Mark Albiston has won a reputation both for innovative shows about the arts, and globe-trotting films about childhood.
Albiston grew up in Raumati Beach, where he "learnt to dream". In 2000 he set up company Sticky Pictures with his wife, lawyer Amy Bardsley. The hope was "to direct a wide variety of projects and not be pigeonholed". Sticky made extreme sports shows, arts-based documentaries, short films, music videos and commercials.
In 2002 Albiston launched the first series of The Living Room (2002 - 2006), which brought new life to the sometimes fusty world of Kiwi arts television. Focused on celebrating creative people, the multi award-winning series delved into their art practices and lifestyles. Albiston worked on the show in a variety of roles over three seasons, from directing (for which he won three awards) to shooting, editing and producing.
Wanting to break away from the tradition of the armchair studio interview, Albiston saw the show as a collaboration with artists, where each artist told their own story, and presented episodes from their actual living room. The Living Room's presenters ranged from The Black Seeds to comedians The Naked Samoans. The show also featured early appearances from Taika Waititi and Flight of the Conchords.
Follow-up show The Gravy began the first of 52 episodes in 2007. The following year it was awarded Best Information Lifestyle/Magazine Programme at the Qantas Film and Television Awards. Each episode tended to feature three stories, while every fourth episode was dedicated to a single subject. Conceived as “a show about creative people made by creative people, both in front of the camera and behind”, it again featured presenters who were practising artists.
Albiston's history with actor/director Louis Sutherland dates back to primary school on the Kapiti Coast in the 70s. A couple of decades later they began working together at cable station Kapiti Television, following an unusual meeting. Albiston was working at a local wood treatment plant when Sutherland turned up to do a story, about the plant's runoff poisoning a local stream. Albiston had earlier dropped out of a film course at Ilam, and long dreamed of becoming a photographer or a painter. Sutherland helped him get a job at the station. Both are thankful for the experience of having to rush to complete stories on a shoestring budget.
After Albiston returned from a stint in London, the two co-wrote 2004 short film Dead End. Invited to festivals in Sydney and Spain, this imaginatively-lensed funeral tale showcased 26 acting students from drama school Toi Whakaari.
In 2007 the two collaborated on short film Run, from a script by Sutherland. The film told of a Samoan brother and sister struggling with an over-protective father (with Sutherland playing the father). Run showed their ability to win strong performances from young, often untried actors. Selected to compete for best short film at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival in France, Run received a special mention from the jury. Picked as the opening film for the French Cesar short film festival, a selection of the world's best shorts that year, it went on to win awards (including NZ Screen Awards for best short and best screenplay) and play at numerous festivals worldwide.
At Cannes in 2009, Albiston and Louis Sutherland were awarded a special distinction — this time for their short film The Six Dollar Fifty Man, the story of a boy compelled to emerge from his make believe world after being bullied. Like Run, it drew on their shared upbringing (this time the moment when Albiston got chased around his primary school by two fellow students, after refusing to report to the headmaster's office). Albiston argues that making films inspired by one's childhood offers the chance "to revisit those moments and be the person that you weren't" — in this case, "the kid that stands up and makes the difference."
The Six Dollar Fifty Man was a breakout hit on the festival circuit; its impressive tally of awards included Best International Short at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, a special mention in its section at Berlin, three gongs at the 2009 Qantas Film and Television Awards — including Best Short — and top prize at the 2010 Flickerfest festival in Australia. It also made the 10-strong long-list for the Academy Awards, but ultimately missed out on the final five.
In April 2012 Albiston and Sutherland directed their debut feature, largely on the Kapiti Coast. Shopping follows two brothers; one (played by Julian Dennison) gets left behind after the other (Kevin Paulo) gets caught up in shoplifting. The directors talk about the film in this video interview. NZ Herald critic Russell Baillie praised the "period-perfect" 80s setting and "poignantly-funny" depiction of brotherhood, calling it an affecting and memorable coming of age story. In another four star review, Sunday Star-Times writer Sarah Watts praised the "extraordinary performances" of the young cast, and found it "a worthy new addition in our cinematic history book".
Shopping debuted in early 2013 at Sundance. It was one of 119 films accepted into the festival, out of more than 4000 entries. At the Berlin festival the following month, it won the Grand Prix for the best feature in its section, Generation 14plus International. It went on to take away six Moa NZ Film Awards, including Best Film, Director, Screenplay, and for actor Dennison (Hunt for the Wilderpeople).
In 2019 Albiston's 42-minute documentary Billy and the Kids — about champion boxer Billy Graham's mentoring work with troubled youth — featured in the NZ International Film Festival. The film was born after Albiston witnessed one troubled teenager begin to unfold within minutes of arriving at one of Graham's boxing academies.
Albiston's solo work also includes feature-length TV documentary Blakey, about sailor Peter Blake. His Artsville documentary about artist Tanya Thompson (aka Misery) won the 2006 Qantas NZ Television Award for arts/festival documentary. Albiston directed two films for the Blood Earth & Fire exhibition at Te Papa, co-directed War of the Words with James Anderson (about spelling bees), and was a key figure in award-winning coverage of X-Air extreme sports events (for Sky, TV3 and C4).
His music video output includes clips for Little Bushman's 'Mary', The Fanatics' 'Models', and Shihad track 'All the Young Fascists' (featuring a memorable praying mantis). Since 2010, he has also been stacking up awards for his work directing commercials, which has seen him working everywhere from New York to Germany and the Ukraine.
Profile updated on 17 July 2019
'Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland: from Kapiti to Cannes...' (Video Interview) Director lan Pryor. NZ On Screen website. Loaded 5 June 2013. Accessed 17 July 2019
Billy and the Kids website and press kit. Accessed 17 July 2019
Russell Baillie, 'Movie review: Shopping' - The NZ Herald, 30 May 2013
Cass Hesom-Williams, 'TBI Q&A: Mark Albiston' (Interview) The Big Idea website. Loaded 6 June 2007. Accessed 17 July 2019
James Robinson, 'Shopping for Success' (Interview with Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland) - The Dominion Post (Your Weekend pullout), 2 February 2013, page 8
Sarah Watts, 'Period piece coasts into the heart' (Review of Shopping) - The Sunday Star-Times, 26 May 2013
'Interview: Run away success' (Interview with Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland) - Onfilm, May 2007, page 22 (Volume 24, No 5)
Unknown Writer, 'Margaritas not Meetings' (Interview with Louis Sutherland and Mark Albiston) - Take magazine, Winter 2009 (Issue 55) page 3
Unknown writer, 'On set with Six Dollar Fifty Man' - Onfilm, September 2008, page 15
Unknown writer, 'Pre-production starts on debut feature from Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland' (broken link). Onfilm website. Loaded 9 March 2012. Accessed 8 May 2012