Masters graduate Morgan Leigh Stewart has done time on film sets, in film festival offices, and behind the scenes of the 48 Hour Film contest. After learning the producing ropes across dozens of music videos and short films, Stewart was one of the producers of hit horror movie Deathgasm (2015). She was also a key player behind Auckland film collective The Hot House and K'Rd Stories, a series of shorts based on the iconic Auckland street. She made her directorial debut in 2018 with She Speeds; the documentary short about a female stock car driver was made for online series Loading Docs.
The thing that gets me most excited about our industry is finding like-minded people eager to make the most of what we have. The collaborative nature of filmmaking is what really drew me in — the people, the talent. I want to make good things, and tell great stories — and I find that many creative brains are better than one. Morgan Leigh Stewart
Brooke Clarkson races stock cars — a rare female in a male-dominated motorsport. After growing up watching her dad and uncle race, taking to the track herself seemed only natural. In this short documentary, Clarkson and her family are interviewed about the challenges she’s faced to get to the top, from her mother’s concerns, to outsiders arguing that girls shouldn’t be racing — they'll just get hurt. Now, at only 18 years old, she is racing one of the top stock cars in the country. The soundtrack includes ‘She Speeds’ — the classic track from Dunedin band Straitjacket Fits.
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.
Four-year-old Dahlia Hitchcock lives by this mantra: When you die, you don’t do anything; when you’re alive you play. Behind her cheeky grin is a brave wee girl who endures several daily “bum pricks” to treat her Type 1 diabetes. Her father, director Joe Hitchcock, made this 2016 Loading Doc to bring awareness to Type 1 diabetes, which has no known cause or cure. The same year as they made this, Hitchcock and producer Morgan Leigh Stewart completed another short film — action comedy Stick To Your Gun.
Designed to provide a “perfect storm” of gore, guitars, girls and comedy, Deathgasm involves two young heavy metallers who accidentally summon up a demon. Blazing a bloody trail at festivals across the United States, the film was born from the Make My Movie Project. Four hundred pitches for a low budget Kiwi horror movie led to one winner: this tale inspired by the metal and movie-mad youth of digital effects man and director Jason Lei Howden. After debuting at US festival South by Southwest, Deathgasm won keen reviews, and festival slots in Sydney and Aotearoa.
Kicking off in an inner city laundromat, this K' Rd Story travels strange places indeed. An unassuming man is going about the business of getting some clothes washed, when he realises that his clothes have disappeared mid cycle. Opening the washing machine, surprised by what he sees, he climbs in... Grant Lahood's pedigree in quirky, low or no dialogue short films dates back to the classic Snail's Pace in 1989. Peter Tait, who stars, played the hunter in Lahood's short The Singing Trophy — which scored an award at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival.
This entry in 2015 short film omnibus K' Rd Stories is billed as a “love story that’s not as simple as boy meets girl”. Directed by the multi-talented Nikki Si’Ulepa (Snow in Paradise), Aroha begins with Jade (played by K’ Rd denizen and Takatāpui presenter Ramon Te Wake) being stood up at a bar on the iconic strip. Jade’s spirits are lifted by an especially optimistic bartender (Hans Masoe), who muses about aroha, honesty and being open to experience — “I think he chickened out because he’s afraid of love”. But is the bartender’s advice too good to be true?
After a surprising opening, this short film from James Solomon unravels an edgy tale about a couple playing power games in the bedroom — games where the lines between stimulation and insult are not always easy to define. Josh McKenzie (who played Dan Carter in The Kick, and the slimy millionaire in Filthy Rich) is the man tying up his girlfriend (played by Morgan Albrecht, who also takes centre stage in Put Your Hands Together, Please, another of the K' Rd Stories). Then he gets told he is not doing a very good job of it. Warning: contains offensive language.
A light take on unfortunate circumstances, Broke offers the simple story of a not-so-simple mission to buy some milk. Armed with only the meagre change he can scrape from his messy apartment, Billy (Dan Veint) is affronted on his numerous trips to and from the dairy by a homeless man (Bruce Hopkins) asking for the spare coins he doesn't have. Conflict is brewing. Broke was inspired by a real life incident experienced by writer/ director James Solomon — who first came up with the idea of the K’ Rd Stories series of short films. Billy also turns up in another K' Rd Story, The Event.
A woman running an Auckland laundromat finds herself accosted by a drug addict. A frustrated customer struggles with a machine that is out of order and ruining her expensive clothes. Somewhere across the city police are on their way to a drug bust. However all is not what it seems on Karangahape Road, and the consequences look to be life altering. The three tales in this film were made as part of NZ On Air funded K’ Rd Stories, a collection of short films which all tell stories set around Auckland’s most legendary, notorious, and arguably most beloved street.
K' Rd Stories was a 2015 series of shorts celebrating one of Auckland’s most colourful strips. In this entry, Dan and Dwayne are “two lovable hustlers with an entrepreneurial spirit trying to scratch a living on the fringes of K Road”. $cratch documents the pair’s efforts to gain entry to the Las Vegas strip club, set up a pop-up tinny shop, and find a girlfriend (“a lot of girlfriends I had in the past gave me nothing but children!”). Dwayne is played by Dwayne Sisson, who co-starred with $cratch director Clint Rarm in Zoe McIntosh’s 2013 rogue-life tale The Deadly Ponies Gang.
After overhearing a parental argument which shows no signs of ending, a young boy (Nico Mu) decides to wander out onto the streets. Soon he is caught up in the K Road nightlife, clutching his sushi. Then a chance meeting with a talkative homeless woman (Verity George) and her dog offers him a new perspective. Inspired by an old woman who gave out mussel fritters to bus drivers, writer/director Karyn Childs set out with this short film to show K Road as a place where people of many backgrounds can feel they belong. Fritters was one of ten K' Rd Stories made in 2015.
Jane Sherning Warren’s satirical portrait of the artist as a young woman was one of a series of short films exploring life on the colourful K Road strip. Jaded Arlette (Morgan Albrecht) endures a barrage of art-speak as her posse saunters from her Artspace exhibition opening to Verona Cafe. When the ridiculous art theory of her partner leaves truth far behind, she challenges his cred, and a chase ensues. A drag queen with a pool cue comes to her rescue, and she (and the audience) get an unexpected lesson in how people's identity is a performance.
A trio of mysteriously bloody and bruised women order tea in a cafe in Auckland's St Kevin's Arcade. The sugar debate gets a K Road twist as they talk boobs, revenge porn, and wonder if the sugar bowl has drugs hidden in it (riffing off a local urban legend). A trip to the toilet before last orders sees the cafe transforming into a dance floor, providing a groovy testimonial to the imaginative powers of the sugar hit. This edition of the series of short films exploring life on K’ Rd was directed by Roseanne Liang (My Wedding and Other Secrets), and stars the actors from her web series Flat3.
Waking up with a vicious hangover after a big night out, Seff (Dahnu Graham) wanders Karangahape Road in need of keys to get into his house. Seeking only his flatmate and a flat white, Seff finds himself harrassed by all about a lewd act he has no memory of. Matters are made worse by the dubious company of Jeremy, who provides a running commentary while playing constant guitar. The black comic short was made as part of the K’ Rd Stories series, which celebrate the quirks and qualms of Auckland’s most notorious, and beloved road. Warning: contains some offensive language.
This musical retooling of the ill-fated love story began life as a concept album by ex Screaming Meemee members Peter van der Fluit and Michael McNeill. In 2010 they sent 38 songs to director Tim van Dammen, who decided to retell Shakespeare's classic romance as "a sort of trash opera — like an updated John Waters type thing". A caravan park is the canvas for a cast of beautiful young things, pop, rap, knives and beer crates. NZ Herald's Dominic Corry praised the film for its "emotionally-assured grasp of what makes this famous story so enduring".