For this screen showcase of NZ visual arts talent, critic Mark Amery selects his top documentaries profiling artists. From the icons (Hotere, McCahon, Lye) to the unheralded (Edith Collier) to Takis the Greek, each portrait shines light on the person behind the canvas. "Naturally inquisitive, with an open wonder about the world, they make for inspiring onscreen company."
The Whanganui River settlement of Jerusalem had a moment in the national spotlight when poet James K Baxter lived there in the early 70s — but it is home to a long established Māori community and the Catholic order of the Sisters of Compassion (since 1892). To make this documentary, Miriam Smith and Christopher Pryor spent a year in Jerusalem, following the lives and interactions of the nuns and the Ngāti Hau. North & South called their observations of a world of co-existing contrasts — Māori and Pākehā, young and old, secular and religious — “a cinematic treat”.
Made by Philip McDonald (Such a Stupid Way to Die) for the National Water and Soil Conservation Authority, this award-winning short explores the impact of people on New Zealand’s water cycle. Shots of irrigation, industrial waste and run-off from dairy farming show Godzone’s 1972 waterways to be far short of 100% pure — the closing national anthem played over polluted rivers underlines the point. A young Sam Neill (then working at the National Film Unit) cameos as an eau-so-suave drinker in a scene showing the disconnection between water use and where it comes from.
This documentary film tells the story of the Whanganui River. It recounts a Māori myth believing the river is the path carved by a god (Pukeonaki aka Mt Taranaki) in its journey from the volcanic plateau to the west coast. There is beautifully shot footage of Māori paddling a waka under tui-laden matai, and tourists cruising on steamers. In 1950 the NFU had become part of the Department of Tourism and Publicity (after accusations of political bias); and this film reflects the change, with a triumphant narrative of progress underpinning an often-bloody river history.
Vincent Ward's fifth feature follows an Irishwoman in 1860s New Zealand, as Māori tribes resist the occupation of their land by the British. Sarah (Samantha Morton) has had an affair with a Māori and borne his child. Years later the boy is kidnapped by his grandfather, a powerful tribal leader. Sarah embarks on a search for her child, aided by warrior Wiremu (Cliff Curtis). When she finds him, both mother and son must decide to which culture they belong. This excerpt from the notoriously ambitious film sees Sarah encountering charismatic chief Te Kai Po (Temuera Morrison).
This award-winning series took Wellington chefs Al Brown and Steve Logan out of their fine-dining restaurant, to experience the local in 'locally sourced' kai. In this second episode, Al and Steve head to Tangahoe up the Whanganui River, looking for wild pig with a couple of good keen men — Baldy and Moon. Logan is with the dogs on the boar hunt; while Al's on veggies at the markets, before hitching a flying fox to sample some freshly baked organic kumara bread en route up river. The bush tucker result? Cider braised pork belly with kumara and corn mash.
It was a Kiwi that invented the jet-boat, so it is probably unsurprising that at the time of this film’s production New Zealand teams had won Mexico's Rio Balsas Marathon three times. Directed by Derek Wright, the award-winning NFU doco showcases what was then the longest jet-boat race yet staged: a five-day 1000km race across NZ, with the locals putting their trophy on the line. The race hits the rapids and — despite the odd tree stump — speeds past scenery on six rivers (from the Whanganui to the Waimakariri), Lake Brunner, and through the surf to Sumner Beach.
In this documentary, Tā moko artist and kapa haka teacher Sacha Utupoto Keating rode the Whanganui River on a journey to discover his whakapapa. Director Howard Taylor followed Sacha's personal story and the wider histories of the awa, weaving reconstructions, archival footage and lush river images into a rich story of people and place. "Taylor's investigation of the mythical, historical, ecological and spiritual aspects of the Whanganui River is deeply moving." said Grant Smithies in the The Sunday Star-Times."You're left entertained, enlightened and politicised."
Directed by Owen Hughes, this piece for arts show Artsville explores the feeling of being caught between cultures. Painter Prakash Patel grew up as an Indian in conservative 1970s Wanganui. As a Kiwi he didn’t feel Indian yet he didn’t belong in Wanganui either - ‘What am I doing here?’ In 2006 he was awarded a Creative New Zealand Residency at the Sanskriti Campus in New Delhi. Out of Darkness, Out of India follows Prakash on his journey from discomfort to discovery.
In the early 1970s expat broadcaster Michael Dean took Aotearoa’s pulse, as it loosened its necktie and moved from “ice-cream on mutton, swilled around in tea” conservatism, towards a more cosmopolitan outlook. Dean asks the intelligentsia (James K Baxter, Tim Shadbolt, Peter Cape, Shirley Smith, Bill Sutch, Ian Cross, Peter Beaven, Pat Hanly, Syd Jackson, Hana Te Hemara) for their take. The questions range from “what does the family in Tawa sit down to eat these days?” to the Māori renaissance. Dean had made his name in the 60s, as a high profile broadcaster with the BBC.