Section 7 was New Zealand’s first urban TV drama series and followed soon after Pukemanu (which was set in a logging town). Taking its name from the Criminal Justice Act section which placed offenders on probation, it focussed on a Probation Service office and addressed issues of the day including new migrants, ship girls and domestic violence. Expatriate Ewen Solon returned from England to take the lead role in a series very much based on British dramas of the time. More popular with critics than the public, Section 7 was limited to 11 half-hour episodes.
This documentary about the sex industry in New Zealand features frank but sympathetic interviews with sex workers (including the Prostitutes Collective) and their clients. Topics discussed include the sex workers' reasons for doing the job, physical and sexual safety, the impact of AIDS, the role of drink and drug abuse, and managing a relationship with a husband or boyfriend. The film screened on TV3 after arguments about censorship, which Costa Botes writes about here. A Double Standard makes a compelling case for the industry to be decriminalised. Law change occurred in 2003.
The light-hearted but star-heavy I'll Make You Happy unapologetically showcases a group of Auckland prostitutes, united by girl power — and a general distaste for their pimp (Michael Hurst). Jodie Rimmer dons many wigs and personas as Siggy, the spunky young sex worker who fends off Hurst's pleading advances, while pulling a nerdy banker (Ian Hughes) into her plans for a game-changing heist. The eclectic soundtrack is heavy on electronica, while the cast includes Rena Owen, Jennifer Ward-Lealand, dancer Taiaroa Royal, and a one-minute cameo by Lucy Lawless.
In a nod to his theatre training, Whale Rider actor Rawiri Paratene (then better known as a presenter on Play School) unveils three stories to a marae audience. A bored schoolboy (Faifua Amiga) banters with a sarcastic teacher; a musical number features a prostitute (Rena Owen) and her client; and a young girl and her grandfather prepare and wait for the body of her father at the pā. This was the first screen drama directed by Don Selwyn, who argued "what Rawiri is saying in his script is that there are lots of things Māori which are left out of the education system."
In more repressed times, Carmen was one of NZ's most colourful and controversial figures. Geoff Steven's doco traces the life story of the transgender icon who was born Trevor Rupe in Taumarunui in 1936 and went on to be a dancer, sex worker, madam, cafe owner — and one of the few non-MPs to appear before the Privileges Committee. Steven shines a light on a bygone era of gay culture but avoids the temptation to focus on the seedy — opting, instead, for extended fantasy sequences (featuring Neil Gudsell aka Mika) to illustrate key moments in Carmen's life.
Richard Turner made Squeeze to break the "conspiracy of silence" about homosexuality. A pioneering early portrait of Auckland's LGBT scene, Squeeze centres on the relationship between a young man (Paul Eady) and the confident executive (Robert Shannon) who romances him, then mentions he has a fiancée. The film was discussed in Parliament after Patricia Bartlett campaigned against the possibility it might get NZ Film Commission funding (it didn't). Kevin Thomas in The LA Times praised Squeeze's integrity and the "steadfast compassion with which it views its hero".
Director Grahame McLean uses the notorious (then recent) 'Mr Asia' drug smuggling saga as fodder for this Wellington underbelly tale. Hello Sailor’s Harry Lyon headlines as a musician and ex-con who partners with a beautiful journo to investigate a global drug syndicate, in between nightclub sessions with fellow musos Beaver and Hammond Gamble. High on 80s guitar licks, Should I be Good? was made in the tax break era without Film Commission investment. McLean followed it right away with The Lie of the Land, becoming a rare Kiwi to make two movies back to back.
Georgina Beyer was the first transgendered person in the world to be elected to national office. Co-directed by Annie Goldson and Peter Wells, this internationally lauded documentary, tells the story of Beyer's extraordinary, inspiring journey from sex worker to member of Parliament for rural Wairarapa, and handshakes with the Queen. Born George Bertrand, Beyer grew up on a Taranaki farm, before spreading her wings on Auckland's cabaret circuit. Subsequent events led her to the town of Carterton, where she became involved in local body, and then national politics.
Jeremy Wells brings Kenneth Cumberland-seque authority to this 'alternative' version of Kiwi history, which was made by many of the team that worked on Eating Media Lunch. The Unauthorised History plumbs TV and history archives to poke fun at the pretence of the past (and present). This episode examines artefacts to do with sex and Aotearoa. With tongue planted in check (and in other places) Wells revisits everything from pole-dancing in the "hellhole of the Pacific" — colonial-era Russell — to randy Hutt Valley teenagers "getting laid" in the 1950s.
Intergenerational warfare, mad aunts, bored teens, affairs, abortions and the ache of regret are on the menu in place of sausage rolls in Home Movie. A christening is the crux around which a family does its best to pull apart at the seams. Performances and a script attuned to the details of domestic disturbance don't hold back (America's Funniest Home Videos this ain't). Directed and written by Fiona Samuel, it was part of TV One's Montana Sunday Drama series. It won best actor, actress and TV drama at the 1998 NZ Film and TV Awards. Samuel writes about making Home Movie here.