Shirley Horrocks, ONZM, is one of New Zealand’s leading directors of documentaries about the arts. Her work has chronicled the work and lives of artist Len Lye, photographer Marti Friedlander, writer Albert Wendt and playwright Roger Hall. Her films have won awards, and screened at festivals from France and Italy to the United States.
Often the people I've made documentaries about are out there, but perhaps they're not widely known. I wanted to get them more widely known because I think they really should be. Shirley Horrocks in The NZ Herald, 12 July 2007
In the mid-1990s one of Peter Peryer's photographs caused a diplomatic stir. 'Dead Steer' depicted the bloated carcass of a cow on a lonely New Zealand roadside, and the then Agriculture Minister protested its inclusion in a German exhibition of Peryer's work. This documentary from prolific arts director Shirley Horrocks examines the life and career of this important New Zealand artist. Peryer was awarded an ONZM for his contribution to photography and in 2000 became one of five inaugural laureates of the Arts Foundation of New Zealand. He died in November 2018.
Paul Callaghan (1947 - 2012) was an internationally celebrated scientist, and a passionate advocate for Aotearoa. He was a popular science communicator (including a radio show with Kim Hill), campaigned to make New Zealand “a place where talent wants to live”, and championed the idea of a predator-free New Zealand. Shirley Horrocks' documentary focuses on the field that Callaghan became a world expert in — magnetic resonance — and interviews Callaghan's family, colleagues, students and friends. The film was invited to play at the 2018 NZ International Film Festival.
When German director Peter Falkenberg moved to Christchurch in the 1970s, he faced disdain from conservative locals after setting up avant-garde theatre company Free Theatre. The group was still going strong almost four decades later. Director Shirley Horrocks spent six years capturing their colourful and controversial history, and filming them in action. Interviewees in the 76 minute documentary include director Stuart McKenzie, who reflects on how out there the group was in the early 1980s, and founding member Nick Frost, who recalls when people tried to shut them down.
Born in Buenos Aires, artist Tom Kreisler arrived in New Zealand at age 13, studied painting at Canterbury University, taught art in New Plymouth, and spent time in Mexico. Shocked that he wasn't "in the mainstream canon of New Zealand art", documentarian Shirley Horrocks (Marti: The Passionate Eye) felt that the whimsical, subversive but publicity-shy Kreisler deserved to be better known. So Horrocks interviewed fans and friends of the late artist, and headed to Mexico to find out how the country influenced him. Tom Who? debuted at the 2015 Auckland Film Festival.
Cartoonist and writer Dylan Horrocks heads to England to trace his family lineage in this documentary, which mixes science and history. Horrocks uses DNA analysis to investigate if he is related to 17th century English astronomer Jeremiah Horrocks. In 1639 the scientist was the first person to observe the Transit of Venus. This planetary movement prompted Captain James Cook to travel to the Pacific. Horrocks heads to Tolaga Bay to view the transit in 2012, a special moment as the next one will be in 2117. The 70-minute film is directed by Dylan's stepmother Shirley Horrocks.
When TV began in New Zealand in 1960, posh English accents on screen were de rigueur. As veteran broadcaster Judy Callingham recalls in this sixth episode of Kiwi TV history: "every trace of a New Zealand vowel was knocked out of you." But as ties to Mother England weakened, Kiwis began to feel proud of their identity and culture. John Clarke invented farming comedy legend Fred Dagg, while Karyn Hay showed a Kiwi accent could be cool on Radio with Pictures. Sam Neill and director Geoff Murphy add their thoughts on the changing ways that Kiwis saw themselves.
John Reynolds is one of New Zealand's most talked-about contemporary artists. His diverse practice takes in painting, photography, clothing, tattooing and landscaping. Director Shirley Horrocks frames the film as a series of questions. The answers reflect Reynold's exuberant personality, his strong family life, his sense of humour, and his adventurous art-making. Following a year in his life, the film observes him as he makes and debuts a work (Cloud) at the 2006 Biennale of Sydney, and takes time out to appear in an episode of bro'Town.
The writing and drawing of comic books has remained a little-known and under-rated area of New Zealand culture. Director Shirley Horrocks reveals it as a highly creative subculture with a rich local history. Eric Resetar, the grand old man of local comics, discusses the moral panic brought on by comics in the 1940s and 1950s; and other artists of the genre, such as Barry Linton, Dick Frizzell, Coco and Dylan (Hicksville) Horrocks, explore the wide variety of stories that have been drawn, framed and speech-ballooned since then.
Who Laughs Last profiles Roger Hall, New Zealand’s most successful playwright. Three decades after the opening of Hall's Middle Age Spread became a hit, the original cast return for 2006 follow up Spreading Out. The Shirley Horrocks doco explores the secrets behind Hall’s successful brand of comedy (25+ stage plays, plus TV series and musical comedies) and closely explores the popularity of Middle Age Spread and Spreading Out. Among those interviewed are John Clarke, Ginette McDonald, the late Grant Tilly, and Hall himself.
Shirley Horrocks' documentary profiles the life, work and influence of pioneering PI writer Albert Wendt (1973's Sons for the Return Home was the first novel published in English by a Samoan). The film accompanies the writer to various locations in the Pacific and addresses his Samoa upbringing, his education in New Zealand and his work as writer and teacher; and discusses the contemporary explosion of Pacific arts. "I belong to Oceania — or, at least, I am rooted in a fertile part of it and it nourishes my spirit, helps to define me, and feeds my imagination."
Arriving downunder from London in 1958, Marti Friedlander began photographing New Zealand, partly as a way of coming to terms with what she saw as its foreignness. In the process she captured aspects of Aotearoa that familiarity had made invisible to its inhabitants. She photographed artists, Springbok Tour protesters, and kuia with moko (for a book with historian Michael King). After screening on TV One, Shirley Horrocks' documentary was one of 20 chosen to screen at Doku.Arts 2007, a German festival devoted to films about artists. Friedlander passed away in November 2016.
Early Days Yet, directed by Shirley Horrocks, is a full-length documentary about New Zealand poet Allen Curnow, made in the last months of his life. The poet talks about his life and work, and visits the places of some of his most important poems. It includes interviews with other New Zealand poets about Curnow's significance as an advocate for New Zealand poetry. As Curnow famously mused in front of a moa skeleton displayed in Canterbury Museum: "Not I, some child, born in a marvellous year / Will learn the trick of standing upright here."
Made before websites like Airbnb spurred a massive jump in homestay-style accommodation options, this documentary from 2000 visits New Zealanders who have chosen to open their houses to tourists. From Warkworth to Stewart Island, from farm stays to a gay-friendly house in Golden Bay, Kiwis talk about the positives of homestays — and the long hours. Two of the couples mention how their own relationship benefits from having visitors. Narrated by Jim Mora, The Real New Zealand was directed by Shirley Horrocks (hit documentary Kiwiana).
This documentary follows the experiences of two groups at the 1999 Sweetwaters music festival: six teens (including actor Kate Elliott and future advertising producer Nigel Sutton), and a group of 30-somethings (many of them veterans of the 1980s era Sweetwaters). By the end of the festival some hangovers are being nursed, mostly spirits remain undimmed. English singer Elvis Costello drops the on-stage bomb that artists haven't been paid, Chris Knox notes the "money fiasco" his own way, and the festivalgoers rate how the weekend went.
A jandal-shod journey through Kiwi pop culture. Kiwiana takes a light-hearted look at the fashion, art, architecture, attitudes, and icons (Buzzy Bees, Edmonds, Swanndri, Pavlova etc) we call our own. Directed by Shirley Horrocks, and shot by Leon Narbey, it featured personalities Gary McCormick, Ginette McDonald, John Clarke, Peter Jackson, and others. Screening at a time (1996) when New Zealanders were just beginning to appreciate these neglected everyday objects as ‘collectibles,' it rated highly, and inspired a sequel, Kiwi As.
Flip & Two Twisters is Shirley Horrocks' documentary about New Zealand-born artist Len Lye. Motion maestro Lye's international reputation rests on his work as a filmmaker and kinetic sculptor, and his lively contributions to the London and New York avant-garde. The documentary explores Lye's career and ideas, with the help of historical footage and excerpts from his films. It includes footage of Lye in typically exuberant form outlining his process, introduces many of his kinetic works, and documents how some of his most ambitious plans are being realised in New Zealand.
This documentary looks at the attempts by New Zealand's small towns to attract attention: ranging from giant statues of fish, fruit, and soft-drink bottles to festivals devoted to local vegetables or wild food. Actress Miranda Harcourt travels from Paeroa to Alexandra to explore the colourful expressions of small-town identity and pride. Shot by Leon Narbey, this was one of a series of documentaries directed by Shirley Horrocks about kiwi popular culture. A book by Claudia Bell and John Lyall (with the same title) was the film's starting-point.
This film documents Miranda Harcourt taking her stageplay Verbatim (written by Harcourt and William Brandt) to prison audiences. The play is a six-character monologue made up of accounts of violent crime, all performed by Harcourt. Director Shirley Horrocks captures the reactions of the prison inmates watching their own lives unfold on stage. Harcourt’s powerful performance is augmented with revealing testimonies of the broken men and women who agree to be interviewed. The documentary won the premier prize at the 1993 Media Peace Awards.
See What I Mean is a documentary about people with a hearing impairment, and those who identify as deaf. It tells the stories of a family who were all born deaf, and a journalist who began to lose her hearing in her twenties. It features footage of deaf community events including rugby, an education meeting and socialising at the Deaf Club. This was the documentary that first presented the idea of 'Deaf Culture' on New Zealand television, relating it to protest activities by the American deaf community. The film was directed by Shirley Horrocks (Kiwiana, The New Oceania).