Niki Caro's near wordless Sure to Rise was nominated for best short film at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival. Four years later her debut feature Memory and Desire was invited to Cannes. Caro followed it with Whale Rider, winner of more than 27 awards, and still one of New Zealand's most successful films abroad. Since then Caro has directed everywhere from France to China, to mining towns in Minnesota.
I feel I’ve never really had to fight to be a feminist or filmmaker [in New Zealand]. Stories about girls Pai’s age tend to be about sexual awakening. I wanted to tell the story of how Pai awakens to her own strength and power. Niki Caro on Whale Rider
In these short clips from our ScreenTalk interviews, directors, actors and others share their memories of classic films, as we mark 40 years of the NZ Film Commission. - Roger Donaldson on odd Sleeping Dogs phone calls - David Blyth on Angel Mine being ahead of its time - Kelly Johnson on acting in Goodbye Pork Pie - Roger Donaldson on Smash Palace - Geoff Murphy on Utu's scale - Ian Mune on making Came a Hot Friday - Vincent Ward on early film exploits - Tom Scott on writing Footrot Flats with Murray Ball - Greg Johnson on acting in End of the Golden Weather - Rena Owen on Once Were Warriors - Melanie Lynskey on auditioning for Heavenly Creatures - Ngila Dickson on The Lord of the Rings - Niki Caro on missing Whale Rider's success - Antony Starr on Anthony Hopkins - Oscar Kightley on Sione's Wedding - Tammy Davis on Black Sheep - Leanne Pooley on the Topp Twins - Taika Waititi on napping at the Oscars - Cliff Curtis on The Dark Horse - Cohen Holloway on his Wilderpeople stars
Filmed in France, Belgium and New Zealand, The Vintner's Luck (aka A Heavenly Vintage) is a tale of growing grapes and meeting angels. Belgian actor Jeremie Renier (L'Enfant) stars as Sobran, a poor winemaker who one day encounters an angel. The two make a pact. One day each year, as Sobran's fortunes wax and wane, the angel returns to hear more about Sobran's life. Director Niki Caro adapted Elizabeth Knox's bestselling novel with help from US script consultant Joan Scheckel; the film also reunites Caro with Whale Rider discovery Keisha Castle-Hughes, who plays Sobran's wife.
Jonathan Brough’s documentary on the making of Whale Rider travels from the East Coast town of Whangara, where the mythical whale rider Paikea landed, to Hollywood. This excerpt concentrates on the movie’s vital special effects component: nine whales, brought to the screen through a combination of life-sized models and digital effects. The models were made by Auckland company Glasshammer; the largest measured 65 feet in length. The human element was also important, with actor Keisha Castle-Hughes describing the challenges of filming the whale-riding scenes.
Set in the East Coast town of Whāngārā, Whale Rider tells the tale of a young Māori girl, Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes), who challenges tradition and embraces the past in order to find the strength to lead her people forward. Directed and written by Niki Caro, the film is based on Witi Ihimaera's novel The Whale Rider. Coupling a specific sense of place and culture with a universal coming-of-age story, Whale Rider became one of the most successful and acclaimed New Zealand films released internationally. It also won audience choice awards at the Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals.
This quirky, upbeat comedy-drama looked at teen life through the eyes of 15-year-old Eve (Fleur Saville). Something of an amateur teen anthropologist, Eve questions everything in her world, musing on life to the camera. The series' fresh, self-aware style appealed directly to media-savvy teenagers. The TV3 series launched Saville's TV career, fostered young directing and producing talent, won many awards (including Best Drama Series at the 2002 NZ TV Awards) and was nominated for an International Emmy. It sold to over 40 territories, including the United States.
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.
Created by Gavin Strawhan and Rachel Lang, Jackson’s Wharf was set in a fictional coastal town and revolved around a sibling rivalry between brothers Frank (the town cop) and Ben Jackson (a big smoke lawyer). Returning with his family, golden boy Ben has controversially inherited the local pub from his recently deceased father. Produced by South Pacific Pictures, the one hour popular drama screened for two seasons. Writer James Griffin and director Niki Caro worked on the show, alongside much of the talent who would later create Mercy Peak and Outrageous Fortune.
Created by Gavin Strawhan and Rachel Lang, popular one hour drama series Jackson's Wharf was set in a fictional coastal town and revolved around a sibling rivalry between brothers Frank and Ben. Frank is the town policeman with a big secret; and golden boy Ben is a big city lawyer who has returned to town after their father's death. In this excerpt from the first episode of the South Pacific Pictures production, returning son Ben faces gossiping locals, simmering family tensions over the will (who will get the pub?) and an impending fishing tournament.
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.
This documentary is a hallucinogenic exploration of the allure of the foot and the cult of the shoe. What other item of clothing carries the promise of such pleasure or pain? A podiatrist, a ballerina, a cross dresser, a mistress, an academic, a transexual, a femme fatale and a couple of shoe salesmen journey into the depths of their soles. Selected for Venice Film Festival in 1996, Footage was an award-winning excursion into documentary making for feature director Niki Caro.
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.
The 1994 Cannes Film Festival turned out to be a very good year for New Zealand: a little movie called Once Were Warriors began its rise to glory, and some even smaller films did big things. Frontline reporter Ross Stevens was in France to capture the action — from impressed reactions to Warriors, to the 'film is a business' talk of NZ Film Commission chair Phil Pryke. Director Grant Lahood's short film Lemming Aid comes second in the official competition, and the festival screens a special season of Kiwi shorts — only the second such event in Cannes history.
Whale Rider director Niki Caro’s fourth short film is comprised of six vignettes — each focusing on a different elderly man. With minimal supporting cast (Joel Tobeck has a cameo as a competence-challenged waiter), the men talk mainly to themselves or the camera. Shot on Super 8mm (with graphics from an overhead projector), Old Bastards attempts to “subvert our kindly and slightly condescending view of old men”; its dark alternative view instead paints the aging male as vigorously intolerant, lecherous, impotent, trapped or just lost.
While beachcombing, April (Hester Joyce) discovers an injured man and claims him as her own. She must keep him a secret, and alive, in a makeshift community called Paradise. But Paradise is under threat and the other residents are slowly moving on. Fiercely protective of the broken man in her bed, April cannot leave, nor can she stay. For April there is nowhere to go but up. Directed by Niki Caro (Whale Rider), Sure To Rise competed for the Palme d’Or at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival. Producer Owen Hughes writes here about where the film's rise led its director.
Half a decade before the electronic beats of Oceania, Hinewehi Mohi's debut single is a gentler, more soulful affair — with the constantly moving close-ups of director Niki Caro's video underlining the song’s heartfelt simplicity. Co-written with Doctor Hone Kaa and Ardijah founding member Jay Dee, the song pushes the importance of rising above adversity, and having the courage to evolve as a people and a nation. The latter would be challenged seven years later by another te reo performance from Mohi — of the national anthem at a rugby test match.
Filmmaker Scott Reynolds demonstrated early that familiar genres - the thriller, the serial killer tale - can provide rich showcases for invention and a distinctive style. His first short is an impressive calling card, showing just what can be done with minimal material: essentially one actor (a young Marton Csokas), a mysterious package, and the possibility the package is a bomb. A warning: the finale arguably takes the 'Macguffin' trickery to its logical conclusion. The M1nute was selected for the London Film Festival, and Oberhausen in Germany.
Miles (Joel Tobeck) is 16. His family are falling apart and he's got a crush on his cousin. An imminent royal visit offends his mother's political sensibilities and his father is spending time with a female neighbour. Christmas is coming and the twins have murder on their minds. Director Niki (Whale Rider) Caro's survey of the everyday eccentricities of family was nominated for best TV drama scipt and director at the 1994 NZ Film and TV Awards. The film was one of three half-hour dramas commissioned by TVNZ under the series title Another Country. Producer Owen Hughes writes about it here.
Filmed at Bethells Beach and in a tunnel somewhere in the Auckland suburb of Ellerslie, this award-winning video from future Whale Rider director Niki Caro traces a sea nymph, a beating heart and an elderly gentleman's struggle with his hat. Clearly reluctant to move into the 90s, the eternally rock Shayne Carter looks splendid in dark eye shadow — a look he later told RipItUp was "definitely a low point in rock". Bad Note for a Heart was judged best music video at the 1990 New Zealand Music Awards.