He Toki Huna sets out to provide an independent overview of New Zealand’s involvement in Afghanistan (the longest overseas war in which NZ has played a role). The documentary follows journalist Jon Stephenson conducting eyewitness interviews in Afghanistan, and poses provoking questions about Kiwi troops' involvement in a conflict that co-director Kay Ellmers calls an “ill-defined war against an unclear” enemy. Ellmers and Annie Goldson made the Moa Award-winning film for Māori Television, alongside an extended cut which played at NZ’s 2013 Film Festival.
This film tells the story of a group of Afghani refugees rescued from the high seas off Australia by the freighter, Tampa. It follows the fate of several boys who were given the chance of a fresh start in New Zealand. Deftly blending observational sequences and historical footage, Pacific Solution examines the socio-politicial context of a growing worldwide refugee crisis. It was filmed in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Australia, Nauru and New Zealand. Pacific Solution was screened by TVNZ and at festivals internationally.
In 2007 Willie Apiata, of the NZ Army's elite SAS unit, was awarded the Victoria Cross for carrying a wounded soldier to safety while under fire in Afghanistan. This documentary had exclusive access to Corporal Apiata, from the moment he was told about the VC to his decision a few weeks later to gift the medal to the nation. The shy soldier struggles to deal with his sudden celebrity, and military bosses have to cope with the dual demand of handling media interest in the VC win while still keeping the work of the SAS relatively secret.
On land, sea and air during World War II, and from Korea to Vietnam, this group of old soldiers remember their years of service. Close calls are common place but often laughed off, but the horror of war is often close to the surface. The third series of interviews from director David Blyth (Our Oldest Soldier) and RSA museum curator Patricia Stroud provide a valuable archive of a time now almost beyond living memory — particularly World War II, as the veterans enter their 90s and beyond.
When the Taliban attempted to destroy reels upon reels of historic Afghan film, a group of brave archivists hid the films away in a few dusty sheds in the middle of the desert. When German-based Afghani filmmaker Ibrahim Arafy returned to the Middle East to track down and restore the long hidden films, Kiwi filmmaker Pietra Brettkelly joined him, to tell the story of the archive's restoration under immensely trying conditions. Working with unskilled labourers amidst ongoing conflict, Arafy’s team do their best to save an integral part of their nation’s culture.
Annie Goldson, NZOM, is probably New Zealand's most award-laden documentary filmmaker. She is known for her thought-provoking feature-length documentaries Punitive Damage, Georgie Girl, An Island Calling, and Brother Number One. Goldson’s recent documentary He Toki Huna: New Zealand in Afghanistan (made with Kay Ellmers) looks at New Zealand’s longest millitary engagement.
Pietra Brettkelly is an award-winning New Zealand filmmaker who travels the world to make her documentaries. The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins, her Sundance-selected film about international adoption, won best director and documentary at the 2009 Qantas Film and TV Awards. Māori Boy Genius was invited to the Berlin, Sydney and NZ Film Festivals.
Māori Television’s flagship news show began in 2007, with a kaupapa of tackling current affairs from a Te Ao Māori perspective. Coverage of Waitangi Day, elections, plus investigations (eg into the Urewera Raids, Kiwi troops in Afghanistan, and management of the Kōhanga Reo National Trust) saw Native Affairs win acclaim, plus Best Current Affairs Show at the 2011 Aotearoa Film and TV Awards. Reporters have included Julian Wilcox, Mihingarangi Forbes, Renee Kahukura-Iosefa and Maramena Roderick. In 2015 the one-hour running time was reduced to 30 minutes.
Intrepid cinematographer Jacob Bryant has shot everywhere from Iraq and Afghanistan to the mean streets of Auckland (Super City). His work with leading documentary makers has been nominated for multiple screen awards. An episode of TV show Ends of the Earth shot in Afghanistan won Bryant a 2007 Qantas Award; he also shared a Documentary Edge gong for filming Finding Mercy in Zimbabwe.
In a turbulent media landscape, director/producer Kay Ellmers feels that the long-form documentary is still powerful. Her screen CV includes acclaimed doco He Toki Huna: New Zealand in Afghanistan, and popular series like Marae Kai Masters and Mīharo. Ellmers is Managing Director of Tūmanako Productions, and a consultant on documentary and factual programming for Māori Television.