Leanne Saunders’ eye for talent has resulted in producer credits on six features: box office hits Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Born to Dance, Nazi horror The Devil’s Rock, and dramas Desert, The Weight of Elephants and Christmas. She also executive produced a run of successful shorts. In 2016 Saunders was appointed Head of Production and Development at the NZ Film Commission.
Making a film on a low budget isn’t the problem — actually the big challenge is how you get it out to audiences. Leanne Saunders, in a 2009 interview with 95bFM’s Charlotte Ryan
Taika Waititi's fourth feature is the tale of a city kid and a grumpy uncle on the run. Raised on hip hop and state care, Ricky (Shopping's Julian Dennison) goes bush with his foster uncle (Sam Neill). The authorities are on their tail. In this excerpt, the pair get caught, and s**t gets real. Wilderpeople is based on Barry Crump book Wild Pork and Watercress. Keen to recapture the style of classic screen yarns like Came a Hot Friday, Waititi's aim was a funny, accessible adventure. The result won acclaim almost everywhere it went, and became New Zealand's biggest ever local hit.
Tu (real-life hip hop champ Tia Maipi) has six weeks to show the talent that will win him a spot in an international dance group. As the high octane trailer for Born to Dance makes clear, that doesn’t leave much time to muck around. The first movie directed by actor Tammy Davis (Outrageous Fortune) features music by P-Money, and choreography by Manurewa’s own world champ hip hop sensation Parris Goebel (who helped choreograph J. Lo’s 2012 tour). The cast includes Stan Walker and American Kherington Payne (Fame). Playwright Hone Kouka is one of the writing team.
Filmed in New Zealand’s deep south, this feature follows the vicissitudes of Adrian: a sensitive 11-year old haunted by the disappearance of three local children, who befriends mysterious new-in-town Nicole. The adaptation of Sonya Hartnett’s coming of age novel Of A Boy, is the feature debut of Denmark-based Dunedin-born director Daniel Joseph Borgman, following on from his lauded shorts Berik, and Lars and Peter. The creative team behind the 'informal' Danish-NZ co-production included frequent collaborators of directors Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg.
June 1944. On a sabotage mission shortly before D-Day, a Kiwi Commando (Outrageous Fortune’s Craig Hall) sneaks into a German bunker on the Channel Islands. Inside he finds an SS officer who is an expert in the occult (Out of the Blue’s Matt Sunderland), much blood, and a mysterious lone woman who may not be what she seems. Shot in Wellington, the feature debut of effects man Paul Campion ratchets up the tension in the claustrophobic setting. The makeup effects — horned demons, bullet wounds and gore — are led by Weta veteran Sean Foote.
Blue tells the story of a fallen kids’ television mascot, reduced to working as a waiter in an Asian restaurant. Blue keeps his happy face on as he serves customers food; occasionally he's recognised from his screen fame days, but mostly he's ignored. Then one day bad news arrives. The urban alienation themed film was named Best Short in the Critics' Week section of the Cannes Film Festival, after just 10 films were selected from 1250 entries. Korean-born Stephen Kang moved to New Zealand in 1993; his digital feature Desert was released in Kiwi theatres in 2011.
Actor Madeleine Sami transforms into five very different Aucklanders in this Taika Waititi directed comedy series. Cheerleader Pasha is desperate to hang on to her youth; Linda tries too hard with her middle-aged clique; Azeem the Iranian taxi driver is obsessed with Māori culture; homeless Georgie makes a shock discovery, and gym instructor Jo secretly loves a female colleague. Rachel House, Rose McIver and Antonia Prebble appear in this series opener. Super City creator Sami (The Breaker Upperers) co-wrote the scripts, and won an Aotearoa award for Best Actress.
Gary Cradle (Gareth Reeves) wants to go straight, but has to face up to a drug habit, family dysfunction, and the burden of guilt over a past sin. Gregory King's redemptive recovery yarn debuted at the Rotterdam Film Festival. King's second feature won Qantas Film and TV Awards for the best film made for under $1 million, and Ginny Loane's camerawork. Actors Reeves and Ian Mune (playing his far from supportive father) were also nominated. In February 2009 the film gained media attention after being made available to watch free online, for 24 hours.
From the duo (Matt Heath and Chris Strapp) behind bad taste TV series Back of the Y, this feature follows Randy Cambell's rocket car driven mission to be "NZ’s greatest living stuntman". Gross and petrol-fuelled palaver ensues en route to a date with speedway destiny, as Cambell romances a one-legged female Evil Knievel, and fights a not-so-death defying family curse. Scott Weinberg (Cinematical) praised this low budget "cross between The Road Warrior, Mad Magazine and Jackass" as "loud, raucous and adorably stupid" when it premiered at US fest SXSW 2007.
A girl is murdered and her body dumped in the forest. Nature's Way is a short film that explores the mind of a murderer who thinks he's gotten away with it. In Jane Shearer's haunting Cannes-nominated film, the dense native bush acts as witness to what the killer has done. In the absence of dialogue, Matthew (Out of the Blue) Sunderland's paranoid protagonist, sublime cinematography by award-winner Andrew Commis (The Rehearsal, Beautiful Kate) and an eerie, spare soundtrack by Rachel Shearer evoke the themes of utu at the suburban fringe.
Tis the season to be toxic in this "distinctly Kiwi take on the f***ed up whanau" (Chris Knox, Real Groove). Broke, depressed oldest son Keri arrives home to face up to a suburban Christmas countdown and two messed up sisters, a gay brother, drunk kids, and narcoleptic parents. Director Gregory King wrests bleak comedy and holiday horrors from the tokes, tinsel and frequent toilet visits. The raw realism of his debut feature saw it selected for Toronto, Locarno, Edinburgh, and Melbourne festivals. It won best digital film and script at the 2003 NZ Film Awards.
Set in Antarctica (and partly shot there), the science fiction tale sees a researcher (Crawford Thomson) dealing with unsettling events — traumatic personal news, isolation, disquieting “anomalous electrical readings”, and warping time. As newsreader John Campbell says in an intercepted transmission: “the speed of light is changing. Well, what does that mean?”. The title is from Hone Tuwhare’s anti-nuclear themed poem of the same name, but the film was inspired by Pat Rushin short story Speed of Light. It was an official selection at Edinburgh Film Festival.
Procrastination and denial taken to absurd lengths hammer home a point about global warming in this technically ambitious black comedy. A family living in a gully are too wrapped up in their own worlds to heed impending doom. Daughter Mary (seven-year-old Paige Shand-Haami) is the only one who sees the future. Water was shot over 14 days — with cast and crew spending 10 of them waist deep in water — on a set in a Wellington swimming pool. It was directed by Chris Graham, and partly funded from a SPADA Young Filmmaker Award won by producer Karl Zohrab.
A group of skylarking young boys are out canvassing the neighbourhood at the same time as an elderly woman is losing the will to live. An unlocked front door presents an opportunity for the youths to rampage, unaware that anyone is home. The different energies of youth and old age are set on a collision course for tragedy in this confronting short film from writer-director Gregory King. Junk won gongs at the 2001 NZ Film Awards for best short and for John Chrisstoffels' cinematography. King has gone on to make features Christmas (2004) and A Song of Good (2008).
This black comedy sees Kiwi blokes Barry (Tim Gordon) and Kev (Jason Hoyte) set off into the sunrise for a day’s fishing. The ‘men alone’ glories of Godzone in a runabout are disrupted when they discover their attitudes towards domestic violence and sexuality are at odds. Director Adam Stevens adapted the story from a scene in Atrocities, a play written by Hoyte and Jonathon Brugh (aka Sugar and Spice). In 2001 Beautiful went to the New York, Melbourne and Montreal film festivals, before screening at Sundance; it won Best Short Film at the 2003 NZ Film Awards.
Steve Ayson’s supernatural short puts a twist on ‘domestic violence’ as a DIY home renovator fits a set of second-hand french doors to his doer-upper. He discovers that light isn’t all they let in. French Doors won selection to Melbourne and Clermont Ferrand festivals and sold to UK’s Channel 4 and France’s Canal Plus. At Locarno in 2002, Ayson won a ‘Leopard of Tomorrow’ prize, in a year the festival spotlit down-under films. Ayson has gone on to build a global career as a commercials director (including local classics Ghost Chips, and Lotto’s Lucky Dog).
In the debut feature from writer/director Scott Reynolds, serial killer Simon (Paolo Rotondo) has been locked up for the last five years, and is being interviewed by psychologist Karen Schumaker (Rebecca Hobbs). Narrated flashbacks reveal Simon's past, the demons and bad treatment in his present, and the potential for more killing. The Ugly won rave reviews, awards at fantasy festivals in Italy and Portugal, and over 30 international sales: Variety called the film "a tricky, stylish horror", praising it's suspense, visuals, and casting. The Listener's Philip Matthews found it "genuinely creepy".