Lani Tupu, sometimes credited as Larney Tupu or Lani John Tupu, is the first Samoan to have starred in a Kiwi television series; in 1985 he segued from theatre onto the screen, to play doctor David Miller on period TV drama Country GP. The New Zealand-raised Samoan then relocated to Australia, where his many screen roles include Lantana, sci fi success Farscape, and a TV reboot of Mission Impossible.
I think we’ve got a wealth of actors and actresses in this country who are world-class. People like Michael Hurst, Sarah Peirse, Philip Holder, Roy Billing, Judy Gibson. Lani Tupu, in 1984
Tala Pasifika was a Pasifika drama series which grew from workshops aimed at upskilling Pasifika screen talents. The first six teleplays debuted on TV One in 1996 as part of magazine show Tagata Pasifika. Two more screened in their own slots in 1999. Instigated by Stephen Stehlin and Pomau Papali'i, Tala Pasifika was the first drama series to showcase Samoan culture. Don Selwyn and Ruth Kaupua were brought on to produce. Among those supporting the workshops or the resulting series were NZ On Air, the NZ Film Commission, Creative NZ and Justine Simei-Barton's Pacific Theatre.
Swimming Lessons is the story of jaded swimming coach Jim Sadler (Marshall Napier, from Came a Hot Friday and Bellbird) and a spirited seven-year-old delinquent (Sam Masina). The troubled Samoan boy is a potential champion, but the challenges of training him force the coach to confront his own failings in life: one as seemingly straight as the pool's lane line. Directed by Steve La Hood (documentary Numero Bruno), the TV movie won two NZ Television Awards, for actors Masina and Catherine Wilkin. It screened in the Montana Sunday Theatre slot.
Tala Pasifika was a pioneering Pacific Island drama series; this award-winning episode is one of six films that screened on TV One in 1996. 'Talk of the Town' is an entertaining short drama about Cindy (Henry Ah-Foo Taripo), a fa'afafine who has grown up to become a cabaret performer. She breaks the fourth wall from her dressing room to tell her story, which begins in her youth when her father (Alvin Fitisemanu) is impressed by her culinary skills and assigns her to the role of family cook.
Marlin Bay was a drama series following the comings and goings of a far-north resort and casino. Andy Anderson, Ilona Rogers, Don Selwyn, Pete Smith, Katie Wolfe and others made up the cast of earthy locals, wealthy foreigners, and city weekenders. Created by writer Greg McGee, Marlin Bay was one of the first primetime drama series from South Pacific Pictures. Kevin Smith received a 1995 Best Supporting Actor nod for his role as villain Paul Cosic.
The Country GP (Lani Tupu) takes a back seat in an episode set in the first week of 1950, which centres around the arrival in Mason’s Valley of the parents of local teacher Tim Bryant (Duncan Smith). The discovery that Tim’s father Sid (played by Vigil scriptwriter Graeme Tetley) is a unionist and paid up member of the Communist Party shatters the township’s apparently relaxed way of life. Sid has come to warn his son of difficult times ahead that could see him back in prison, but his presence inflames some of the locals and leads to a questioning of the true meaning of freedom.
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.
Part one of a four part thriller written by Keith Aberdein. In a small North Island town, a mysterious unmarked grave is believed to hold the remains of a tohunga who died ridding his people of a deadly epidemic. Now, an archaeological dig might be getting too close to that grave. A visiting doctor (Cathy Downes) arrives in town to find the locals in a state of agitation; the archaelogist (Martyn Sanderson) full of good intentions, but unaware of where his actions could lead; and relations between Māori and Pakeha strained as two cultures struggle to co-exist.