Sons for the Return Home tells the story of a Romeo and Juliet romance between students Sione, a NZ-raised Samoan, and Sarah, a middle class palagi. Director Paul Maunder shifts between time and setting (London, Wellington, Samoa) in adapting Albert Wendt's landmark 1973 novel. Sons was the first feature film attentive to Samoan experience in NZ — alongside themes of identity, racism and social and sexual consciousness. In this excerpt Sione meets Sarah's parents, and his tin'a has him scrubbing their Newtown pavement prior to Sarah's reciprocal visit.
The 1978 death of Kerry Hamill in Khmer Rouge prison S21 provided a tangible link for New Zealanders to a genocide that claimed two million Cambodian lives. Thirty years later, this acclaimed documentary by filmmaker Annie Goldson follows Hamill’s brother Rob — an Olympian and Trans-Atlantic rowing champion — as he attends the war crimes trial of Comrade Duch, one of the architects of the slaughter. Hamill is there to make a victim impact statement, but also to understand how his brother died, confront the man responsible, and discover if forgiveness is possible.
Shot in black and white (by Terry King and future Harry Potter cinematographer Michael Seresin), this early Tony Williams directorial effort answers its road safety instructional mandate with style. A jazzy soundtrack scores the setting up of a literal ‘lives collide’ plot. Two lovers go rambling; a gallerist in a goatee takes photos on a car trip, a beau takes his girl for a Wellington coastal drive, a musical duo drive from a 2ZB recording session ... all the while emergency room flash-forwards are intercut and the clock ticks as basic road safety lessons are ignored.
Broken Barrier marked the first New Zealand dramatic feature to be made since 1940. Its production saw directors John O'Shea and Roger Mirams crowding into a Vauxhall with two silent cameras, one picked up "from a dead German in the Western Desert". Ditching dialogue for 'spoken thoughts', the pioneering film examines cultural complications in a romance between a Pākehā journalist (Terence Bayler) and a Māori nurse (Kay Ngarimu, aka Keita Whakato Walker). According to O'Shea, some viewers considered it "a dirty movie" for spurring mixed race relationships.
Tangata Whenua was a groundbreaking six-part documentary series that screened (remarkably in primetime) in 1974. Each episode chronicled a different iwi and included interviews by historian Michael King with kaumātua. These remain a priceless historical record. The Feltex Award-winning script was by King and director Barry Barclay. The NZBC said the series had "possibly done more towards helping the European understand the Māori people, their traditions and way of life, than anything else previously shown on television". Paul Diamond writes about Tangata Whenua here.
“The big ALL FUN show for the whole family to enjoy!” said the ads for this musical comedy, which was one of only two Kiwi features made in the 1960s. Moving from Sydney to a Rotorua music festival, it follows the romance between a lively drummer (Gary Wallace) and Judy (Carmen Duncan), and the hurdles they face to stay true. That's only an excuse for a melange of madcap musical fun. Made by John O’Shea for Pacific Films, the movie featured performers Howard Morrison (who sings in this excerpt), Lew Pryme and Kiri Te Kanawa, plus distinctive graphics by artist Pat Hanly.
Cannes is the town in France where Bergman meets bikinis, and the art of filmmaking meets the art of the deal. In 1975, a group of expat Kiwis managed to score interviews with some of the festival's emerging talents, indulging their own cinematic dreams in the process. Werner Herzog waxes lyrical on the trials and scars of directing; a boyish Steven Spielberg recalls the challenges of framing shots during Jaws; Martin Scorsese and Dustin Hoffman talk a gallon. Six years later interviewer Michael Heath's debut script The Scarecrow would be invited to Cannes.
Gliding On meets Borat, as a man pretending to be a fisherman from a fictional town heads to Wellington to find out if any government agency will take action about fish he says are dying in his river. Clad in jacket and tie and walk shorts and walk socks, he traipses the corridors of power which are artfully shot to look like a hell from which he will never escape. His attempts to find someone who can take action yield only a succession of impotent bureaucrats who participate happily but only to explain, often at length, why they can’t actually do anything.
“A film developed from the imagination of New Zealand children” is how director Tony Williams describes this remarkable, sprawling mix of drama and documentary. It features a fictitious teacher (writer Michael Heath) working with a class of 11-year-olds from Petone to explore what freedom means to them. At times their notions might seem naive but the film remains firmly non-judgmental. The free-wheeling approach, most memorable in the Paekakariki beach fantasy scenes, makes for a “wonderfully idiosyncratic” (film historian Roger Horrocks) hymn to juvenile freedom.
This short film is a re-enactment of events leading to Ngāti Toa leader Te Rauparaha’s ‘Ka Mate’ haka; he composed the chant after evading enemy capture by hiding in a kumara pit. (The haka would become famous after the All Blacks adopted it as a pre-game challenge.) Directed by pioneering filmmaker Barry Barclay in te reo, produced by John O’Shea and written by Tama Poata, the short was made in the lead-up to landmark Māori feature Ngati. Many of the crew were enlisted via a work scheme, aimed at redressing the lack of young Māori working in the screen industry.