One morning, as kids are stealing apples from an old man’s orchard high above a seaside town, an earthquake hits. No one is hurt, and the townsfolk are non-plussed, but the old man is agitated: he alone is aware of the imminent tsunami and tries to warn the village. Based on a classic Japanese fable, The Orchard was made by one-man band Bob Stenhouse, who had been nominated for an Academy Award the previous decade for pioneer tale The Frog, The Dog and The Devil. Fans of the animator will recognise the lush, luminous hand-drawn style.
The debut episode of McPhail and Gadsby plunged into religion as the object of satire, and the result spawned death threats and annoyed letters to the editor. The pair dress up as angels, devils, monks, nuns, priests and Moses, and also make the first of many appearances as the smug Denny (McPhail) and not so clever Ron (Gadsby). McPhail argued later that a simple sketch involving an Anglican vicar dispensing communion unexpectedly caused the most offence. The thematic approach was soon abandoned in favour of shorter episodes, and a more familiar style of topical satire.
David Blyth's first film, 1976’s Circadian Rhythms, was an attempt to "slip past the conscious mind", and inside the head of a car crash victim. Blyth’s latest movie explores the world of another victim - this time a young woman (Kate O'Rourke) engaging in submission games with an unexplained male, who is haunted by her dark family history, and someone claiming to be her daughter. Fellow cinema provocateur Ken Russell (The Devils) praised Blyth’s "gorgeous images and repulsive dream-surgery into the recesses of female consciousness".
Gloss was a popular Kiwi television drama series made by TVNZ that screened in the late 80s; it combined a wealthy family, the Redferns, with a lucrative high-fashion magazine business. Yuppies, shoulder-pads and méthode champenoise abound in this cult "glamour soap". New Zealanders wanted to see themselves as less bottom of the world and more "here we come and we are sailing" (as the infamous Cup campaign song warbled), and Gloss was just what the era demanded.
It's the 1870s, and Māori leader Te Wheke (Anzac Wallace) is fed up by brutal land grabs. He leads a bloody rebellion against the colonial Government, provoking threatened frontiersmen, disgruntled natives, lusty wahine, bible-bashing priests, and kupapa alike to consider the nature of ‘utu’ (retribution). Legendary New Yorker critic Pauline Kael raved about Geoff Murphy’s ambitious follow up to Goodbye Pork Pie: “[He] has an instinct for popular entertainment. He has a deracinated kind of hip lyricism. And they fuse quite miraculously in this epic ...”
This fondly-remembered Pictorial Parade plunges down the famously steep grade of the Denniston Incline. The cable railway was the key means of transporting ‘black gold’ from the isolated Denniston Plateau to Westport. The engineering marvel fell 518 metres over just 1670 metres. It brought down 13 million tonnes of coal and many hardy families, despite notorious brake failures. This film was made just before the mine and railway ceased operating, as “old king coal” was supplanted by oil. Director Hugh Macdonald writes about making it, and a companion film, here.
"I get around. I know everything. Except your name." Kevin Smith made his television debut (in a speaking part) on this episode from the third series of Gloss, playing smirking DJ and man-about-town Damien Vermeer. Keen to rise above his working class origins, the character sets his sights on rich brat Chelsea Redfern within moments of meeting her. Smith left work at Christchurch's Court theatre for the role, when the decision was made to up the show's male quotient. Mikey Havoc also appears in this scene, as a member of his real-life band Push Push.
In 1983, director Geoff Murphy stormed out of the scrub of the nascent Kiwi film industry with a quadruple-barreled shotgun take on the great New Zealand colonial epic. Set during the New Zealand Wars, this tale of a Māori leader (Anzac Wallace) and his bloody path to redress 'imbalance' became the second local film officially selected for the Cannes Film Festival, and the second biggest local hit to that date (after Murphy's Goodbye Pork Pie). A producer-driven recut was later shown in the United States. This 2013 redux offers Utu “enhanced and restored”.
Bob Stenhouse, the first Kiwi animator to be nominated for an Academy Award, spent 12 years working for state television. After joining the Government’s National Film Unit in 1980, he made Oscar-nominated short The Frog, The Dog and the Devil. Stenhouse’s later films have included several Joy Cowley short stories, plus award-winning short The Orchard, a Japanese fable adapted to a New Zealand setting.
Leanne Saunders’ eye for talent has resulted in producer credits on six features: box office hits Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Born to Dance, Nazi horror The Devil’s Rock, and dramas Desert, The Weight of Elephants and Christmas. She also executive produced a run of successful shorts. In 2016 Saunders was appointed Head of Production and Development at the NZ Film Commission.