Brian Brake is regarded as New Zealand's most successful international photographer. But before heading overseas to work for photo agency Magnum and snapping iconic shots of Picasso and the Monsoon series for Life magazine, he was also an accomplished composer of moving images. He shot or directed many classic films for the NFU, including NZ's first Oscar-nominated film.
For this screen showcase of NZ visual arts talent, critic Mark Amery selects his top documentaries profiling artists. From the icons (Hotere, McCahon, Lye) to the unheralded (Edith Collier) to Takis the Greek, each portrait shines light on the person behind the canvas. "Naturally inquisitive, with an open wonder about the world, they make for inspiring onscreen company."
The Lambeth Walk was a popular 'swing jazz' dance in London in 1939. It included a hand gesture with the Yiddish "Oi!". New Zealand-born filmmaker Len Lye edited together different versions of the music (including Django Reinhardt on guitar and Stephane Grapelli on violin), and combined them with a variety of abstract images painted and scratched directly onto film, without using a camera. The colourful, dynamic animation was made with public money — for the Ministry of Information in the United Kingdom — scandalising some government bureaucrats.
Award-winning documentary maker John Bates is a Scotsman who has lived in New Zealand for over 40 years. His documentaries have covered a range of genres, from the arts — Sense of Place: Robin Morrison Photographer, Reflections - Gretchen Albrecht — to social issues — New Faces Old Fears, Crime and Punishment — to history: 1951, Banned - 100 Years of Censorship in New Zealand. In 2010, Bates directed and produced acclaimed series 50 Years of New Zealand Television.
Made for the United Nation's first 'Earth Summit' in Stockholm in 1971, this film explores possible futures for Aotearoa's environment. Director Hugh Macdonald (This is New Zealand) presents an impressionistic ecosystem: mixing shots of natural wonders, urbanisation, and pollution with abstract montages and predictions from futurologists, including Jacques Cousteau’s “underwater man”. Before climate change heated up 21st Century doomsday debates, this film (made for the Ministry of Works!) emphasises individual responsibility. The score enlists French nursery rhyme ‘Are You Sleeping?’.
In this performance-based High Dependency Unit (HDU) music video, directed by Dunedin musician and visual artist Nigel Bunn, a roving fisheye camera lens provides a suitably edgy vibe. The jittery black and white visuals evoke paranoia films like Repulsion, Eraserhead, and local classic Kitchen Sink. The clip builds up a broiling intensity, through judicious use of sped-up motion, original povs, and flash cuts that match the sonic boom tempo of HDU's trademark wall of sound.
Little Bushman muso Warren Maxwell goes west in this edition of The Gravy, to meet a trio of artists creating work in the shadow of Mt Taranaki. Waru Wharehoka, an autistic painter, makes abstract works, is obsessed with weapons and zombies, and takes Maxwell on a paddle beneath New Plymouth. Assemblage artist Dale Copeland scavenges plane wrecks on the mountain and dead friend's teeth for her art. And photographer Fiona Clark discusses why she used colour film to snap her controversial 1975 drag queen images, and using a photo to help save the Waitara River.
Globetrotting New Zealander Len Lye was a gifted innovator in many areas of the arts — film, painting, sculpture, photography, and writing. Inventing ways to make films without a camera, he became one of the pioneers of the genre later known as the music video. Later he moved to New York's Greenwich Village and became a leading figure in the kinetic art movements of the 1950s and 60s.
This upbeat National Film Unit award-winner is about late New Zealand artist, conservationist, and rail enthusiast Barry Brickell. Filmed at his first studio and home in the Coromandel, it follows the progress of his large-scale works from start to finish. Accompanied by a jazzy soundtrack, Brickell works his clay alone in the sun. Amidst the five-finger and harakeke of the Coromandel bush, the making of New Zealand art has never looked more picturesque. Brickell died on 23 January 2016, at the age of 80. The short documentary was made as part of the Pictorial Parade series.
A homage to Dusky Maiden images as well as a playful take on the low art of velvet painting, Sima Urale’s Velvet Dreams provides a tongue-in-cheek exploration of Pacific Island stereotypes. Part detective story, part documentary, an unseen narrator goes in search of a painting of a Polynesian princess that he has fallen in love with. Along the way he meets artists, fans and critics of the kitsch art genre, as well as the mysterious Gauguin-like figure of Charlie McPhee. Made for TVNZ's Work of Art series, Velvet Dreams played in multiple international film festivals.