Former pro wrestler Wilbur McDougall was battling addiction and self-imposed isolation before undergoing gastric sleeve surgery. For this serio-comic documentary, he let university mate J Ollie Lucks film his journey of transformation. McDougall needs a new wrestling persona — and the "happiness and self-acceptance that has eluded him for so long". Will his friendship with Lucks survive, as the filmmaker jumps at the story from the top rope? Lucks and Julia Parnell's feature began in 2015 as a short film for Loading Docs. The long version debuted at 2017's Doc Edge Festival.
Alex is a champion teenage swimmer determined to win selection to the 1960 Rome Olympics, in this adaptation of the award-winning young adults novel. Written by ex Empire Games swimming medallist Tessa Duder, Alex was the first in a quartet of books exploring the vicissitudes of the high achiever freestyler as she deals with rivalry, ambition, first love and the pressures of growing up. Lauren Jackson, who played the title role, later appeared in vampire movie Perfect Creature. The film was a co-production between New Zealand and Australia.
Iaheto Ah Hi's play Tautai involved an urban car thief emulating his Tokelauan fishing ancestors — only instead of hunting sharks, he hunted cars. Twelve years and 27 drafts after first seeing the play, director Michael Bennett and co-writer Gavin Strawhan intertwined Tautai's story with seven other characters, each impacted by one moment of violence. Praising the "excellent ensemble" and Don McGlashan score, Herald reviewer Peter Calder argued that Matariki delivers "a touching series of intersecting stories about the fragility of life and the redeeming power of love".
One night in a West Coast pub, Melanie (Australian actor Rachel Blake) meets a handsome stranger (Sam Neill) and accepts his invitation to go back to his place. When they board his boat she discovers it is further than she thought (a shack on a deserted island). Once they arrive he treats her like a princess. However it slowly dawns on her that she's been kidnapped. Terrified, she also knows that he's her only way off the island. As events play out in Gaylene Preston's twisted thriller, Melanie's feelings change from anger and fear — to desire.
Home by Christmas sees Gaylene Preston returning to the hidden stories of ordinary New Zealanders. Inspired by attempts to get her father Ed to reveal his WWII experiences, this finely-balanced docu-drama moves between three strands: Preston’s father (Goodbye Pork Pie's Tony Barry, in a Qantas award-winning performance) retelling his story; recreations of Ed’s wartime OE; and life for the woman he left behind in Greymouth. The dream cast sees Preston’s own daughter Chelsie Preston Crayford playing Preston's mother Tui, alongside Martin Henderson.
This 1994 ‘home front noir’ is set in World War II Wellington, where the plots — a murdered marine, exploited working girls and gonorrhea — spread amidst the invasion of US soldiers stationed at Paekakariki. Kerry Fox (An Angel at My Table) is a public health nurse who becomes romantically linked with the US investigating officer (Tony Goldwyn — Ghost, TV's Scandal) while pursuing the STDs and the truth. They’re supported by Oscar-winning US veterans Rod Steiger and Robert Loggia. John Reid (Middle Age Spread) directs, from a Keith Aberdein script.
Part concept film, part biopic, part historical record and part comedy, Leanne Pooley’s documentary was made to mark the Topp Twins' 50th birthday. New Zealand's favourite comedic, country singing, dancing and yodeling lesbian twin sisters tell their personal story: from their 'coming out' to Jools' brush with breast cancer. The film features archive material, home movies and interviews with the Topps' alter egos. Alongside local box office success and dozens of international awards, Girls won the People’s Choice award for favourite documentary at the 2009 Toronto Film Festival.
Long fascinated by the idea of community, Florian Habicht (Love Story, Kaikohe Demolition) discovered one in an unexpected place while making his eighth feature. Spookers is the name of a live horror attraction south of Auckland, adjoining what was once Kingseat psychiatric hospital. Habicht got to know a number of the performers working there. Alongside engaging and sometimes emotional interviews — and scenes of the staff at work, scaring the punters silly with zombie brides and chainsaws — he created scenes inspired by the performers' dreams and nightmares.
Taika Waititi's fourth feature is the tale of a city kid and a grumpy uncle on the run. Raised on hip hop and state care, Ricky (Shopping's Julian Dennison) goes bush with his foster uncle (Sam Neill). The authorities are on their tail. In this excerpt, the pair get caught, and s**t gets real. Wilderpeople is based on Barry Crump book Wild Pork and Watercress. Keen to recapture the style of classic screen yarns like Came a Hot Friday, Waititi's aim was a funny, accessible adventure. The result won acclaim almost everywhere it went, and became New Zealand's biggest ever local hit.
The Dark Horse is the story of a Māori ex-speed chess champ who must “overcome prejudice and violence in the battle to save his struggling chess club, his family and ultimately, himself”. Genesis Potini has a bi-polar disorder; his nephew Mana (Boy’s James Rolleston) faces being pressed into a gang. A near unrecognisable Cliff Curtis won international acclaim as Potini. James Napier Robertson's acclaimed second feature was picked to opened the 2014 Auckland and Wellington Film Festival, and scored six Moa awards, including Best Picture, Director, Actor and Supporting Actor.