Passion project The Lunatics' Ball follows an unorthodox psychologist who arrives at a psychiatric hospital and tries to use art, joy and respect to motivate his patients. First-timer Michael Thorp wrote the script partly out of worries that drug-based treatment programmes could prove more of a trap than a solution. After casting American-born oboist Russel Walder in the main role, and shooting on a shoestring, Thorp completed editing thanks to $400,000 in Film Commission funding, and help from some major industry names. The result won a jury prize at the Shanghai Film Festival.
In Poppy two Kiwi soldiers discover a baby in a muddy WWI trench. For Paddy it will lead to redemption amidst the hell of war. From a David Coyle script — based on his great-grandfather’s war story — Poppy was another successful computer-animation collaboration between producer Paul Swadel and director James Cunningham (Infection, Delf). CGI evokes a bleak Western Front landscape on which the (motion-captured) human drama unfolds. Cunningham spent over 4500 hours making Poppy; the result was acclaim at Siggraph, and invites to Telluride and SXSW festivals.
Director John Laing followed acclaimed romance Other Halves with an equally stylish but very different big city tale: a thriller in which three orphans plan an international heist to avenge the killing of one of their fathers. The expected diet of shootings, skulduggery and globetrotting accents is enlived by side trips to Geneva, songs from romantic interest Jennifer Ward-Lealand, and a cast of villains to die for (Peter Bland, Ian Mune, Anzac Wallace, Grant Tilly). When Dangerous Orphans was sold in Europe it set an early record for a New Zealand film.
Set in Central Otago in the drought-parched summer of 1975, gay-themed feature film 50 Ways of Saying Fabulous follows a chubby 12-year-old named Billy (Andrew Paterson) as he embarks on a challenging journey of sexual discovery. Adapting Graeme Aitken's novel, writer/director Stewart Main (Desperate Remedies) depicts a boy escaping into fantasy from the drudgery of farming duties — and learning about himself, his sexuality, and dealing with change. 50 Ways won a Special Jury Award at Italy's Turin International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in 2005.
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.
This 1972 documentary explores the world of a dying generation of Māori female elders or kuia — “the last of the Māori women with tattooed chins”. The film pays tribute to the place of the kuia in Māori culture, and of wahine tā moko. Among those on screen are 105-year old Ngahuia Hona, who cooks in hot pools, rolls a cigarette, and eats with whānau, and “the oldest Māori” Nga Kahikatea Wirihana, who remembers the Battle of Ōrākau during the land wars, and has outlived four husbands. Into Antiquity was an early documentary from veteran director Wayne Tourell.
This black comedy sees Kiwi blokes Barry (Tim Gordon) and Kev (Jason Hoyte) set off into the sunrise for a day’s fishing. The ‘men alone’ glories of Godzone in a runabout are disrupted when they discover their attitudes towards domestic violence and sexuality are at odds. Director Adam Stevens adapted the story from a scene in Atrocities, a play written by Hoyte and Jonathon Brugh (aka Sugar and Spice). In 2001 Beautiful went to the New York, Melbourne and Montreal film festivals, before screening at Sundance; it won Best Short Film at the 2003 NZ Film Awards.
In director Gaylene Preston's genre-bending tale, Meg (Heather Bolton) buys a stylish old Jaguar so she can be more independent. While driving on a country road, she hears screams in the back – but there's no one there. In the excerpt above, she picks up a mysterious woman in the rain. Later she discovers that the woman was the car's previous owner, and she is missing. Now her killer might just be stalking Meg too. For their first, acclaimed feature, Preston and producer Robin Laing rented out local cinemas, conclusively proving that Mr Wrong had an audience.
Why did the snail cross the road? The debut short from Grant (Singing Trophy, Lemming Aid) Lahood provides the answer in a four minute time-lapse adventure. With the world whizzing by at 'snail’s pace' (filmed from the snail's temporal — and aural — point of view), the mollusc on a mission faces skaters, high heels and cars in its epic quest for an iceberg lettuce (displayed outside Patel's Dairy in the Wellington suburb of Berhampore). Snail's Pace gained festival screenings and TV sales around the world, and launched Lahood from camerawork into directing.
This debut feature from director Niki Caro follows a Tokyo woman and her fiance who elope to New Zealand. A stunted beginning to their sexual relationship is overcome in a cave on an isolated West Coast beach. Shortly afterwards he drowns. She returns to a suffocating Tokyo before being drawn back to the cave. The restrained study of eroticism and grief was based on a short story by Peter Wells (itself inspired by a true story). Desire was selected for Critics' Week at Cannes (1998), and won best film at 1999's NZ Film Awards and a special jury prize for Caro.