In 2008 Matthew Sunderland won a Qantas Best Actor award for portraying gunman David Gray in Robert Sarkies' feature Out of the Blue. His performance was variously praised as “sympathetic”, “unnerving” and “stunningly essayed”. The Toi Whakaari graduate's credits also include a cliff-hanging turn as a gang member on Shortland Street, the mysterious rider in apocalyptic tale Existence, a German colonel in horror movie The Devil's Rock, and another award-nominated turn in 2006 short film Nature’s Way. He starred as the hero in 2005 conspiracy feature Stringer. In 2012 he wrote and directed short film Tuffy.
As an actor you can’t judge a character, and to me, people are shades of grey, there are no absolutes. Matthew Sunderland
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.
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.”
This ‘salvagepunk’ film is set in a desolate future where wind turbines power a vast electric fence that seemingly protects the survivors of environmental collapse, and keeps refugees out. A rare entry in the Kiwi sci-fi feature catalogue, Existence stars Loren Taylor (Eagle vs Shark) as Freya, a mother who dreams of the world beyond, and Matthew Sunderland (Out of the Blue) as a mysterious boundary rider. From a SWANZ award-winning script, the low budget film was shot on Wellington’s rugged south coast hills. It marked the feature debut of director Juliet Bergh.
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.
New Zealand, 1903. A veteran of the Boer War (Sexy Beast’s Ray Winstone) is hired to hunt a Māori seaman (Temuera Morrison), who has been framed for murder. So begins a cat and mouse chase where pole position keeps changing, and the South African is pressed to open up about his past. Directed by Brit Ian Sharp (Mrs Caldicot’s Cabbage War) and scripted by Dutch-born emigre Nicolas van Pallandt — who died before it got to the screen —Tracker was one of the last productions to win cash from the UK Film Council. The extras include interviews with both lead actors.
Matthew Sunderland (Out of the Blue) plays the sole survivor of an unexplained cataclysmic event. Roaming bloody and dazed amongst a polar landscape — pocked with beached container ships — he experiences a moment of sky-splitting Ballardian beauty. A rare sci-fi Kiwi short film, Vostok Station was directed by Dylan Pharazyn, and filmed on Mt Ruapehu, with convincingly-rendered effects added in post-production. The film was selected for Sundance (where it was nominated for a ‘New Frontier’ award), Valladolid (Spain) and onedotzero (London) film festivals.
In Poppy two Kiwi soldiers discover a baby in a muddy WWI trench. For Paddy it will lead to redemption amidst the hell of war. From a David Coyle script — based on his great-grandfather’s war story — Poppy was another successful computer-animation collaboration between producer Paul Swadel and director James Cunningham (Infection, Delf). CGI evokes a bleak Western Front landscape on which the (motion-captured) human drama unfolds. Cunningham spent over 4500 hours making Poppy; the result was acclaim at Siggraph, and invites to Telluride and SXSW festivals.
Released in Kiwi cinemas in mid 2009, The Strength of Water marked the big screen debut of Māori playwright Briar Grace-Smith and Pākehā director Armagan Ballantyne. The drama centres on a 10-year-old twin brother and sister living in an isolated part of the Hokianga, and the events that follow when they encounter a young stranger. The Kiwi-German co-production was invited to film festivals in Berlin and Sydney, after debuting in Rotterdam. The extras include interviews with Grace-Smith and the four main cast members, plus making of footage.
Maurice Gee's classic novel about aliens running amok under Auckland has rarely gone out of print, since its debut in 1979. First adapted as a memorable 80s TV series, this movie retooling sees teenage twins Theo and Rachel stumbling across shape-shifting creatures that are hiding beneath Auckland's extinct volcanoes. American showbiz magazine Variety praised Black Sheep director Jonathan King's "solid helming", and the excellent acting of Sam Neill as the mysterious Mr Jones. Oliver Driver plays lead villain Mr Wilberforce, under four hours of make-up.
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.
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.
In November 1990 misfit loner David Gray (played by Matthew Sunderland) killed 13 of his neighbours in the seaside town of Aramoana, near Dunedin. His rampage lasted 22 hours before he was gunned down by police. Out of the Blue is a dramatised re-enactment of these traumatic events. Directed by Rob Sarkies and co-written with Graeme Tetley, this gut-wrenching film did respectable box office and was lauded at 2008's Qantas Film and TV Awards, winning most feature categories, including best film and screenplay. Warning: excerpt contains realistic gun violence.
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.
Innocent Gert, who works in a rubbish dump, can't believe his luck when he's ordered by his boss to take his beautiful mute daughter, Princess Plum, to meet her prospective husband. The two set off on a mythical quest through a fairytale Far North landscape. On the way they encounter freaks and monsters, and experience danger and romance. In an unusual reversal, the voices and music for Woodenhead were all recorded before filming. This surreal second feature from Elam art school grad Florian Habicht took Aotearoa to the arthouse with unprecedented weirdness and wonder.
This film is an account of a 13-year-old boy's shoplifting escapade. It is narrated by a teen voice (Madeleine Sami) while adult actors act out the drama as kids. What starts out as teen shenanigans (a porn stash is accrued with the five-finger discount) turns unsettling as a beating is doled out by Dad as punishment. The contrast between the naive voice and what is seen on screen - shot in hand-held close ups - is grimly memorable. An early short from Gregory King, this disquieting tale of domestic abuse was selected for NZ and Melbourne Film Festivals.
Director Peter Salmon's sci-fi short is set in a dystopian future where citizens spend most of their lives in virtual reality to escape the bleak Blade Runner-like offline world. Grace (Sara Wiseman, in a NZ Film Award-winning performance) is a lonely programmer looking for cyberspace love via Angelife: a fantasy-fulfillment site with "five billion connections worldwide". Disenchanted with her Adam (Rupert Cocks), her desire for real world connection, plus a chance meeting, push her into a dangerous underworld. Ray Woolf cameos as a winged Angelife agent.
Actor-turned-director Gregory King's debut short offers an experimental twist on the "fly on the wall" film. Here a handheld camera becomes the fly and the connection between three groups of modern city dwellers: an Asian family and the Auckland they encounter via airport, taxi, and hotel; a whacked-out man and a boy toying with each other in a dilapidated squat; and a party of drag queens in a high rise apartment (heels, snow and sequins). Pop won an 'Outstanding Achievement in Video Production' award at the Melbourne International Film Festival.
This stylishly high camp melodrama from directors Stewart Main and Peter Wells won acclaim, after debuting at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival. In the imaginary 19th-century town of Hope, draper Dorothea Brooks (Jennifer Ward-Lealand) is desperate to save her sister from the clutches of opium, sex and the dastardly Fraser. She begs hunky migrant Lawrence Hayes to help; but complications ensue. Inspired partly by 1930s and 40s Hollywood melodramas, Desperate Remedies was sumptously shot by Leon Narbey (Whale Rider). Richard King writes about the film here.
Shortland Street is a fast-paced serial drama set in an inner city Auckland hospital. The long-running South Pacific Pictures production is based around the births, deaths and marriages of the hospital's staff and patients. It screens on TVNZ’s TV2 network five days a week. In 2017 the show was set to celebrate its 25th anniversary, making it New Zealand’s longest running drama by far. Characters and lines from the show have entered the culture — starting with “you’re not in Guatemala now, Dr Ropata!” in the very first episode. Mihi Murray writes about Shortland Street here.