Simon Riera (pronounced Re-air-ah) fell in love with filmmaking while studying geology at Otago University. Since then his work as a cinematographer has included five features — spanning everything from Hopeless to Housebound — award-winning work on TV thriller The Cult, and an array of noteworthy short films.
Lighting is a response to emotion, to the tension created by a space and the people within that space. Its purpose is to re-present the intent of the script in a way that is both honest and new. Simon Riera
The Cul de Sac presents an apocalyptic world where the adults have disappeared. In the opening of the first episode, Rose (Greta Gregory) realises something is wrong while leaving home. Meanwhile at the local high school, dictator in the making Doni (Simon Mead) refuses to let anyone inside. Also in this excerpt: Rose's sister (Molly Leishman) is in danger of having a medical emergency, Jack (Riverdale's KJ Apa) proves he isn't completely useless, and a dog goes rabid. Created by Stephen J Campbell (Amazing Extraordinary Friends), the sci-fi adventure spanned three seasons.
In 1957 Connie Radar became the first woman on the moon. At least that's what this whimsical take on the space race would have you believe. Years later the heroic Connie (played by Anna Jullienne) brings the fight to two arrogant American astronauts. The short film was created by 15 Bachelor of Art and Design students from Auckland's Media Design School, led by award-winning director James Cunningham. It was nominated for Best Short at the 2014 New Zealand Film Awards, and played at Comic-Con in San Diego. Connie was first created by Kiwi comic artist Karl Wills.
Described as “bloody brilliant” by horror legend Peter Jackson, Housebound follows a woman dealing with the triple threats of house arrest, potential ghosts, and having to live with her mother. Morgana O’Reilly (TV movie Safe House) is the criminal facing eight months home detention with an annoying Mum (Rima Te Wiata). Jaquie Brown Diaries director Gerard Johnstone’s film debut won near universal praise, and the remake rights sold to New Line in the US. Fangoria loved its mixture of "fantastic comedy" and mystery and it was nominated for ten Moas, including Best Film.
In director Grant Lahood's 2013 Tropfest NZ entry a young boy takes Kiwi ingenuity to the next level by creatively adapting his gumboots to net sporting victory. But it’s a risky move. Sprung marks a return for Lahood to his dialogue free short film beginnings (eg. Cannes award-winner The Singing Trophy, and his debut Snail’s Pace). Like those shorts, Sprung has a devilish sense of humour, and a crisply edited contest of wills. The ode to the courage of the young and the unpredictability of science was scored by veteran film and TV composers Plan 9.
The humble letterbox is targeted in this Aotearoa award-nominated science show, as radio DJ James Colman and music video director Greg Page attempt to “turbo” an everyday object. Their challenge is to move the mail 50 metres from postbox to household as quickly as possible. Coleman glimpses nirvana when he scores a rocket scientist for his team. Battle lines are soon drawn between big bang theory, and slower and steadier. In the pyrotechnics and rocket love that follow, Page sounds almost plausible when he claims his big truck solution as the cleaner, greener option.
Armed with his trusty ray gun and protected by his pith helmet Lord Broadforce's exotic species search on an alien planet is going swimmingly — until the dame gets colonial angst. The short is based on the sci-fi world of Dr Grordbort created by Weta Workshop's Greg Broadmore (designer on District 9), in which Victorian steampunk meets alien trophy hunting. The live action-CGI film was created over 22 weeks by 11 students of the Media Design School's 3D animation programme, under the direction of James Cunningham. Broadmore followed with a Grordbort video game in 2018.
This gleefully violent "zombie romcom" is another offering from Auckland's Media Design School, where 3D CGI students collaborate with their tutor, director James Cunningham, and industry veterans. Based on an idea from course grad Philip Magnussen, Rotting Hill sees two lovers — played by Anna Hutchison (Go Girls, The Cabin in the Woods) and Australian actor Jason Smith (Home and Away) — finding that "true love never dies" in a post-human future. The short has netted over one million views on Vimeo. Keep tissues handy: you may shed a tear ... or maybe an eyeball.
This 2010 telefeature is based on the true crime story of South African-born Dr Colin Bouwer (played by Mark Mitchinson), who used his medical knowledge to poison and kill his wife Annette. A Dunedin doctor and policeman foiled his plot to get away with murder. Directed by Peter Burger (Until Proven Innocent), Bloodlines won gongs for actors Mitchinson and Craig Hall at the 2011 Aotearoa Film and Television Awards, and nominations for Burger's direction, Donna Malane and Paula Boock's script, and the work of actor Nathalie Boltt.
This live-action CGI short attempts to find the answer as to why UFO sightings have been in decline recently. The truth is indeed out there, but in this sci-fi spoof, it turns out to be the result of alien bureaucratic cover-ups, outsourcing and an unorthodox use of space probes. The film was made by students in the 3D Productions course that director James Cunningham teaches at Media Design School — a one day green screen shoot, 14 weeks of post-production. Written by Nick Ward, First Contact won selection to computer graphics conference SIGGRAPH 2011.
In the first episode of The Cult, headstrong lawyer Michael Lewis (Shortland Street's Renato Bartolomei) joins a volatile group in a Northland house. Each of them has lost a family member or friend to commune Two Gardens, and wants to get them out. Meanwhile, inside Two Gardens, Michael's son is asked to "renounce" his own brother. Created by Kathryn Burnett and Peter Cox, The Cult won Qantas awards for acting, design, music, cinematography, and editing — and was nominated for another four acting awards. Peter Burger (Until Proven Innocent) directs this first episode.
Das Tub kickstarted an award-winning run of CGI short films for Media Design School students working under their 3D animation tutor, director James Cunningham. Part live-action, part CGI, its tale of a German U-boat crew facing danger under the ocean pays homage to submarine classic Das Boot — before a Pythonesque twist which features a cameo from writer Nick Ward. Short, sharp and lovingly rendered, the film won 'best short short' at the 2011 Aspen Shortsfest, while Cunningham (Poppy, Infection) took Best Director at the Honolulu Film Awards.
Banned by TVNZ, this Hot Grits video follows a group of friends having a party, before a night on the town. The only difference: this time it is young children doing the drinking (milk), and wigging out. 'Headlights' won two awards at Kiwi music video contest Handle the Jandle in 2008: Best Video, and Best Use of Exploitative Tactics. During filming, creative collective The Downlow Concept (TV series Hounds) attempted to control their junior cast by bribing them with sweets and toys. But when "sugar madness" kicked in, the kids were in control.
In this satirical series presenter Jeremy Wells — channelling presenter Kenneth B Cumberland (the academic who presented 1981 history series Landmarks) — plunders New Zealand's television archives and pokes fun at the past. From the makers of Eating Media Lunch, the show promoted itself as “the most important series in the history of history”. Each episode tackles a big issue, including ‘Crime’, ‘Visitors’, ‘Trouble’ and ‘Evil’. Alongside archive footage, the odd piece of fakery and animation was thrown in. Michael King this defiantly ain't!
This 'alternative' version of New Zealand history was made by the team behind Eating Media Lunch. Channelling Kenneth Cumberland —presenter of heavyweight 80s series Landmarks— Jeremy Wells plumbs the TV archives to poke fun at New Zealand, and its people. Some excruciating hilarity is mined from artifacts of visitation to southern shores, from Bill Clinton to the Beatles. Muhammad Ali's fast food tastes down under are examined; the Dalai Lama finds bad karma in Christchurch; Charles and Diana visit in 1981; and mirth is mined from all things ovine.
Jeremy Wells brings Kenneth Cumberland-seque authority to this 'alternative' version of Kiwi history, which was made by many of the team that worked on Eating Media Lunch. The Unauthorised History plumbs TV and history archives to poke fun at the pretence of the past (and present). This episode examines artefacts to do with sex and Aotearoa. With tongue planted in check (and in other places) Wells revisits everything from pole-dancing in the "hellhole of the Pacific" — colonial-era Russell — to randy Hutt Valley teenagers "getting laid" in the 1950s.
Set in Antarctica (and partly shot there), the science fiction tale sees a researcher (Crawford Thomson) dealing with unsettling events — traumatic personal news, isolation, disquieting “anomalous electrical readings”, and warping time. As newsreader John Campbell says in an intercepted transmission: “the speed of light is changing. Well, what does that mean?”. The title is from Hone Tuwhare’s anti-nuclear themed poem of the same name, but the film was inspired by Pat Rushin short story Speed of Light. It was an official selection at Edinburgh Film Festival.
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.
The ‘OE’ is a Kiwi rite of passage, but for those travelling in a Kombi van, the trip can feel “like mixed flatting in a space the size of a ping-pong table” (Peter Calder). In Kombi Nation, Sal sets off to tour Europe with her older sister and friend; they’re joined by a dodgy male and a TV crew, recording the shenanigans. Shot guerilla style after workshopping with the young cast, Grant Lahood’s well-reviewed second feature anticipated the rise of observational ‘reality TV’, but its release was hindered by the collapse of production company Kahukura Films.
Director Murray Keane was inspired to make this documentary after his wife Fiona Samuel focussed exclusively on women for her earlier doco about the loss of virginity and its effect on lives. The companion film features seven men aged from 20 to 80 talking candidly about their different experiences of 'the first time'. Keane illustrates these very personal stories with quirky, colourful visuals as his participants muse on an event that few were really prepared for and which was transcendent for some, confusing for others and a nightmare of abuse for one of them.
Viewable in full, comedy/drama Hopeless is a portrait of Wellington 20-somethings attempting to get along with crushes, exes, and never weres. Well-meaning Ben (Phil Pinner) finds himself becoming relationship therapist to two friends, despite possessing a dangerously unstoppable mouth. Hamstrung by an advertising campaign highlighting Pinner sitting on a toilet, Hopeless won warm reviews. It also offered impressive movie debuts for Mia Blake (No. 2), Scott Wills (Stickmen) and a hilariously unhinged Adam Gardiner (Agent Anna). Spin-off TV series Lovebites followed.
Duggan stars John Bach as brooding Detective Inspector Duggan, attempting to solve murders amid the tranquillity of the Marlborough Sounds. New Zealand's answer to Inspector Morse, the show was conceived by Marion McLeod, and scripted by Donna Malane and Ken Duncum. Eleven episodes of the Gibson Group series were made, following on from introductory tele-features Death in Paradise and Sins of the Father. The turquoise waters of The Sounds make for an evocative setting in this sharp, classy Kiwi whodunit. Rachel Davies writes here about Duggan's birth.
The first movie written and directed by playwright Anthony McCarten is a portrait of a family melting down under the media spotlight. The comedy/drama stars Danielle Cormack in two roles — as a swimmer on the cusp of Olympic glory, and as the twin sister back home, looking on as her family descends into spats and bickering as they find the pressure to perform too much to bear. Via Satellite showcases a topline cast, including Tim Balme, Rima Te Wiata, and a scene-stealing and heavily-pregnant Jodie Dorday, who won an NZ TV and Film Award for her work.
After a run of hit short films involving creatures on the run, Chicken marked the feature debut of director Grant Lahood. Brit Bryan Marshall stars as Dwight, a fading pop star who fakes his own death as a career move. Meanwhile a crazed fowl rights-activist (Cliff Curtis), angered at Dwight's promotions for fried chicken, plots revenge. Though the romantic black comedy tanked at the box office, the story and performances did receive some positive notice, with Metro reviewer and musician Rick Bryant finding it "very funny ... very enjoyable".
"A social satire about an entire Antipodean generation, comfortable with what it knows best." London, 1983. It's time for a party. A group of young New Zealanders have arrived at the other end of the world to drink, play Kiwi music, search for shelter, and talk about other New Zealanders. Scripted by playwright Fiona Bartlett, this ambitious OE story plays out in one single ten minute shot (Three takes were printed). Director Jonathan Brough later directed episodes of Outrageous Fortune, The Pretender and short film No Ordinary Sun.
Two 14-year-old girls discover that they have a lot in common in this two-part 1995 children's fantasy drama. They live in the same street, same house, same bedroom, but 76 years apart. An antique mirror/portal leads them on a time travel adventure involving nerve gas, a Russian Tsar and an English soldier. Created by Australian Posie Graeme-Evans (who devised TV hits Hi-5 and McLeod's Daughters) this award-winning trans-Tasman co-production between the Gibson Group and Millennium Pictures was sold to more than 60 countries. A second series followed in 1997.
A young man suffering from mounting sexual frustration (Skitz regular Michael Sengelow) wakes up one day to find incredibly strange things happening between his legs. A comic fable about personal gardening, male organs, and finding the perfect partner, Prickle marked the directorial debut of one-time actor Murray Keane. Keane would showcase his talent for comedy again, when he directed episodes of Outrageous Fortune and Diplomatic Immunity.
This short explores subtle tensions in a relationship between an artist and his model. To the young beauty who has arrived to model nude, the aging painter (played by the director Jonathan Brough’s father) initially appears decent and respectful. But when she demands to see the painting before he is ready, and he refuses, his intentions are questioned. Based on a short story by American Bernard Malamud, this understated two-hander was invited to play at Cannes, in a special 1994 season of Kiwi shorts. It was Hawera-raised Brough’s second (self-funded) short.
In this dark short film debut by director Simon Baré, newly promoted Catherine (Kirsty Hamilton) is taken to an opulent restaurant by the more worldly-wise Grant (playwright David Geary) and Sarah (Smuts-Kennedy). The evening promises a “dance with our darkest fear” — but its amoral reality utterly challenges Catherine (and makes grim Greenaway-esque irony of the title). Singer/composer Janet Roddick provides the soundtrack (Edith Piaf’s ‘Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien’) for this winner at the NZ Film Awards and Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival.
Lala Rolls (Children of the Migration) wrote and directed this short film, which gives a view of family life from a child's perspective. A young girl (Chelsie Preston Crayford) is disturbed from sleep by the sound of adults arguing. She tries to shut out this grown-up world by pretending to be "adult" and taking care of the dinner wasting in the kitchen while her parents unwittingly carry on arguing.
Christine Jeffs made her directing debut with this lush, high end (35mm film, Dolby sound) short film. Dorothy (Fiona Samuel), a lone swimmer, luxuriates in tranquil bliss at a deserted pool — only to have her solitude rudely interrupted by a squad of swimmers. A wordless, strikingly choreographed conflict ensues as Dorothy attempts to assert herself against the dehumanised aggression of the swimmers. Stroke was invited to international festivals including Cannes and Sundance; and Jeffs went on to direct feature films Rain and Sunshine Cleaning.
Noel (Patrick Smyth) and Faith (Kate Harcourt) are happily retired; they while away their time digging into the earth beneath their house and sifting for treasure from the knick-knacks and 'thingamajigs' of history. Then a tremor shakes up “Dad’s excavations”. Adopting a low-dialogue storytelling approach, this reflective tale of finding life and meaning in the small things marked a rare screenwriting credit for Vintner's Luck author Elizabeth Knox (collaborating with director Neil Pardington). It screened as part of Kiwi shorts showcase at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival.
In this film, late choreographer Douglas Wright's work Gloria is captured on camera by Alun Bollinger, in a rare directorial effort from the legendary Kiwi cinematographer. Antonio Vivaldi's Gloria RV589, a hymn praising the birth of Christ, plays behind a yellow and black flurry of limbs and gestures. The journey from gymnastic leaps to rest, marks the cycle of life. The work was shot soon after Wright returned from his dance OE and formed the Douglas Wright Dance Company. The screening attracted attention from morals groups worried about nudity on television.
“For three days, Wellington, New Zealand will become the Monte Carlo of the South Pacific”. Monaco Monza Macao Wellington follows a champion saloon car team (BMW Schnitzer M3) racing in 1989's Nissan Mobil 500 Wellington street race. From their arrival from Macao, to crashes, dramatic victory and a Coromandel wind-down, the documentary goes behind the scenes of a race team on the international circuit. Features interviews with team manager Charlie Lamm, drivers (Emanuele Pirro, Roberto Ravaglia), and a young Jude Dobson as interviewer.
In 1989 dancer Douglas Wright returned home to choreograph and form his own company. This half-hour TV documentary, marking the launch of his work Gloria, looks back on a blossoming career that began at 21 — when he took up ballet to overcome a heroin addiction. After becoming a star with Limbs, Wright joined prestigious troupes in London and New York. Now, as opening night looms, he is acutely aware of the danger of pushing his dancers too hard as he fights to get the best out of them on an ambitious, demanding piece. Douglas passed away in November 2018.