Margot Francis has extensive experience as an editor, both in New Zealand and the United States. Television highlights include Outrageous Fortune and Saturday Night Live. She also worked on Bette Midler TV movie The Mondo Beyondo Show and Billy T: Te Movie. She won an Emmy Award for a documentary on Broadway musical Sarafina: Words of Freedom! In 2012 she was nominated twice in the same category of the NZ Television Awards; she won for Katherine Mansfield biopic Bliss. Later she was nominated for archive series Decades in Colour. Francis is married to US-born producer Steve Sachs.
Margot would come up with stuff I would never have dreamed of, but I see it and I would go "you're ahead of me". Ian Mune, director of 2011 documentary Billy T: Te Movie, in an 18 August 2011 interview with Flicks
Director Vea Mafile'o's Tongan father Saia drives this deeply personal film. Vea raises thorny questions about the relationship between money and the church in Tongan culture, questions that caused her Kiwi/Tongan family pain. Pensioner Saia Mafile'o's dedication to raising large amounts of money for Misinale (an annual church celebration) upset his children and splintered his marriage. Mafile'o returns to Tonga with her father and siblings, to attend the Misinale and learn why the financial sacrifice matters to him. The documentary debuted at the 2019 Berlin Film Festival.
This feature documentary from director Pietra Brettkelly (A Flickering Truth) follows Chinese fashion designer Guo Pei as she aims to join the exclusive world of Paris’s Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture. Brettkelly traces the designer’s Cinderella story from Mao’s China to Paris fashion shows and the Met Gala fundraiser event in New York, beginning with pop star Rihanna modelling a 27kg canary yellow gown in 2015. Yellow is Forbidden was selected for the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival (the first Kiwi film to screen in its main competition) and the NZ International Film Festival.
Set in Auckland’s Indian community and partly inspired by Bollywood movies, rom-com Stars in Her Eyes is the third feature for director Athina Tsoulis (Jinx Sister). Leila Alexander stars as Anousha, who uses her astrology column to try to start a romance with a bank teller she admires. Also appearing are comedian Eli Matthewson as Anousha's not-so-helpful best friend, and Colin Mathura-Jeffree as her brother, an ex cricket star. The film was shot with the help of over 100 students from Unitec, where Tsoulis has worked in a number of roles, including teaching film direction.
The first series of Decades in Colour sourced home movies from over 800 New Zealanders, to look back at life from the 1950s to the 1970s. Presented by Judy Bailey, it screened on Prime. Mixing lost images and new interviews, three hour-long episodes each focussed on a different decade: from the post-war suburbia of the 50s, to rugby, racing and beer in the 60s, to emerging challenges to cultural norms in the 70s, as jet travel and TV broadened perspectives and a more independent national identity emerged. A second series debuted in October 2017, focussing on work, home and play.
Decades in Colour sourced home movies from more than 800 New Zealanders to paint a picture of New Zealand life, from "the inside out". Made by company Greenstone for Prime, each one-hour episode covered a decade from the 1950s to the 1970s, from post World War II recovery through to suburbia to cultural awakening. Presented by broadcaster Judy Bailey, the clips are narrated by the home moviemakers and their subjects. Bailey called it "a unique family history of the one family to which we all belong". A second series followed in October 2017.
When the Taliban attempted to destroy reels upon reels of historic Afghan film, a group of brave archivists hid the films away in a few dusty sheds in the middle of the desert. When German-based Afghani filmmaker Ibrahim Arafy returned to the Middle East to track down and restore the long hidden films, Kiwi filmmaker Pietra Brettkelly joined him, to tell the story of the archive's restoration under immensely trying conditions. Working with unskilled labourers amidst ongoing conflict, Arafy’s team do their best to save an integral part of their nation’s culture.
Described by co-star Neill Rea as the "little show that could", The Brokenwood Mysteries has screened in over 15 countries and and involved a long run of fictional murders. Each feature-length episode of this Prime TV crime drama is a standalone murder mystery, set in a small Kiwi town. Neill Rea (Scarfies) stars as veteran detective Mike Shepherd, who works alongside Detective Kristin Sims (played by Fern Sutherland from The Almighty Johnsons). Backing up the pair are Detective Sam Breen (Nic Sampson from Funny Girls) and Russian pathologist Gina Kadinsky (Cristina Ionda).
This TV3 drama series follows a troubled Auckland cop (Oscar Kightley). Solo parent to a teenage daughter following his wife’s suicide, Detective Sergeant Harry Anglesea is thrown into a murder investigation and an underworld of P and gang violence. Harry, not a stickler for the rules, marked a rare dramatic turn for Kightley. Sam Neill played his boss. Herald reviewer Paul Casserly called it a “great, gritty crime show”. Written by Kightley, director Chris Dudman and veteran South Auckland detective Neil Grimstone, Harry was notable for using unsubtitled Samoan in prime time.
This first episode of this 2013 crime drama begins with a meth-fuelled bank heist gone very wrong. Harry is a troubled Samoan-Kiwi detective (played by Oscar Kightley, a million miles away from bro' Town) pursuing justice in South Auckland. Sam Neill, in his first role on a Kiwi TV series, plays Harry’s detective buddy. Off the case, Harry struggles with his teen daughter in the wake of his wife’s suicide. The Chris Dudman-directed series screened for a season on TV3. Broadcaster John Campbell tweeted: “Not remotely suitable for kids. But nor are many excellent things.”
On 7 May 2009, police executing a search warrant in a Napier suburb were shot at by Jan Molenaar. Senior Constable Len Snee was killed, two officers and a neighbour injured; a 50 hour siege ensued. This adaptation of the events into a telefeature dominated the 2012 New Zealand Television Awards, winning Best One-off Drama, Script (John Banas), Performance (Mark Mitchinson as Molenaar), Supporting Actress (Miriama Smith), and Best Sound Design (Chris Burt). Hawke's Bay Today reviewer Roger Moroney said of the Mike Smith-directed drama: "They got it right".
Bliss is a portrait of the artist as a young woman. The award-winning telemovie follows Katherine Mansfield from boredom in Edwardian Wellington to liberation and love affairs in London, where she dares to dream of being a writer. Kate Elliott plays Mansfield as a spirited 19-year-old, hungry for experience. Bliss screened to acclaim in TV One's Sunday Theatre slot in August 2011. Listener reviewer Fiona Rae praised director Fiona Samuel's "excellent" script, and for allowing "her Mansfield to be witty, passionate and outspoken without belabouring the status of women in 1908".
Following the big-screen success of Topp Twins documentary Untouchable Girls came another chronicle of a Kiwi entertainment legend: sometime Taranaki bandito, giggling newsreader and crooner Billy T James. The film uses remastered footage and an impressive cast of interviews to capture his path from cabaret singer to fame, fan clubs and eventual financial and bodily collapse. Te Movie director Ian Mune originally cast James in the classic Came a Hot Friday, as the Māori-Mexican Tainuia Kid; Te Movie co-producer Tom Parkinson played a hand in making Billy T a TV star.
In this sensitive short film written and directed by James Blick, a young boy (Ted Holmstead-Scott) breaks into an old man’s house in search of dirty magazines. The intrusion is just one more trial for the man (Grant Tilly), as he copes with loss and loneliness by clinging on to keepsakes and memories. He is eager for even a small measure of human contact — and the chance to do one last thing for his wife. For the boy there is an inkling of a world beyond his friend’s narrow experiences. The film was shot by Blick's father, cinematographer John Blick.
The Cult follows two groups: the members of a commune, who have renounced all contact with the outside world, and a loose-knit team of 'liberators', keen to reestablish contact with commune members they care about. The first prime time drama from Great Southern Film and Television won six of its 11 nominations at the 2010 Qantas Film and Television Awards — including for the acting of Lisa Chappell and Danielle Cormack (as a devious doctor). It was nominated for Best Drama. The moody 13-part thriller was created by Kathryn Burnett and Peter Cox.
In the 2000s mockumentary realism (led by The Office) was making its mark in television comedy. Series The Pretender gave Kiwi politics the embedded camera treatment, with expat comedian Bob Maclaren playing overconfident property developer-turned-MP Dennis Plant. The first episode of the second series sees Plant cause political chaos, with the launch of his Future New Zealand party. This season was nominated for three Qantas TV awards in 2009, including best comedy. The show was created by Peter Cox (Insider’s Guide to Happiness) and Great Southern TV’s Philip Smith.
A documentary about the fashion industry in Dunedin - a city that seems to turn out more than its fair share of fashion designers. Made for TVNZ’s Artsville strand, the doco features designers Margi Robertson (NOM*d), Tanya Carlson (Carlson), Veronica Keucke (Keucke) and Juliet Fay (Aduki). Prominent fashion journalist (turned author) Stacy Gregg talks about how Dunedin is the source of the "dark intellectualism of New Zealand fashion". The southern styles are set to a soundtrack of Flying Nun bands, and there are excerpts from some classic Nun clips.
This Kiwi neighbours at war ‘dramedy’ pitted the Rush family — newly arrived in Ponsonby —against the Shorts, who are long-time renters next door. Arthur Short (Patrick Wilson) is a Kiwi battler solo Dad, with two teenage daughters; Dimity Rush (Danielle Cormack) the right wing HR manager whose partner is an anaesthetist, with two teen sons. In this first episode, Dimity aspires to climb the property ladder by scheming to get the Shorts’ house as an investment doer-upper. The satire of gentrification screened on TV One on Friday nights. The cast includes Rose McIvor (iZombie).
During WWII the Post Office photographed letters, enabling mass mailing to soldiers via rolls of film. Post Office worker Ngaire (Yvette Reid) deals with mail for soldiers serving overseas. On this small, handsomely-framed canvas, writer-director Paolo Rotondo explores how war and distance affect relationships. Dead Letters makes a persuasive case that the memories preserved in words and film contain their own magic, even when that magic is tinged with sadness and death. It won best short screenplay at the 2006 New Zealand Screen Awards.
This first episode of NZ's most popular and critically acclaimed drama series revolves around Wolf West being sentenced to four years in prison — and his wife, Cheryl, deciding it's time for her and her children to get out of the "family business". Wolf and the local police are dubious. But even this early in proceedings, it would be foolish to underestimate Cheryl. Whether she can take her daughters (ditzy wannabe-model Pascalle and the cunning Loretta) and sons (yin and yang twins Van and Jethro) with her is another matter altogether. And so begins a dynasty.
This 2005 documentary tells the story of four New Zealand-born women whose parents come from villages in Samoa, Tonga and Niue. Social worker and photographer Emily Mafile'o, students and mothers Pule Puletaua and Lanni Liuvaie, and playwright Louise Tu’u face the challenges of combining two cultures to forge an identity in Aotearoa — from family, language, food and religion, to flatting and hair cutting rituals. As narrator Sandra Kailali says, "to be true to both is hard work: success in one often comes at a cost to the other."
Written by Helena Brooks and comedian Jaquie Brown, Nothing Special could be seen as a cautionary tale: it's good to love your son, but not so good to think he's Jesus reincarnate. How can Billy escape the crazed adoration of his doting Mum? By striving to be the most boring man he can be. Featuring an aptly quirky soundtrack (Blerta's 'Dance All Around The World') and a very funny performance by Alison Routledge as the quintessential overzealous Mum, Nothing Special was chosen for competition in the short film section at Cannes (2005).
After her husband is jailed, matriarch Cheryl West (Robyn Malcolm) decides the time has come to set her family on the straight and narrow. But can the Wests change old habits? So begins the six season saga of the Westie dynasty. Hugely popular (beloved by public, critics and awards givers alike), Outrageous Fortune was a flag-bearer for TV3 and New Zealand television drama. The series proved — in all its grow-your-own glory — that television in Aotearoa could mield comedy and drama, and be so much more than overseas stories pasted to a local setting.
The third feature from writer/director Harry Sinclair (The Price of Milk, Topless Women ...) is a fleet footed anti-romance about sex and infidelity. Love is a game for Ben (Dean O’Gorman), who cheats on girlfriend Emily with ease — until he falls head over heels with unpredictable vixen Chlo (Kate Elliott). When Emily confesses that she too has cheated, Ben self-righteously dumps her and runs to Chlo. But Chlo has a rule: she won’t date available men. To win her love, Ben must be unavailable. This excerpt features much bed hopping and 20-something mat-ters.
With its mix of quirky characters, lush scenery, and medical drama, Mercy Peak proved to be a winning formula. Produced by John Laing for South Pacific Pictures, and starring a host of NZ acting talent (Tim Balme, Jeffrey Thomas, Renato Bartolomei, et al), Mercy Peak follows the highs and lows of Dr Nicky Somerville (Sara Wiseman), who leaves the big city after discovering her partner’s infidelity. Taking up her new role at the hospital in the tiny town of Bassett, Nicky soon learns that life is full of complexities no matter the population.
Actor, writer and director Fiona Samuel explores the loss of virginity in her first documentary. Seven women — aged from 19 to 89 — talk frankly about their 'first time' and how it affected their lives. For some, it was a rite of passage for better or worse, but for others there have been life changing consequences. Expressive recreations provide texture for stories that are compelling but never voyeuristic. In a rare example of a conjugal screen one-two, Murray Keane, Samuel’s husband, explored the same topic with seven men for a companion piece in 2002.
This is the third documentary made about the remarkable life of Shelly West (Michelle Belesarius) who was crippled by rheumatoid arthritis as a child and blind since she was 20. After giving birth against medical odds, Shelley, and husband Dion, bring their new daughter Michela home; but they find parenting fraught with money worries and, for Shelly, the ongoing challenge of bonding with her daughter. To augment their finances, she writes a book and takes up public speaking — but a steadily weakening heart requires potentially life threatening surgery.
The Savages are a working class West Auckland family who like drinking, and living by their own rules. Savage Honeymoon is a celebration of their passion and leather pants - and a snapshot of a couple worried their children may not be as lucky as them. Mark Beesley’s debut feature won good reviews (The Herald praised its “self-confident swagger”) – and headlines, after being downgraded from an R18 to R15. The film pre-dated the Westie family of Outrageous Fortune - though Beesley then hated the Westies label, disliking the word’s negative connotations.
In the late 90s Kiwi treasures The Topp Twins (aka Lynda and Jools Topp) created their own TV series. Over three seasons it showcased their iconic cast of Kiwi characters and singing and yodelling talents. These excerpts from the second season feature a country and western saloon musical dream sequence (with fluffy pink slippers, feather boas and sharpshooters and car sharks in drag). Meanwhile Camp Mother and Ken Moller compete at the speedway in a bambina and a Hillman Hunter respectively.
This debut feature from director Niki Caro follows a Tokyo woman and her fiance who elope to New Zealand. A stunted beginning to their sexual relationship is overcome in a cave on an isolated West Coast beach. Shortly afterwards he drowns. She returns to a suffocating Tokyo before being drawn back to the cave. The restrained study of eroticism and grief was based on a short story by Peter Wells (itself inspired by a true story). Desire was selected for Critics' Week at Cannes (1998), and won best film at 1999's NZ Film Awards and a special jury prize for Caro.
When high-powered director of commercials Hugh Chance (Michael Hurst) visits a small backwater town, the 'for sale' sign on the local tavern offers too good a chance to overlook — especially with the chance to create a set of waterfront condos. But the locals don’t take too kindly to this intruder trying to turn their town into a holiday resort. Starring alongside Hurst in this 47 minute teleplay are Michael Galvin and Stephen Lovatt (Being Eve) as two fellow admen, while Meryl Main (Plain Tastes) features as local artist and cafe owner Jess, who earns both Chance’s ire and affections.
National treasures The Topp Twins (aka twins Lynda and Jools Topp) have performed as a country-music singing and yodelling comedy duo for more than 25 years. In the late 90s they created their own TV series which ran for three seasons and showcased their iconic cast of Kiwi characters, including Camp Mother, the Bowling Ladies and cross-dressing Ken and Ken. The series, travelling from a Highland Games to a Tauranga triathlon, won the twins - out-and-proud lesbians - several gongs at the NZ Film and TV Awards and screened on the ABC and Foxtel in Australia.
This short film follows the efforts of schoolgirl Nina to recover her red clogs, a cherished birthday gift from her Yugoslavian nana. Nina lost the shoes playing hopscotch at school; she follows muddy footprints to find the thieves, where a playground insult prompts her to question her identity. The story was inspired by first time filmmaker Annalise Patterson's own upbringing, where her family didn't acknowledge either its Māori or 'Dally' heritage. 'Dallies' largely came to New Zealand from the Dalmatian coast of Croatia (formerly a part of Yugoslavia).
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.
Heartland was a long-running series where, in each episode, affable presenter Gary McCormick explored a Kiwi community. Location and local legend are relayed as McCormick (or occasionally Annie Whittle, Maggie Barry, or Kerre McIvor) interacts with the natives, most famously, tiger slipper-shod Chloe of Wainuiomata. The popular, award-winning series, was inspired by a collaboration — Raglan by the Sea — between McCormick and director Bruce Morrison; it connected mostly-urban Kiwis with faraway corners of the country, and a homely sense of shared identity.