As a bitter civil war tears apart the lives of his students, an isolated English school teacher in Bougainville (House star Hugh Laurie) finds a unique way to create hope; 14-year-old Matilda (Xzannjah Matsi) is enthralled by his Charles Dickens-infused disaster survival lessons. The life during wartime tale was directed by Kiwi Andrew Adamson (Shrek), and adapted from the 2006 Booker Prize short-listed novel by Lloyd Jones. Adamson spent time in Papua New Guinea, as the teen son of missionary parents. Laurie and Matsi won best actor gongs at the 2013 Moa Awards.
This 2012 documentary explores the economic and creative potential of one of the icons of New Zealand’s forest: the kauri. Logging and fire have destroyed 95% of Aotearoa’s great kauri forests (this film was made before kauri dieback disease became a major threat). Director Mathurin Molgat poses a solution to the tree’s survival: commercial harvest. He frames the film around Laurie Williams, who makes guitars from the wood. In this excerpt, musician Tiki Taane talks about Tāne Mahuta, and a tree is prepared for felling. The film screened at a number of festivals in the United States.
This short documentary follows refugee Mitchell Pham from a Vietnam War prison camp to a new home in New Zealand. Director Sally Tran — a 2013 Killer Films Internship Scholarship recipient — uses an interview with Pham as an adult, and live action mixed with animation to recreate the harrowing childhood journey. DIY more than CGI, the animation process was based on Vietnamese folded paper-craft. Requiring 20 volunteers, the 10,000 animated pieces of paper (and a rich score from The Sound Room) provide suggestive weight to Pham’s story of survival and courage.
Dragon have produced some of Australasian pop music's classic anthems ('April Sun in Cuba', 'Are You Old Enough'). This 2015 documentary charts 40 rock'n'roll years: chart success, drugs, fame, failure, family, survival. The first excerpt looks at the band facing early success and tragedy; the second covers the impact of the 1998 death of singer Marc Hunter, especially on his brother Todd. The doco screened in the Prime Rocks slot. "Made with care and quite a lot of love", praised NZ Herald’s Greg Dixon, "by turns, sad and uplifting, which is no mean feat."
Classic sci-fi TV series Under the Mountain follows the adventures of redheaded twins with psychic powers — Rachel and Theo — on their Auckland summer holiday. They meet the mysterious Mr Jones, an alien emissary who enlists them in the battle against the evil Wilberforces, who are plotting planetary destruction. Adapted from the Maurice Gee novel, the series' fx left their slimy imprint on a generation of NZ kids, haunted by the transmogrifying Wilberforces, who changed from humans into giant slugs slithering underneath Auckland’s volcanoes.
Why is New Zealand's landscape and flora and fauna so unique? In four-part series Moa's Ark, renowned English naturalist David Bellamy, with his impassioned enthusiasm and trademark beard (of "old man's beard must go" fame) goes on a journey to discover the answer. Directed and produced by Peter Hayden, this 1990 TV series was produced by Television New Zealand's award-winning Natural History Unit (now independent production company NHNZ). Read more about the series here.
By 1976 there were only seven Chatham Islands black robins left. It was the world's rarest bird. In a bid to save the species, the surviving birds were taken from one island to another more hospitable island in a desperate rescue mission. This was part of an incredible conservation success story led by Don Merton and his NZ Wildlife Service team. Seven Black Robins and Project Takahē captured viewers' imaginations as part of an acclaimed series of 'rare bird' films that screened on TV series Wild South. They helped forge the reputation of TVNZ’s Natural History Unit (later NHNZ).
In the mid 1970s the Chatham Island black robin was the world's rarest bird. With only two females left, the conservation ante was extreme. Enter saviour Don Merton and his Wildlife Service team. Their pioneering efforts ranged from abseiling the birds (including the 'Eve' of her species, 'Old Blue') down cliff faces, to left-field libido spurs. This 1988 Listener Film and TV award-winner united two earlier Wild South documentaries, and updated the robin’s rescue story to 1987. It originally screened on Christmas Day 1987, before being modified for this 1989 edition.
In 1996 Tony Sutorius got his hands on a new digital video camera, days before the start of an election campaign in Wellington Central. Made on the proverbial shoestring, this feature-length documentary chronicles five of those battling for the crown as a new political age — MMP — dawns. Richard Prebble joins a new party called Act, the National candidate joins United New Zealand… and one of the five will be sacrificed by their own party. Sutorius sat through 55 hours of footage to forge the result, which won enthused, sellout audiences at the 1999 NZ Film Festival.
“These three birds are over half the world population of their species.” Peter Hayden’s narration lays bare the stakes for the Chatham Island black robin, and the Wildlife Service team (led by Don Merton) trying to save them. Merton’s innovative methods include removing eggs from nests – to encourage the last two females to lay again – and placing them in riroriro (grey warbler) foster homes. The black robin documentaries helped forge the reputation of TVNZ's Natural History Unit. Paul Stanley Ward writes about the documentaries here, and the mission to save the black robin.