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.
Dunedin barrister Alf Hanlon’s first — and most famous — defence case was the first episode in this award-winning drama series about his career. In 1895, alleged baby farmer Minnie Dean was charged with murdering two infants in her care. Hanlon’s inspired manslaughter defence was undermined by the judge’s direction to the jury; and Dean became the only woman to be hanged in NZ. Hanlon vowed none of his future clients would ever suffer this fate. Emmy-nominated and a major critical success, the episode contributed to a re-evaluation of Dean’s conviction.
One of a trio of late 90s Kiwi crime-based pilots, Street Legal was the only one that would successfully spawn a series - four series, in fact (though Kevin Smith vehicle Lawless saw two further tele-movies). The Street Legal pilot provides a stylish big city template for the show to come, as Auckland criminal lawyer David Silesi (Jay Laga-aia) enlists the help of an over- enthusiastic journalist (Sara Wiseman) in the hope of winning an out-of-court settlement over a hit and run case. Meanwhile Silesi's lawyer girlfriend smells something fishy - with good reason.
Christchurch policeman Stefen Harris launched his film career with this feature-length adaptation of his own book The Waikikamukau Conspiracy, about a small town Māori land claim. When drama funding couldn’t be secured, it was shot as a low budget mockumentary in just six days in South Canterbury. Jim Moriarty manages to be endearing in his determination to regain his people’s land at any cost, while David McPhail and Mark Hadlow enthusiastically lampoon the judicial system. The film won Best Digital Feature at the 2007 Air New Zealand Screen Awards.
Running an impressive four series, stylish crime show Street Legal centred around a struggling Auckland law firm, home base for unorthodox lawyer David Silesi (Jay Laga'aia), and sometime girlfriend Joni Collins (Kathleen Kennard). 'Ellis's Restaurant', the first episode made following the pilot, sees Silesi defending an ex-junkie on a possession charge, and facing off for the first time on screen against Sergeant Keens Van Dam (Charlies Mesure). The episode also sees the debut of Silesi's beloved 1944 Ford Jailbar, after his Ute unexpectedly ends up in pieces.
On 4 December 1966 pirate radio hit Kiwi airwaves when Radio Hauraki broadcast from the Colville Channel aboard the vessel Tiri. In this feature, rookie director Craig Newland and writer Andrew Gunn fictionalise the true life story of the station’s battle to get to air — overcoming courtroom rulings and a conservative state broadcasting monopoly, as well as storms at sea. Go Girls actor Matt Whelan (who was Moa-nominated for the role) plays young rebel journo Richard Davis, fighting for free speech, the freedom to choose, the woman he loves … and rock’n’roll!
This courtroom drama sets in conflict opinions about the proposed sale of a block of Māori ancestral land. The arguments are intercut with footage of the 1975 land march, and Jim Moriarty comments on proceedings as a tangata whenua conscience. The drama shows its stage origins (it was adapted by Rowley Habib from his 1976 play) but it is passionate and articulate, and is notable as the first TV drama to be written by a Māori scriptwriter. The grievances aired echoed contemporary events, particularly the Eva Rickard-led occupation of the Raglan Golf Course.
The second season of web series Dislawderly sees outspoken law student Audrey facing love and student elections, and preparing for a moot (a mock trial). Series creator and real life law student Georgia Rippin (who also stars) used responses from the law school’s 2016 gender survey to frame her storylines — like female students being chided for speaking in a high pitch in the courtroom. Dislawderly's mockery of sexism proved timely. The second season dropped two months after a scandal over how female student clerks had been treated at a major New Zealand law firm.
Rowley Habib — also known as Rore Hapipi — was one of the first writers to bring a genuinely Māori perspective to New Zealand stage and screen. His play Death of the Land is seen as a landmark in the development of Māori theatre. In 1983 Habib won a Feltex Award for land rights drama The Protestors, part of a trio of pioneering one-off plays for television. Habib passed away on 3 April 2016.
Richard Turner’s work as a director began with poetry-based works, pioneering Māori works for television, and Squeeze (1980), New Zealand’s first gay-themed feature. Since then he has made films largely in Australia.