Paul Leach was the man behind the camera on many classic Kiwi films; author Duncan Petrie described him as New Zealand's "camera operator of choice". His CV spanned landmark titles Sleeping Dogs, Utu, Smash Palace, and breakthrough comedy Came a Hot Friday. He passed away on 10 April 2010.
He was clear and concise and a logical force at the centre of the production ... in many ways he was the unifying cameraperson, the director of pictures for New Zealand. Cinematographer Graeme Cowley, in Duncan Petrie's 2007 book Shot in New Zealand
In 1983, director Geoff Murphy stormed out of the scrub of the nascent Kiwi film industry with a quadruple-barreled shotgun take on the great New Zealand colonial epic. Set during the New Zealand Wars, this tale of a Māori leader (Anzac Wallace) and his bloody path to redress 'imbalance' became the second local film officially selected for the Cannes Film Festival, and the second biggest local hit to that date (after Murphy's Goodbye Pork Pie). A producer-driven recut was later shown in the United States. This 2013 redux offers Utu “enhanced and restored”.
When she made Mauri, Merata Mita became the first Māori woman to write and direct a dramatic feature. Mauri (meaning life force), is loosely set around a love triangle and explores cultural tensions, identity, and changing ways of life in a dwindling East Coast town. As with Barry Barclay film Ngāti, Mauri played a key role in the burgeoning Māori screen industry. The crew numbered 33 Māori and 20 Pākehā, including interns from Hawkes Bay wānanga. Kiwi art icon Ralph Hotere was production designer; the cast included Zac Wallace (star of Utu) and Māori activist Eva Rickard.
In director Geoff Murphy's cult sci fi feature, a global energy project has malfunctioned and scientist Zac Hobson (Bruno Lawrence) awakes to find himself the only living being left on earth. At first he lives out his fantasies, helping himself to cars and clothes, before the implications of being 'man alone' sink in. As this awareness sends him to the brink of madness — see the excerpt above — he discovers two other survivors. One of them is a woman. The Los Angeles Daily News called the movie “quite simply the best science-fiction film of the 80s”. Read more about it here.
“The funniest, liveliest, most exuberant film ever made in New Zealand”. So said critic Nicholas Reid, a year after Came a Hot Friday became 1985's biggest local hit. Though Billy T’s loony Mexican-Māori cowboy is beloved by fans, he is but one eccentric here among many — as two scheming conmen hit town, and encounter bookies, boozers, country hicks, nasty crim Marshall Napier, and Prince Tui Teka playing saxophone. Until the arrival of The Piano in 1993, Ian Mune and Dean Parker’s award-loaded adaptation remained NZ's third biggest local hit. Ian Pryor writes about the film here.
Constance centres on a young woman who attempts to escape the staid world of 40s Auckland, by embracing glamour and passion. After meeting a photographer, her aspirations of stardom are brutally fractured. Directed by Bruce Morrison, the movie echoes the style of Hollywood melodrama, while simultaneously critiquing the dream. Donogh Rees was widely praised in the title role as a protagonist who lives in a fantasy world, with one review describing her as “New Zealand’s answer to Meryl Streep”. New York's Time Out called the film "lush and exhilarating".
It's the 1870s, and Māori leader Te Wheke (Anzac Wallace) is fed up by brutal land grabs. He leads a bloody rebellion against the colonial Government, provoking threatened frontiersmen, disgruntled natives, lusty wahine, bible-bashing priests, and kupapa alike to consider the nature of ‘utu’ (retribution). Legendary New Yorker critic Pauline Kael raved about Geoff Murphy’s ambitious follow up to Goodbye Pork Pie: “[He] has an instinct for popular entertainment. He has a deracinated kind of hip lyricism. And they fuse quite miraculously in this epic ...”
After hitting Wellington for a Ranfurly Shield game, two brothers from the sticks (Grant Tilly and Pork Pie's Kelly Johnson) have to sneak their abruptly deceased father back home. If the body isn’t buried there, they won’t inherit the family farm. Set back when "blokes were blokes and sheilas were their mums", director John Reid’s shaggy dog tale — a Weekend at Bernie's, reeking of stale beer and ciggies — both lauds and satirises the Kiwi male. Among the six clips, the final clip sees Tilly's character getting things off his chest, now that Dad is finally unable to answer back.
For this documentary director Gaylene Preston goes behind the scenes during the making of Geoff Murphy's Utu — his ambitious 'puha western' set during the 1870s land wars. “It’s like football innit? You set up the event and cover it…” says Murphy, as he prepares to shoot a battle scene. In this excerpt, the film’s insistence on cultural respect is conveyed: Merata Mita discusses the beauty of ta moko as star Anzac Wallace is transformed into Te Wheke in the makeup chair, and Martyn Sanderson reflects on having his head remade to be blown off: “What’s the time Mr Wolf?”.
Smash Palace is a Kiwi cinema classic and launched Roger Donaldson's American career. Al Shaw (a brilliant, brooding Bruno Lawrence) is a racing car driver who now runs a wrecker's yard in the shadow of Mount Ruapehu. His French wife Jacqui is unhappy there and leaves him, taking up with Al's best mate. When she restricts Al's access to his young daughter, his frustration explodes and he goes bush with the girl, desperate not to lose her too. "There's no road back" runs the tagline. New Yorker critic Pauline Kael called the film "amazingly accomplished".
Beyond Reasonable Doubt reconstructs the events surrounding a notorious New Zealand miscarriage of justice. Farmer Arthur Allan Thomas was jailed for the murder of Harvey and Jeanette Crewe. Directed by John Laing, and starring Australian John Hargreaves (as Thomas) and Englishman David Hemmings (Blowup, Barbarella), the drama benefitted from immense public interest in the case. Thomas was pardoned while the film was in pre-production, and he saw some scenes being made. It became New Zealand's most successful film until Goodbye Pork Pie in 1981.
An early case of a Kiwi play being adapted for the screen, Middle Age Spread asks whether adultery is inevitable (and whether it can stay secret). Grant Tilly won acclaim as "an antipodian Woody Allen" for his philandering deputy headmaster fearing a future of stress and marital dissatisfaction. Roger Hall's hit comedy was adapted in the first flush of the Kiwi film renaissance. It marks the movie debut of many talents — including Tilly, director John Reid, writer Keith Aberdein, and cinematographer Alun Bollinger. Middle Age Spread was the first Kiwi feature to screen on the BBC.
Sons for the Return Home tells the story of a Romeo and Juliet romance between students Sione, a NZ-raised Samoan, and Sarah, a middle class palagi. Director Paul Maunder shifts between time and setting (London, Wellington, Samoa) in adapting Albert Wendt's landmark 1973 novel. Sons was the first feature film attentive to Samoan experience in NZ — alongside themes of identity, racism and social and sexual consciousness. In this excerpt Sione meets Sarah's parents, and his tin'a has him scrubbing their Newtown pavement prior to Sarah's reciprocal visit.
Smith (Sam Neill, in his breakthrough screen role) is devastated when his wife runs off with his best friend Bullen (Ian Mune). Smith escapes to the Coromandel. Meanwhile, the government enlists an anti-terrorist force to crack down on its opponents. Bullen, now a guerrilla, asks Smith to join the revolution. Directed by Roger Donaldson, this adaptation of CK Stead's novel Smith's Dream heralded a new wave of Kiwi cinema; it was one of the only local films of the 1970s to win a big local audience. This excerpt includes a much talked about scene: a baton charge by government forces.
The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) was waged between Republicans and General Franco’s Nationalists. Thousands of volunteers from around the globe joined the fight, mostly on the Republican side. These excerpts from a 1976 documentary on the 20 or so Kiwi veterans of the conflict feature Joan Conway, who reflects on the death of her brother Griff Maclaurin fighting the fascists; Tom Spiller, another International Brigade soldier; socialist George Jackson, who discusses official apathy from the NZ Government, and Geoffrey Cox, who wrote a book about the war.
With the advent of two channel television, Encounter became TV2's local documentary strand showing half-hour programmes at 7.15pm on Sunday nights (although it was later moved to 9.40pm). With a brief to explore "people, places and life in New Zealand today", it featured work made by TV2 staff producers, directors and reporters including Bruce Morrison, George Andrews, Keith Hunter, DOC Williams, Bryan Allpress and Rodney Bryant (who made a number of profiles of prominent New Zealanders). In 1977, it was replaced by Perspective.
Set amidst the 'friendly' 1974 Commonwealth Games, The Games Affair was a thriller fantasy series for children. Remembered fondly by many who were kids in the 70s, the story follows three teenagers who battle a miscreant professor who's experimenting on athletes with performance enhancing drugs. Alongside the young heroes the series featured John Bach as a grunting villain, a youthful Elizabeth McRae, and SFX jumping sheep. It was NZ telly’s first children’s serial, the first independently produced long-form drama, and an early credit for producer John Barnett.
Set during the 1974 Commonwealth Games, thriller-fantasy series The Games Affair was NZ telly's first children's serial. Remembered fondly by 70s kids, it follows three teenagers battling a miscreant professor who's experimenting on athletes. The second episode begins with the trio finding a performance-enhanced (by nifty stop-motion) beach runner. The trail takes them to QEII Park for the Games' opening ceremony where they confront the villains, and — via pioneering DIY FX — deflate John Bach Flat Stanley-style. Note: the episode has nothing to do with toilets.
Set during the 1974 Commonwealth Games, The Games Affair was a thriller fantasy series for children. Remembered fondly by many who were kids in the 70s, the story follows three teenagers who battle a miscreant professor who's experimenting on athletes with performance enhancing drugs. This first episode include some SFX jumping sheep; John Bach as a blonde, grunting villain, and a youthful Elizabeth McRae. It was NZ telly's first children's serial, the first independently produced long-form drama, and an early credit for producer John Barnett.