TVNZ’s 80s arts programme follows a Royal NZ Ballet visit to China in this documentary directed by Keith Hunter. The trip is billed as a cultural exchange but the term belies the stresses of missing equipment, a director who has lost his voice, language barriers, incorporating a local seven-year-old girl into their performance and, for some, the dishes at a banquet. On a rare day off, there’s a chance to marvel at the scale of the The Great Wall; and there are insights into the everyday lives of the Chinese people as the country begins to open itself up to the world.
Illustrious Energy sees Chan and his older mate Kim prospecting for gold in 1890s Otago. Marooned until they can pay off their debts and return to China; they’ve been fruitlessly working their claim for 12 and 27 years respectively. Chan faces racism, isolation, extreme weather, threatening surveyors, opium dens and a circus romance. The renowned feature-directing debut of cinematographer Leon Narbey provides a poetic evocation of the Chinese settler experience; especially vivid are Central’s natural details — desolate schist and tussock lands, rasping crickets.
The work of writer Martin Edmond rarely slots into easy geographical or stylistic boxes. After making his screen debut as co-writer of Illustrious Energy — an evocative portrait of Chinese gold prospectors in Central Otago — Edmond has gone on to explore tales of outsiders in another three feature films, and a number of books.
Elizabeth Mitchell made her name as creator and producer of animated hit bro'Town, which screened for five seasons and won multiple awards. Since then she has produced short films and directed documentaries, and is currently developing a feature based on Oscar Kightley's award-winning short Tom's Dairy.
Director Juliette Veber's debut feature length documentary Trouble is My Business premiered to acclaim in the 2008 New Zealand International Film Festival. She had already established herself in the film industry as a producer, working closely with director Harry Sinclair on The Price of Milk and Toy Love.
Leon Narbey is one of New Zealand’s most prolific and lauded cinematographers. His talents have contributed to roughly 20 features, including Whale Rider, Desperate Remedies, The Price of Milk and No.2. Narbey's work as a director includes movies The Footstep Man and Illustrious Energy, an acclaimed drama about Chinese goldminers.
John Hudson's journalistic career has included major stories on the Cooperite Christian commune on the West Coast, and tracking down French secret service agents who bombed the Rainbow Warrior. Programmes he has reported for include Eyewitness, Holmes, Frontline, and Sunday.
Yoson An began working in the New Zealand screen industry in 2012 with short film Death Note, having previously worked in theatre. He got his first starring role in a feature film the following year — in David Blyth horror film Ghost Bride, he played a Chinese immigrant forced into an arranged marriage. A lead role in Australian drama series Dead Lucky followed in 2017, this time as a rookie cop who blames his mentor for the death of his best friend. He also acts in hit webseries Flat3, and big-budget fantasy Mortal Engines. In 2018 it was announced that he would play the love interest in Niki Caro's big budget remake of Mulan. Image Credit: Photo by Andi Crown
Legendary filmmaker Rudall Hayward, MBE, directed seven features over five decades — decades in which the concept of Kiwi movie-making was still an oxymoron, or meant a foreigner was in charge. Inspired by NZ’s cross-cultural history, Hayward remade his own Rewi’s Last Stand in 1940. Later he married Rewi star Ramai Te Miha, launching a filmmaking partnership that lasted until Rudall’s death in May 1974.
Producer Rhonda Kite founded company Kiwa Media Group, which developed a successful programme to aid dubbing and dialogue recording, and made long-running Māori Television arts series Kete Aronui. Kite's award-winning slate of documentaries includes films on the Ōtara community, gangs, whāngai, and squeegee bandits. Kiwa Digital went on to focus on creating interactive books for mobile devices.