Shane Loader. The Dominion Post called the result “likeable, admirable and hugely enjoyable”.
Long ago a beloved NZ tourism advertisement revolved around a globe-trotting Kiwi who made the mistake of leaving town without seeing his country. This tourism-themed short is a variation on the theme. Veterans Kate Harcourt and Helen Moulder play speed-crazed neighbours, whose competitive spirit stretches to comparisons of the extent of their grandsons' travels. Directed by Australian Aya Tanimura, Sweet As nabbed the People's Choice award in Your Big Break, an international contest run by Tourism New Zealand to promote Aotearoa's scenery.
In Samoan-born director Sima Urale's first feature, two mothers from very different Aotearoa cultures find the courage to confront the secrets of the past, in order to set their sons free. Hard-working Lorna runs an old-fashioned cake shop and lives with her unemployed son. For Anita, star of an Indian cooking show, things come to a head when her son decides to meet her estranged sister Tara, who runs a no-frills curry house. Apron Strings debuted in the Discovery Section of the 2008 Toronto Film Festival. It won four Qantas awards, including for actors Jennifer Ludlam and Scott Wills.
In this documentary children's author Margaret Mahy is interviewed at her Governors Bay home by friend and fellow author Elizabeth Knox. Many of Mahy's beloved storybook characters also appear to put her on the spot about their origins. In this excerpt, the famous lion from A Lion in the Meadow thanks her for making him yellow, and Mahy talks about eating porridge thrice a day as a young solo mum. Yvonne Mackay directed this seamless mix of real life and Euan Frizzell-created animation. Read more about the doucmentary here.
A classic case of the little movie that could, Second-Hand Wedding is a feel-good tale of garage sales, and the ties that bind. Worried that her mother’s zeal for bargains might ruin her big day, Cheryl (Holly Shanahan) delays unveiling her wedding plans. When Mum (Geraldine Brophy) finds out the information second-hand, she does not react well. Both actors won NZ Film and TV Awards for their work, and the Kapiti Coast-set film was a bonafide Kiwi hit: breaking out from its independently made origins into the all-time Top 10 for NZ films at the local box office.
Henry Waghorn and his kindhearted son Henry run a chicken circus, although sometimes there are accidents. Then a smooth-tongued entrepreneur comes to visit, with secret plans to turn chickens into chicken legs. Egg and Bomb is a mini-epic of good versus bad which features explosions, chickens on roller skates, thwarted love and caffeine-related psychosis. This quirky animated short was directed by George Port, a former founder member of Peter Jackson's special effects powerhouse Weta.
A plain tale about the swollen secretions of suburban love. In middle class Auckland vulnerable passions break the surface as Laura (Meryl Main from Highwater) aggressively pursues love and acceptance, finding something very like it right next door. For director Niki Caro this one-hour drama was a watershed in her career. It was her ultimate drama production before embarking on a feature film career; it screened as part of the Montana Theatre series on TV One in 1995. Plain Tastes features Marton Csokas and Kate Harcourt. Producer Owen Hughes writes about Plain Tastes here.
Written by Tom Scott and Greg McGee, Fallout was an award-winning two-part mini-series about the events leading up to New Zealand's 80s anti-nuclear stand. In this first episode Labour sweeps into power with an anti-nuclear platform. Upon taking office, David Lange (played by Australian actor Mark Mitchell) faces pressure to live up to his campaign rhetoric. In this excerpt, we see the parliamentary cut and thrust leading up to the election, with National MP Marilyn Waring defying Muldoon (Ian Mune) to cross the floor on the Nuclear Free New Zealand bill.
Noel (Patrick Smyth) and Faith (Kate Harcourt) are happily retired; they while away their time digging into the earth beneath their house and sifting for treasure from the knick-knacks and 'thingamajigs' of history. Then a tremor shakes up “Dad’s excavations”. Adopting a low-dialogue storytelling approach, this reflective tale of finding life and meaning in the small things marked a rare screenwriting credit for Vintner's Luck author Elizabeth Knox (collaborating with director Neil Pardington). It screened as part of Kiwi shorts showcase at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival.
In this documentary for TV One, director Aileen O'Sullivan turns the camera on three sets of mother/daughter artists, and asks whether art is in the genes. Interviewing each other about their creative lives are actor Kate Harcourt and actor/acting teacher Miranda Harcourt; weaver Erenora Puketapu-Hetet and weaver/painter Veranoa Hetet (née Hauwaho); and painter Jacqueline Fahey and performer/sculptor Augusta McDonald. Frank yet loving discussions abound, like when Hetet tells her mother "sometimes you come up with silly things".
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.
This sci-fi telefeature for kids follows the adventures of runaways Peter (Toby Laing) and Maggie (Toni Driscoll), who meet when Maggie’s attempt to get Picnic bars on a five finger discount go awry and "rich brat" Peter is on the lam on a 10-speed. After falling into a grave of golden light at a farm cemetery, they wake up in the house of the strange Piper family. Laing is now trumpeter for Fat Freddys Drop, and a young Kerry Fox appears briefly as a policewoman in the opening. Scripted by veteran Ken Catran, the telefeature was re-cut from a four-part series.
A road movie with a heart of gold, Mark II is "the Polynesian Easy Rider". Three teens (Nicholas Rogers, Mitchell Manuel, Faifua Amiga) head south from Auckland in a two-tone Mark II Zephyr, two of them blissfully unaware they're being pursued by a van-load of vengeful thugs. Along the way, they encounter the Mongrel Mob, who turn out to be quite helpful, and experience love, prejudice and jealousy from strangers. Written by Mike Walker and Manuel, it was TVNZ's first telefeature and is the third film in a loose trilogy (following Kingi's Story and Kingpin).
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.
Dunedin barrister Alf Hanlon’s first — and most famous — defence case was the first episode in this award-winning drama series about his career. In 1895, alleged baby farmer Minnie Dean was charged with murdering two infants in her care. Hanlon’s inspired manslaughter defence was undermined by the judge’s direction to the jury; and Dean became the only woman to be hanged in NZ. Hanlon vowed none of his future clients would ever suffer this fate. Emmy-nominated and a major critical success, the episode contributed to a re-evaluation of Dean’s conviction.
In director Gaylene Preston's genre-bending tale, Meg (Heather Bolton) buys a stylish old Jaguar so she can be more independent. While driving on a country road, she hears screams in the back – but there's no one there. In the excerpt above, she picks up a mysterious woman in the rain. Later she discovers that the woman was the car's previous owner, and she is missing. Now her killer might just be stalking Meg too. For their first, acclaimed feature, Preston and producer Robin Laing rented out local cinemas, conclusively proving that Mr Wrong had an audience.
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.
Hooks and Feelers tells the story of a painter haunted by an accident in which her son lost a hand. Written and directed by Melanie Rodriga, the 45-minute psychological drama explores guilt and reconciliation as the family adjusts to his disability. An adaptation of the short story by future Booker Prize-winner Keri Hulme, Hooks and Feelers starred jazz singer Bridgette Allen and Keith Aberdein (Smash Palace). It screened on TV in 1984. With producer Don Reynolds, Rodriga (then known as Melanie Read) would go on to make pioneering feminist thriller Trial Run (1984).
This pirates of the South Seas tale stars Tommy Lee Jones (Men in Black, The Fugitive) as rogue Bully Hayes, who helps a missionary save his kidnapped-by-savages wife. Produced by Kiwis Rob Whitehouse and Lloyd Phillips (12 Monkeys, Inglorious Basterds), the film was made in the 80s ‘tax-break’ feature surge and filmed in Fiji and New Zealand (with an NZ crew and supporting cast). John Hughes (Breakfast Club) and David Odell (Dark Crystal) scripted the old-fashioned swashbuckler from a Phillips story. It was released by Paramount in the US as Nate and Hayes.
This teleplay from writer Greg McGee is a satire of prejudice and the market economy set in the grey, divisive atmosphere of early 1980s New Zealand. Kate Harcourt plays the proprietor of Dot's Terminal Cafe, a cantankerous spinster who rails against 'bludgers' and 'foreigners'. One rain-soaked Wellington night, her lumpen clientele decide to stage a small but telling uprising — with the help of a dead mouse. It screened in early 1982, following the breakout success of McGee’s confrontational take on Kiwi conformity: rugby player losing-his-religion play Foreskin’s Lament.