Profile image for Tony Hiles

Tony Hiles

Director, Producer

Tony Hiles has written, produced and directed films and documentaries since the mid 1960s.

English-born and raised, Hiles got hooked into photography after getting his first stills camera around the age of eight. Hiles did time as a mechanic in the air force, then moved to New Zealand in the 60s. 

His first film documented a visit by US President Lyndon B Johnson to New Zealand in 1966. Between then and 1969, Hiles made commercials for Stan Wemyss, who ran a production house out of what is now Wellington's Penthouse cinema. 

Lured to state television by the promise of more directing and producing work, Hiles spent the 70s making a wide variety of shows, from studio productions like On Camera to Country Calendar, from comedy (The Les Deverett Variety Hour) and variety shows, to magazine programmes (Good Day). Hiles remembers it as "a luxurious time when we weren't driven by ratings".

In 1980, Hiles and his partner, Fair Go presenter Judith Fyfe, set up independent production company City Associates. Hiles focussed on social and arts documentaries, and later interactive projects like Waiorongomai - Waters of Repute.

He used video cameras then untried in New Zealand to shoot 1981's From the Road, about photographer Robin Morrison. In 1988 Hiles directed the offbeat Flight of Fancy, which chronicles a project to build wings and fly by painter Michael Smither (you can read more about it here). The result sold well internationally; it also won Hiles a Special Jury Prize at the 1988 NZ Adventure Film Festival, was invited to French documentary festival Cinema du Reel, and also won a local award for Best Cinematography. 

In the mid 1980s Hiles' friend, NZ Film Commission executive director Jim Booth, asked him to assess a project being filmed by an amateur filmmaker called Peter Jackson. Credited ultimately as consultant producer and for additional script, Hiles helped shepherd Jackson's Bad Taste through to completion, after four years of production. He also cameos in the opening scenes as Coldfinger. As he writes here, Hiles went on to direct a making of documentary,  Good Taste Made Bad Taste.

Later Hiles worked with Jim Booth on the development of his own first feature, Jack Brown Genius. Described as a "goofily offbeat" tale, the movie involves a modern day inventor possessed by the spirit of a 10th Century monk, who creates a flying machine. After Booth's passing, Hiles worked further on the project with Jackson and Fran Walsh. Jack Brown Genius earned Hiles a Kodak Best Director Gong at the 1996 New Zealand Film and TV awards. Hiles writes about the film's troubled path here.

In 2007, Hiles' documentary Antonello and the Architect, about Wellington architect Bill Toomath's life, and his passion for a Renaissance painting, screened in the New Zealand International Film Festival.

In 2009 he announced the beginning of a decade-long, multi-documentary project, chronicling artist Michael Smither at work in his eighth decade. The first film, Michael Smither: Shared Harmonics, was released in September 2009. A number of the Smither films have debuted in the yearly round of local film festivals; second film Artist in Residence was invited to the Cinema des Antipodes festival in France.

Sources include

Tony Hiles
City Associates website. Accessed 31 March 2020
Mary-Jane Duffy, "Flight of Fancy' NZ On Screen website. Loaded 17 December 2008. Accessed 15 March 2009
Ian Pryor, Peter Jackson - From prince of splatter to lord of the rings (Auckland: Random House New Zealand, 2003)