Tim Woodhouse has cut some of New Zealand’s most celebrated documentaries since crossing from Australia in 1989. Although he won a Best Editing award for drama Staunch, Woodhouse has largely specialised in documentary. En route he has worked with director Leanne Pooley on Haunting Douglas, Topp Twins hit Untouchable Girls, Beyond The Edge (about Hillary on Everest), and animated film 25 April.
It’s a slow evolving process, not unlike whittling a tree trunk into an ornate toothpick. Tim Woodhouse on editing, in Take Magazine, Spring 2009
Bruce McLaren was one of the icons of motor racing in the sport's 60s ‘golden age’ – he won four Grand Prix, and joined fellow Kiwi Chris Amon to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The McLaren team he founded became one of the most successful in Formula One. In this documentary, director Roger Donaldson returns to the tarmac where he has made a mark before — Smash Palace, his fictional story of a race car driver, and two films inspired by Invercargill's DIY racing legend Burt Munro. Stuff reviewer James Croot called McLaren "engrossing, enlightening and surprisingly emotional".
The first animated feature made and originated in New Zealand, 25 April tells the story of the country's involvement in an ill-fated mission to take a piece of Turkish coastline during World War I. 2700 Kiwis died and ‘ANZAC’ became a symbol of national identity. Director Leanne Pooley mines archive war diaries, and uses graphic novel style recreations from Flux Animation to evoke the the perspective of six participants. 25 April debuted at the 2015 Toronto Film Festival. Alongside the excerpt, a short making of video shows how facial motion capture fed into the film's distinctive look.
In 2012 a number of state houses were relocated from Glen Innes in Auckland to Kaitaia, making way for property developers. A Place to Call Home follows two women at odds with each other, both railing for positive change. Betty Kanuta is an evicted tenant, leading protests against the destruction of her community. Fleur Palmer is purchasing some of the state houses to build a Māori housing development, to help poor families in Kaitaia. Director Briar March's documentary debuted on Māori Television in 2014 as Whare Tapa Whā, before being expanded into a feature-length cut.
In this first episode of the 2015 Māori Television series, three rangitahi answer a Facebook call for sailors who are up for reconnecting with nature and their culture, on a six week waka journey circumnavigating the North Island. The te ao Māori twist on the fish out of water reality show sees a trio of young Māori (including Boy discovery Rickylee Russell-Waipuka) set sail on Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr’s waka Haunui, where they’re separated from social media, face seasickness and rough seas, and learn the "ancient laws of voyaging". The winner gets the chance to join a voyage to Rarotonga.
Beyond the Edge tells the story of Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay’s first ascent of the world’s highest mountain. Award-winning director Leanne Pooley (Untouchable Girls) mixes archival material with recreations of the English-led 1953 Everest expedition. 3D cameras were used to put viewers in the crampons of the climbers, and evoke the endurance and dangers faced as they ventured to the top of the world. Beyond the Edge debuted at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival, where it was one of two runner-ups for the People’s Choice Documentary Award.
At the age of eight, filmmaker Robyn Paterson (white) and her best friend Mercy (black) greeted Comrade Robert Mugabe with flowers at a Zimbabwe air-force base. They became poster children of the new Zimbabwe. But the country was soon to descend into turmoil under Mugabe’s rule, and Paterson’s family was forced to flee to New Zealand. This documentary traces Paterson’s return to her birthplace a generation later, and a high-risk undercover search to find the fate of her childhood friend. Mercy won Paterson the Best Emerging Director Award at 2013 DocEdge Festival.
Starting in the questioning times of the late 60s, many New Zealanders began leaving town to set up their own communities, in search of alternative ways to live. This then and now documentary travels to communes long gone and still active, and tracks down many of those involved. Tim Shadbolt describes a time when people questioned "everything fearlessly ... without reserve and without restraint". The back to the land approach brought both satisfaction and fatigue. Dirty Bloody Hippies played to full houses at NZ's Documentary Edge Festival.
Part concept film, part biopic, part historical record and part comedy, Leanne Pooley’s documentary was made to mark the Topp Twins' 50th birthday. New Zealand's favourite comedic, country singing, dancing and yodeling lesbian twin sisters tell their personal story: from their 'coming out' to Jools' brush with breast cancer. The film features archive material, home movies and interviews with the Topps' alter egos. Alongside local box office success and dozens of international awards, Girls won the People’s Choice award for favourite documentary at the 2009 Toronto Film Festival.
Attitude is a weekly series looking at the issues and interests of people living with a disability. This Attitude special follows the Wheel Blacks wheelchair rugby team over four years, as they prepare for the upcoming 2008 Paralympics in Beijing. Four Wheel Blacks were on the production team of Attitude at the time; player and original Attitude co-host Curtis Palmer presents the programme. The documentary follows the team from their 2004 gold medal win at the Athens Paralympics, through various international competitions in the lead-up to Beijing.
Allan Wilson was the Pukekohe-raised scientist who revolutionised the study of evolutionary biology. Inspired by birds, he developed molecular approaches to 'clock' evolutionary change, and raised the hypothesis that humans evolved from one 'Eve' in Africa about 200,000 years ago. He is the only New Zealander to win a pretigious US MacArthur “genius” Award. The Listener called the film, a "shrewd insight into the man himself: the quintessential pioneering expat Kiwi individualist." It was made in partnership with UC Berkeley where Wilson was based for 35 years.
Billy Apple: enigma, con man, or artist? Being Billy Apple looks at one of New Zealand's most controversial contemporary artists: a man who changed his name, then turned himself into a brand. Director Leanne Pooley (The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls) follows Apple's life, and looks at his work in the context of the development of conceptual art overseas. This opening excerpt from the 70-minute documentary sees Apple talking with the filmmaker about whether it is important his face is even seen on screen.
Near the end of his life, renowned English composer Edward Elgar composed some of the greatest music of his career. This film examines the idea that Elgar's deeply emotional Cello Concerto in E Minor was provoked by memories of his first great love, Helen Weaver, who emigrated downunder after their relationship ended. After learning that Weaver's son had been killed fighting in France, Elgar was moved to write a war requiem. The award-nominated film mixed interviews, dramatisations, and a performance of the concerto by cellist Lynn Harrell and the NZ Symphony Orchestra.
In this documentary 'Naked Samoan' Oscar Kightley, and Māori radio/TV personality Nathan Rarere use DNA technology to trace their families' ancestry. They discover that their forebears originated in Taiwan before migrating to the Pacific via Vanuatu (and the Cook Islands, for those going on to Aotearoa). On the DNA trail they meet locals and find striking cultural similarities — even in Taiwan, where the indigenous people look Polynesian, and provide a haka-like welcome. The film won top honours at the International Oceania Documentary Film Festival in Tahiti.
Some argue that if the 1981 Springbok rugby tour of New Zealand had been halted from the outset, the impact on the hearts and minds of South Africans would not have been as profound. This Leanne Pooley-directed film aims to show how events in Aotearoa (captured in Merata Mita's documentary Patu!) played out in South Africa; how the tour protests energized blacks, shamed the regime, and provoked democratic change. Says Archbishop Desmond Tutu: "You really can't even compute its value, it said the world has not forgotten us, we are not alone."
After Lesley Martin took her mother’s life to end her suffering from terminal cancer, she told the world about it in a book, To Die Like A Dog. Martin was charged with attempted murder and sentenced to fifteen months in prison. This award-winning documentary chronicles her subsequent ordeal as a martyr to the cause of euthanasia. Leanne Pooley's film won NZ Screen gongs for Best Documentary and Camerawork, and a best of festival award from the Input Festival in Taiwan.
Twenty eight years after featuring in landmark feminist documentary series Women, five interviewees reveal how their lives have changed. Donna Awatere Huata, Miriam Cameron, Sandi Hall, Aloma Parker and Marcia Russell candidly discuss work, sex, the media and Māori in this 70 minute documentary. Artist Cameron recalls how feminists were seen in the 1970s: "she was a braless, hairy, fat hag". Journalist Russell remembers not being allowed to work past 11pm because she was a woman, while psychologist Parker felt liberated by feminist Germaine Greer's refusal to wear a bra.
Haunting Douglas is a documentary portrait of dancer and choreographer Douglas Wright. It weaves interviews with footage of past performances, and extracts from his autobiography; from drug addiction and illness, to determination and triumph on the New York stage with the Paul Taylor Dance Company. Award-winning director Leanne Pooley captures Wright's resilience: "I need to make things to feel that I can cope with whatever reality is. For me, dancing, performing for people, is the ultimate mystery and the ultimate joy." Wright passed away in November 2018.
In this 2002 documentary director Brita McVeigh heads down the aisle to explore the world of air hostesses in air travel’s glamorous 60s and 70s heyday. Seven ex-“trolley dollies” recall exacting beauty regimes, controversial uniform changes, and the job’s unspoken insinuation of sexual availability. The cheese and cracker trolley becomes a vehicle that charts the changing status of women as McVeigh argues that — despite layovers in Honolulu, and a then-rare working opportunity for ‘girls’ — the high life concealed harassment, and struggles for equal rights and pay.
Whanganui-born chef Peter Gordon helmed the Sugar Club in Wellington in the 80s, before moving to the UK and started up a series of acclaimed restaurants, including Providores and Tapa Room (opened shortly after this doco was made). Plaudits as a pioneer of ‘fusion’ cooking followed. Here the ‘kai magpie’, takes in everything from paw paw to paua on a homecoming taste trip: raw fish in Rarotonga, Waikato River 'tuna', deer at Wairarapa’s Te Parae, Seresin organic olive oil, Marlborough koura, Stewart Island oysters, and more. The one-off special screened on TV One and on BBC2.
Aotearoa is the last big land mass on earth discovered and settled by people (orthodox history suggests Māori arrived around 1280). Directed by Mark McNeill, this Greenstone TV documentary examines controversial evidence put forward to claim an alternative pre-Māori settlement — from cave drawings and carvings, to rock formations and statues. Historians, scientists, museum curators, and amateur archaeologists weigh up the arguments, DNA, carbon, and oral stories of the early Waitaha people, to sift hard fact from mysticism and hope.
This Philip Temple-scripted episode of Our People, Our Century covers stories of New Zealanders and their turangawaewae: a piece of land they call their own. The importance of the land to farming families, and to the economy of NZ is explored through the eyes of three families. Elworthy Station in South Canterbury is being farmed by a 5th generation Elworthy. Two elderly ladies reminisce on their childhood in remote Mangapurua, near Raetihi in the central North Island. And a Māori family in Taranaki reflects on their decision to sell the family farm.
This episode of the Kiwi social history series explores the importance of the ‘cradle to grave' beliefs about education, health and social welfare that have underpinned NZ governance since the 1930s. But radical reforms toward the end of the 20th century were more focused on individual opportunity than the wider social contract. Excerpts here use influential unionist James ‘Big Jim’ Roberts and generations of his family to chart social change. Written by feminist Sandra Coney, this episode also provides an overview of the monumental change in the lives of women.
New Zealand is a nation that has been scarred by war: from the horrendous loss of lives at Gallipoli to the decimation of the 28th Māori Battalion, Kiwis have gone to war in their 1000s, and many have not returned. This Our People, Our Century edition explores the experiences of soldiers, and the families who waited at home. It also examines the long tradition of protest against war, from the anti-Vietnam movement to the more recent anti-nuclear protests. The script by Philip Temple, won a best documentary script award at the 2000 NZ TV Guide Television awards.
Taking in depression and prosperity, this edition of the Kiwi social history series explores the boom and bust cycles of the economy. Stories include TJ Edmonds, of baking powder fame, who made his fortune by hawking his wares around Christchurch before opening his iconic factory. Factory workforces expanded, and with them unions. Worker dissatisfaction with pay and conditions led to the Queen Street riot of 1932, a defining moment in NZ history retold here by protest leader Jim Edwards' son. Edwards’ real estate agent granddaughter is also interviewed.
This comedy series followed the daily life of an 1800s Māori chief (Pio Terei) and his interactions with other Māori and newly-arrived Pākehā settlers. Nothing was sacred as a subject for satire, from disease to English gold lust. Created by Ray Lillis (Pio!), the series features Rachel House (Whale Rider), Jason Hoyte (Late Night Big Breakfast), William Davis (Belief) and Jonathan Brugh (What We Do in the Shadows). Guests included Dalvanius and Charles Mesure. It was produced by Terei’s Pipi Productions for TVNZ over two seasons; Terei had shifted from TV3 after his series Pio! in 1999.
This turn of the century comedy series follows the daily life of fictional colonial Māori chief Te Tutu (Pio Terei). In the first episode, 'Welcome', it’s 1838 and Te Tutu meets a shipload of newly-arrived New Zealand Company settlers. Ngāti Pati elders debate whether or not to eat them. Tama (Dalvanius) wants to, but Te Tutu pushes for the vegetarian option by outlining the threat of Pākehā diseases to Māori private parts. The boys can’t decide but when Tama’s wife arrives everything is ka pai, and the kōrero turns to real estate. The script is by series creator Ray Lillis.
This turn of the century comedy series was a satirical look at colonial life through the eyes of moderately hapless Māori chief Te Tutu (Pio Terei). Complications from over-fishing of kai moana (seafood) are the main plot spurs of this second episode. Meanwhile a newcomer to Aotearoa – Herrick's brother, an English army toff played by Charles Mesure (Desperate Housewives, This is Not My Life) – attracts the attention of Hine Toa (Rachel House), and hatches an evil plan (‘MAF’: Murder All Fishes). Meanwhile the patronising Vole continues his campaign of colonisation.
This turn of the century comedy series is a satirical look at colonial life through the eyes of Māori chief Te Tutu (Pio Terei). In this third episode, Te Tutu interrogates efforts by the settlers to mine for gold, and has designs on Vole's stove. Objects of ridicule include Pākehā and Māori cuisine; settler lust for “a useless, worthless, dangerous, coloured stone”; and patronising colonialism: “what’s the story with those beads and blankets? Haven’t they got any cash?” Meanwhile hangi pits are causing a spate of injuries. Michael Saccente has a guest role as an American miner.
Religion is the subject of this fourth episode of the series satirising colonial relations between Māori and Pākehā. Chief Te Tutu (Pio Terei) is disturbed by the bells ringing from the new church being built by settler Henry Vole, and goes to investigate. He finds a tohunga dressed like a tui. Te Tutu’s interpretation of the scripture leads to complications. Meanwhile Mrs Vole (Emma Lange) continues to do all the work while the Pākehā blokes chinwag. John Leigh (Sparky in Outrageous Fortune) guest stars as an Anglican minister under pressure from Vole to spice up his sermons.
In the tradition of Billy T's 'first encounter' skits, this series used satire to examine pre-Treaty of Waitangi relations between tangata whenua and Pākehā settlers. The topic of this fifth episode is health. After Te Tutu (Pio Terei) wakes with a bad back, his daughter Hine Toa (Rachel House) suggests trying out some alternative medicine: Pākehā bedding. Newly arrived Nurse Veruca (a cameo from Susan Brady) clashes with comical tohunga Tu Meke (William Davis) and stirs up symptoms in Henry Vole. Terei has commented that the show's take-no-prisoners humour was ahead of its time.
This topic of the sixth episode of this Māori/Pākehā satire is 'war'. Irish Colonel North (played by veteran actor Ian Mune) and his British Army soldiers arrive, on their way north to fight Hōne Heke — provoking chief Te Tutu (Pio Terei) and Ngāti Pati into action. Te Tutu’s warmongering with the settlers includes mooning, flagpole-felling and insulting Mr Vole's long-suffering wife (Emma Lange). When the signals aren’t picked up, a stolen rooster gets things moving. A fierce haka is answered by a traditional English song: 'Old Macdonald had a farm'.
The final episode of the first season of this colonial comedy tackles the Treaty, as settler Henry Vole argues that his land (purchased off a bloke he met at a bar in Tauranga) is fairly his. The pros and cons of a treaty are debated: “where all Māori may benefit from the administration that gave us the 18 hour working day for children”. Te Tutu counters with a Martin Luther King dream: “where the English are not marginalised in Aotearoa simply because they are a minority … where the English language won’t be lost because we’ll have Pākehā language nests …”
Staunch follows the politicisation of Ariana (Once Were Warriors’ Mamaengaroa Kerr-Bell) a young Māori woman who’s run into trouble with the law. Guided by a sympathetic social worker (Tamati Patuwai) she defends herself against assault charges following a police raid on her home. The Auckland-set TV3 drama was inspired by fact, and co-written by director Keith Hunter and playwright Toa Fraser; it won multiple gongs at the 2002 NZ TV Awards. Staunch was an early screen credit for Fraser (director of feature films No. 2, Dean Spanley, and ballet doco Giselle).
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.
This 'docu-soap' put six 20-somethings into a rented house for three months — including a beauty contestant and a live-in cameraman. It was one of a series of 90s reality shows observing homelife which were soon to become a phenomenon, thanks to Big Brother. But without a lockdown or 24-7 surveillance, Flatmate's charms were more quaint, offering a homespun twist on MTV's pioneering The Real World (which debuted in 1992). The show was broadcast on now-defunct channel TV4, and made a minor celebrity of outspoken flattie Vanessa.
Flatmates observes six Kiwi 20-somethings as they share a house for three months: four students (one a Miss Howick beauty contestant), a confident young gay financial consultant, and a cameraman (also one of the show's directors). In this first episode the flatties move in, go shopping, have a party, and end up calling the police after partygoers get out of control. Flatmates was one of a number of 90s reality shows observing 'homelife' as created for the cameras. It was broadcast on the now-defunct TV4. Straight-talking student Vanessa became a minor local celebrity.
In this documentary Cherie James pays tribute to New Zealand’s best-loved entertainer, telling Billy T James story from a daughter’s perspective. Performers who worked with Billy in his showband The Maori Volcanics also share their memories, as do family members who reminisce about Billy's early life growing up in the Waikato. Cherie provides her perspective on the well-publicised arguments that occurred after his death and why it was so important for Billy to be buried beside his mother on the sacred Taupiri mountain overlooking Huntly.
Pioneering reality TV show Flatmates trained its cameras on the home life of a bunch of young Gen X/Gen Y Kiwis. In this second episode the flatmates clean up after a party gone wild — the landlord ain't happy — and discuss flat finances, chore rosters, gender politics, and Anzac Day. Christian mourns his first love, a Finnish exchange student. Meanwhile Vanessa's pronouncements on apt lecture-wear reveal why she became a minor celebrity (she later co-hosted youth show The Drum). And cameraman/flattie Craig finds the courage to reveal a complicating crush.
The third slot of this 90s reality show mixes a beauty contest with the follow-on from Craig’s cliffhanger romantic revelation at the end of the previous episode. In pieces to camera the flattie/cameraman, his new girlfriend Vanessa and the other flatmates discuss what the burgeoning relationship means. Meanwhile the flatties watch the Warriors lose, Geoffrey gets a bit tiddly, and Christian ends the episode recalling Vanessa’s embarrassingly loud off-stage behaviour while Natasha was competing for the title of Miss Howick 1996.
“After the trouble at Miss Howick I realised that life with Vanessa was going to be a roller coaster.” These immortal lines from flatmate and cameraman Chris Wright open the fourth episode of the 1997 ‘docu-soap’. Sexual strife is in the house: Craig is having doubts about whether his relationship with Vanessa is monogamous; Christian gets a rejection letter from Finland; Natasha appears to have a tiff with Nick; and too much drinking at Ceilla’s 21st results in conflict. Elsewhere, the flatties face up to vomit, cleaning, freeloading boyfriends and a game of hacky sack.
In this final episode of the 90s ‘docu-soap’, reality bites for the household of young Aucklanders. Vanessa demands to talk to cameraman/boyfriend/flattie Craig off-camera, and Craig's refusal to do so fails to help things. Geoffrey can’t remember vomiting in the bathroom; there’s frisbee in Cornwall Park and moments of romance; Christian gets a letter from his on/off Finnish girlfriend, and flunks chemistry at uni. But no flat lasts forever and Natasha packs up (taking her freeloading boyfriend with her), before the rest of the flatties go their separate ways.
This four-part series from 1996 presents the game of rugby as a mirror for New Zealand social history. Written by Finlay Macdonald, it sets out to explain how rugby became such an intrinsic part of New Zealand's identity. Each episode visits iconic paddocks (from schools to stadiums) and players (from amateurs Nepia, Meads, and Shelford, to professional star Lomu); and observers muse on the influence of the inflated pig's bladder on Kiwi culture, including historian Jock Phillips, writer Ian Cross and journalist TP Mclean.
This documentary follows the police investigation that lead to the capture and imprisonment of South Auckland rapist Joseph Thompson. He was the first serial rapist convicted in New Zealand. Using re-enactments and in depth interviews with police, the Keith Hunter-directed doco examines how the relatively new technology of DNA matching and criminal profiling led to the arrest of Thompson in 1995. Viewers are not spared details of his long-lasting and brutal rampage which targeted girls as young as 10. Thompson was eventually sentenced to over 30 years in prison.
This 1995 documentary comprehensively plots New Zealand's progress from enthusiastic supporter of the atomic bomb in the 1940s to becoming proudly nuclear free by the late 1980s. The birthplace of "father of the atom" Ernest Rutherford willingly participated in British tests at Christmas Island in the 1950s (and looked eagerly for uranium in the Buller Gorge). But as testing increased in the Pacific, Prime Ministers Holyoake, Kirk and Lange voiced opposition. Moruroa, nuclear ship visit protests and the Rainbow Warrior bombing fuelled the anti-nuclear cause.
According to Māori legend Aotearoa was found by the explorer Kupe, chasing an octopus from Ra'iatea, Tahiti. This documentary follows Northland building contractor Hekenukumai 'Hector' Busby, as he leads the construction of a waka hourua (double-hulled canoe), then retraces Kupe's course across the Pacific, back to Rarotonga. Busby first heads to Tahiti to learn navigation methods used by Polynesia's great ocean voyagers, then returns home to fell a kauri and begin building Te Aurere. Busby would go on to build at least another 20 waka; he passed away in May 2019.
Heartland was a long-running series where, in each episode, affable presenter Gary McCormick explored a Kiwi community. Location and local legend are relayed as McCormick (or occasionally Annie Whittle, Maggie Barry, or Kerre McIvor) interacts with the natives, most famously, tiger slipper-shod Chloe of Wainuiomata. The popular, award-winning series, was inspired by a collaboration — Raglan by the Sea — between McCormick and director Bruce Morrison; it connected mostly-urban Kiwis with faraway corners of the country, and a homely sense of shared identity.
As part of the radical 80s neoliberal reform of the public and corporate sector in New Zealand, many government-run assets were turned into state owned enterprises; some were sold off to foreign buyers. Screening on TV3, this 1991 film, written by Metro columnist Bruce Jesson, examines the controversial programme by asking “who owns this country and who controls it?”. Those answering range from businesspeople to politicians, academics, journalists, vox pops and critics of the ‘cashing-in’, from the Hamilton Jet family to UK environmentalist Teddy Goldsmith.
The capture and release of the French agents who bombed the Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior was not the end of the affair. This film documents the circumstances of the crime, but is focused on efforts by Greenpeace, and artist Chris Booth to create a sense of emotional closure. Booth worked with the Ngāti Kura people of Matauri Bay to create a sculpture marking the Warrior's last resting place. The film interweaves the back story of the bombing with sequences showing the efforts to finish the sculpture in time for commemorations.
The largest gathering ever seen of Māori tribal war canoes (waka taua) was one of the centrepieces of the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1990. This documentary, narrated by Tukuroirangi Morgan, followed the ambitious countrywide programme to build the ornately carved waka, and assemble them at Waitangi as a demonstration of Māori pride and unity. The 22 strong fleet, powered by 1000 paddlers, also fulfilled a dream of Tainui leader Princess Te Puea Herangi that had been curtailed 50 years earlier by World War II.