Australian-raised Melanie Rodriga (née Read) moved to New Zealand in 1977, and worked as an editor. After adapting Keri Hulme story Hooks and Feelers, she wrote and directed feminist thriller Trial Run in 1983. In 1988 Rodriga was a best director finalist for pioneering TV drama The Marching Girls. Rodriga now lectures in film at Perth’s Murdoch University and continues to make and develop films.
A lot of people would like to think [women’s films] can conveniently be put into one category, which is radical and inaccessible. But even ‘feminist’ films have a vast range. Melanie Rodriga, in a 1985 interview with Roger Horrocks
Growing up in one of New Zealand’s many convent schools before they were reordered by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, was an experience many found tough. This documentary explores the stories of the girls who endured the nuns’ strict rule, including interviews with Ginette McDonald, Moana Maniapoto and painter Jacqueline Fahey, plus some of the nuns themselves. They discuss discipline, education, their thoughts on becoming nuns and how despite all the rules, they wouldn’t have changed it for the world.
Luscious fruit, truckies, and Lucy Lawless feature in this Christine Parker short. Sal (Tania Simon) is gifted a peach and meets a saucy tow truck driver (Lawless) en route home to her toddler, and domestics with boyfriend Mog (Joel Tobeck). Mog’s truckie mates arrive for beers, including the nameless driver, whose presence (and peach-eating advice) stirs up desire. “Watch it rot, or taste it when it’s ripe.” A roster of leading NZ film talent worked with Parker on the film, and Lawless' turn hints at the cross-sexual appeal of her breakthrough role on Xena - Warrior Princess.
Four-part series Standing in the Sunshine charted the journey of Kiwi women over a century from September 1893, when New Zealand became the first country to grant women the right to vote in parliamentary elections. This third episode, directed by Melanie Rodriga, looks at women over a century of work — plus education, equal pay, family, art, and Māori life. Interviews are mixed with archive material – including a mid-80s 'girls can do anything' promotion – and reenactments of quotes by Kiwi feminist pioneers. Writer Sandra Coney also authored a tie-in book for the series.
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.
Great New Zealand River Journeys was a three part series produced by George Andrews that examined the history, geography and people of three of New Zealand's most iconic rivers: comedian Jon Gadsby explores the Clutha river, poet Sam Hunt the Whanganui, and musician Lynda Topp takes on the Waikato.
Originally conceived as a TV series, Gaylene Preston's comedy was a local hit, uplifting recession-era audiences with its tale of resourceful misfits. Ruby (Yvonne Lawley), an 83-year-old trying to dodge a retirement home, rents a room to Rata (Vanessa Rare in her screen debut) — a solo mum with sidelines in music and benefit fraud. Rata's son is into shoplifting, while Simon Barnett plays a hapless yuppie wannabe. Marginalised by the deregulated economy of the 80s and living on their wits, they may just find common cause despite themselves, in this tale from writer Graeme Tetley.
Created by Fiona Samuel, The Marching Girls follows a Taita social marching team who decide to have a crack at the North Island champs. In the first episode of this feminist-Flashdance-in-formation 80s classic, young whippersnapper Leonie tries to modernise the girls' routine by getting them to march to the heavy metal tunes of Ironlung ("they're really big in Australia!"). This proves too much for Mahara (Patupatu Ripley), who's got enough on her plate with her new role as hesitant union spokesperson for her fellow workers down at the factory.
Rosemary (Annie Whittle) is a photographer, mother and middle-distance runner. A project photographing the rare yellow-eyed penguin sends her to a remote Otago cottage. Despite menacing happenings, she refuses to be intimidated. Then events escalate, sending her running for help in the race of her life. Bird-watching, stranger danger and feminist film theory line up for a time trial in Melanie Read's first movie, for which 20 of the 29-strong production crew were women. Marathon champ Allison Roe — who trained Whittle off-screen — makes a brief cameo.
Auckland artist Richard Killeen is profiled in this 1983 episode of a series about notable painters and sculptors made for TVNZ. Killeen moved from realism in his early paintings to working with more abstract shapes. By the late 70s, he had abandoned canvas and frame altogether — cutting shapes out of aluminium and grouping them in works somewhere between painting and sculpture. Killeen talks about the evolution of his work, his process and inspirations, and the importance of his environment in suburban Epsom.
Dunedin-based painter Jeffrey Harris is profiled in this episode from an early 80s arts series made for TVNZ. Harris talks about his quest for intensity and impact; and how violence both attracts and repulses him. He also discusses two of his influences at the time — the surrounding landscape (particularly the wilds of Otago Peninsula and Seacliffe, and the older parts of Dunedin) and the photographs, ranging from family portraits to newspaper pictures, that provided the figures that populated his expressionistic works.
Sculptor (and Arts Foundation Icon) Greer Twiss is profiled in this episode of the early 80s series about notable artists, made for TVNZ. Twiss talks about his career and significant works, including the much loved Karangahape Rocks: an early, large scale bronze made at the limits of his ability at the time which twice caused him serious injury. His fascination with rendering functional everyday items — tools, wineglasses and rulers — as decorative sculptures is explored, along with his preference for working at home in the midst of his family life.
Sculptor Neil Dawson — who later created major public art works including The Chalice in Cathedral Square and Ferns in Wellington’s Civic Square — is profiled in this episode from an arts series made for TVNZ. Dawson is just as enthusiastic and engaged building a tree house for his son as he is preparing an exhibition of his work. These pieces are small and deceptively simple as they explore texture and optical illusion, but his larger ambitions are also roused by a space on Auckland’s Victoria Street.
Hooks and Feelers tells the story of a painter haunted by an accident in which her son lost a hand. Written and directed by Melanie Rodriga, the 45-minute psychological drama explores guilt and reconciliation as the family adjusts to his disability. An adaptation of the short story by future Booker Prize-winner Keri Hulme, Hooks and Feelers starred jazz singer Bridgette Allen and Keith Aberdein (Smash Palace). It screened on TV in 1984. With producer Don Reynolds, Rodriga (then known as Melanie Read) would go on to make pioneering feminist thriller Trial Run (1984).
“These three birds are over half the world population of their species.” Peter Hayden’s narration lays bare the stakes for the Chatham Island black robin, and the Wildlife Service team (led by Don Merton) trying to save them. Merton’s innovative methods include removing eggs from nests – to encourage the last two females to lay again – and placing them in riroriro (grey warbler) foster homes. The black robin documentaries helped forge the reputation of TVNZ's Natural History Unit. Paul Stanley Ward writes about the documentaries here, and the mission to save the black robin.
This Contact episode goes behind the scenes on a big budget commercial from the early days of the Kiwi film renaissance: a 1982 Crunchie bar ad which owes so much to Star Wars, the film crew even call their villain Darth. After 12 hour days working inside the Waitomo Caves, a move to Ninety Mile Beach sees the weather playing havoc with sets and schedules. Seeking fresh faces, commercials king Geoff Dixon (Crumpy and Scotty) cast his lead actors in Australia. Television adverts were even made to announce the arrival of the ad — which plays over the closing credits.
Working away in a paint-encrusted studio with Hendrix cranked up to 10, often going days without sleep, Philip Clairmont was the archetypal tortured expressionist. This 1981 TVNZ profile explores his chaotic bohemian abode in Mount Eden, a house populated by the found objects and abandoned furniture that would inspire his dense, hallucinatory images. At one point the camera fixes on a single lino print that reads "art is my life". One would eventually consume the other — three years after this was filmed, Clairmont committed suicide at the age of 34.
Tony Fomison, one of NZ’s leading painters, is profiled in this 1981 episode of a series about notable artists, made for TVNZ. Interviewed by Hamish Keith, Fomison is an engaging but diffident subject — describing his often dark, brooding works as “illustrations of dreams”, but also ascribing human emotions to them. His powerful attraction to Pacific cultures is explored; it culminated in this Pākehā son of a working-class Christchurch family getting a pe’a (the traditional Samoan body tattoo). Tony Fomison died in 1990.
This series from the early 1980s profiles prominent painters and sculptors (including Neil Dawson, Greer Twiss, Jeffrey Harris and Richard Killeen). It was made for TVNZ (in association with the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council) by Bruce Morrison and used art critic and historian Hamish Keith as a technical advisor. Morrison’s camera captures the artists at work and reviewing their careers and notable works, and he allows them to tell their stories entirely in their own words without the presence of onscreen interviewer or voiceover commentary.
TVNZ’s Natural History Film Unit was founded in Dunedin around 1977. The first Wild South documentaries began filming a year later. The slot's initial focus was on New Zealand’s perilously endangered birds, eg the Chatham Island black robin (then the world’s rarest bird). The results won local and international notice, and a loyal audience. Wildtrack was a sister series showcasing natural history for young viewers. Wild South ended in 1997 when the Natural History Unit was purchased by Fox Studios; it later became internationally successful production company NHNZ.
The remote Antipodes Islands lie 860 kilometres southeast of Stewart Island. This 1980 documentary follows a Wildlife Service team surveying the islands’ inhabitants who are making all the strange noises – fur seals, albatrosses, petrels, parakeets and snipe, elephant seals and prolific penguins. It also investigates threats to their survival: mice and overfishing in the southern ocean. Winner of a Silver Medal at New York's International Film and Television Festival, this early Wild South episode helped establish the reputation of TVNZ’s Natural History Unit (later NHNZ).
By 1976 there were only seven Chatham Islands black robins left. It was the world's rarest bird. In a bid to save the species, the surviving birds were taken from one island to another more hospitable island in a desperate rescue mission. This was part of an incredible conservation success story led by Don Merton and his NZ Wildlife Service team. Seven Black Robins and Project Takahē captured viewers' imaginations as part of an acclaimed series of 'rare bird' films that screened on TV series Wild South. They helped forge the reputation of TVNZ’s Natural History Unit (later NHNZ).