Larry Parr is a longtime mover and shaker in Aotearoa's screen industry, a man whose career has ridden the booms and busts of the business. For a period in the mid 1980s he was one of the most prolific producers New Zealand had yet seen, with a roster that ranged from acclaimed drama Constance to teen movie Queen City Rocker. Parr has also been a director and TV executive, and helped bring landmark Māori anthology series E Tipu e Rea to the screen. Along the way he has given a leg up to a new generation of talent, including producers Finola Dwyer and Ainsley Gardiner.
Parr's long career in the film industry started in the early 70s while he was working at finance company Broadbank, following three years in the legal department of film exhibition company Kerridge Odeon. When an approach for funding was made to Broadbank by an aspiring filmmaker, managing director Don Brash referred the matter to Parr, as the company's ‘film guy'.
As a result, Broadbank went on to help finance Kiwi cinematic landmark Sleeping Dogs; Parr was named associate producer. As the film's budget stretched on over the original figure of $300,000, Parr recalls being far from the favourite person in the Broadbank office. A 1978 trip to the Cannes Film Festival convinced him that film was what he should be doing. He left Broadbank the following year at the age of 26, to become an independent producer.
Parr maintained a close working relationship with Sleeping Dogs director Roger Donaldson. When the director moved to Los Angeles after Smash Palace (which Parr associate produced), he decided to remain in New Zealand.
By the early 80s Parr had lined up a number of feature projects, and spoke of creating a roster of Kiwi acting stars. Parr's company Mirage had big ambitions, which encompassed films, record label Pagan Records, a video label (in conjunction with Kerridge Odeon Amalgamated) ass well as plans to move into film exhibition — the company purchased Charley Gray's cinema in Auckland. Parr talked about Mirage in this 1985 Kaleidoscope interview, and was interviewed at Cannes for this Kaleidoscope piece the following year.
When the government changed the rules around tax concessions, the pressure was on to get these films completed before the loophole was closed. One of the Parr films that squeaked in was Ian Mune's classic Came a Hot Friday, which won the GOFTA award for Best Film in 1985. Parr's own directorial debut came the same year, with culture clash tale The Makutu on Mrs Jones. The half-hour comedy was based on a Witi Ihimaera short story.
As a result of the tax changes, the period that followed was a relatively quiet time for the New Zealand film industry. The economic meltdown in 1987 — the same year Mirage listed on the New Zealand stock exchange — made matters even worse. Parr's big screen directorial debut A Soldier's Tale was a direct casualty. The French co-producers pulled out, and the American distributor was declared bankrupt, forcing Mirage into receivership.
A Soldier's Tale marked a rare time that a New Zealand-originated feature film had been largely made beyond Aotearoa. Filmed in France, the cast of this World War II love story included rising Irish actor Gabriel Byrne, French actress Marianne Basler (Va Savoir) and American Judge Reinhold (Beverly Hills Cop).
Following on from this tumultuous time was anthology TV series, E Tipu e Rea (1989). Parr produced, chose the stories, and found directors. This was a groundbreaking project, as almost everyone involved was Māori. Many of the cast and crew went on to careers in the industry, including director Lee Tamahori, writer Riwia Brown, and actor Blair Strang.
In 1992 Parr was appointed director of production for Television New Zealand at Avalon. He remained there 12 months, before resuming his producing career with a series of low budget films made through his new company Kahukura Productions. One of the first Kakukura titles to emerge was Vanessa Alexander's quirky Magik and Rose, which Parr described as one of his most enjoyable producing experiences to date.
In 2002, Kahukura went bankrupt in a blaze of publicity, owing its creditors $1.5 million. Parr had four films in various states of production at the time, as well as a television series. One of them was his second feature as a director, ensemble piece Fracture, which he described as a story about "the fracture of families". Parr adapted the script from Maurice Gee novel Crime Story. When it was finally released in 2004, Christchurch's Press called the result "a competent, confident and complex drama worthy of a place in New Zealand's cache of Cinema of Unease". Parr's other directing work includes an episode of Ray Bradbury Theatre, and a number of documentaries.
The Kahukura collapse was blamed on a mystery investor pulling out of ill-fated television series Love Bites. In an attempt to save the series, money was pulled from the budgets of the film projects, causing the pack of cards to come crashing down. Since then, the Film Commission has required that separate shelf companies are set in place for individual films.
In 2005, a new phase began for Parr, with his appointment as head of programming at the newly formed Māori Television. A milestone during this time was the award-winning 2006 documentary Anzac Day, which Parr believes secured the place of Māori Television in the New Zealand broadcasting landscape.
In November 2008, Larry Parr left the channel to start as television manager at Te Māngai Pāho, an organisation set up to fund Māori radio and television programmes. He became Chief Executive of the organisation in October 2016.
In 2018 Parr was named as an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for his work in film and television.
Updated on 5 June 2018
James Croot, Review of Fracture - The Press, 11 September 2004
Writer unknown, 'Kahukura Productions Fracture to premier at last' (Interview) - Capital Times, 31 March 2004
'Kaleidoscope - Larry Parr' (Television Programme) Director Greg Rood. Television New Zealand, 1985
Unknown writer, 'Video firm puts Kiwi films first' - The Sunday Star, 26 June 1987, page B10
The Making of Sleeping Dogs (Documentary) Director John Reid