The first part of this disturbing double documentary focuses on the man accused of molesting seven children in a Christchurch crèche in 1992. The programme is divided into seven chapters, in which Ellis talks about his accusation and arrest, the trial, his prison sentence, his two appeals and his eventual release in 2000. Ellis initially thought the accusation was so ridiculous that it would soon get sorted out. Instead, he was found guilty on 16 charges and convicted to 10 years imprisonment, despite the lack of any conclusive evidence.
In the last of a trilogy of tele-movies, private investigators John Lawless (Kevin Smith) and Jodie Keane (Shortland Street's Angela Dotchin) seek the truth behind an apparent suicide. Their client is visiting mystery woman Lana Vitale (a strong performance by American Jennifer Rubin) who wants to know why her husband is dead. For Lawless, the trial soon leads to romance, intrigue, plus a shady nightclub/ porn operator (singer Frankie Stevens). This Kiwi take on American crime shows includes an appearance by Snakeskin actor Dean O'Gorman.
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).
Until Proven Innocent is based on the case of David Dougherty, and the lawyer, scientist and journalist who concluded he had been wrongly convicted. In 1993 Dougherty was jailed for the rape and abduction of an 11-year-old girl. This dramatisation follows the campaign to prove his innocence: court appeals, journalism, and a key piece of DNA evidence. Chosen to open 2009's Sunday Theatre season the tele-movie was nominated for 10 Qantas Awards, and won five, including best drama and best actor (for Cohen Holloway's standout performance as Dougherty).
In 1994, Teina Pora was found guilty of the rape and murder of Susan Burdett. He spent 22 years behind bars despite physical evidence implicating someone else, and concerns over the reliability of Pora's confession. In this Māori Television documentary, director Michael Bennett examines the case against Pora, and private investigator Tim McKinnel's belief in his innocence. This excerpt includes footage from Pora’s original police interview and a visit where he fails to identify Burdett’s house. In 2015 the Privy Council quashed Pora's conviction
This often confronting documentary observes a Māori restorative justice model through the eyes of straight-talking Mike Hinton, manager of Restorative Justice at Manukau Urban Māori Authority. The bringing together of victims (including wider whānau) and offenders may offer an alternate way forward for "a criminal justice system failing too many and costing too much”. Restoring Hope kicked off Māori Television’s 2013 season of Sunday night documentaries. In a Herald On Sunday preview, Sarah Lang argued it was “enough to restore hope in local documentary-making.”
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.
After her son Kamal Bamadhaj — a New Zealand Malaysian student of history and Indonesian politics — was shot dead in the Dili massacre in East Timor in 1991, New Zealander Helen Todd decided to pursue a law suit against the Indonesian general she believed was responsible. Her personal and political campaign for justice would eventually span five continents and four years. The documentary from director Annie Goldson (An Island Calling) won acclaim, and a number of awards at international film festivals.
Christchurch property developer Dave Henderson experienced bankruptcy, accusations of fraud, and 25 plus tax audits. This Kafkaesque comedy is based on his best-selling book about a five-year battle with the tax department, over a $924,000 bill. Kiwi/Scot actor Erik Thomson returned from Australia to play Henderson, while a near-unrecognisable Michael Hurst cameos as MP Rodney Hide. Lumiere reviewer Simon Sweetman praised the “superb” casting, and Thomson’s playful performance. The film is adapted and directed by screen vet Jonothan Cullinane.
In the early hours of 1 January 1998 Ben Smart and Olivia Hope, two young partygoers in the Marlborough Sounds, were in a water taxi looking for a place to crash. They vanished and were never seen again. The investigation transfixed the nation, and led to the conviction of Scott Watson for murder. Directed for TV3 by John Keir (Flight 901: The Erebus Disaster), this 2002 documentary revisits the case from the perspective of two fathers — Gerald Hope and Chris Watson — and brings them together for the first time to talk about whether Scott Watson is guilty.