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."
'No 8 wire' Kiwi ingenuity is defined by problem solving from few resources (No 8 wire is fencing wire that can be adapted to many uses, an ability that was particularly handy for isolated NZ settlers). Embodied in heroes from Richard Pearse to PJ, Kiwi ingenuity is a quality dear to our national sense of self. It has been memorably celebrated, and sometimes satirised, on screen.
In this intimate documentary painter Michael Smither lays bare his life — from a stern Catholic childhood in New Plymouth to the inspiration of Central Otago to his senior years in Otama Beach, collaborating on natural artworks. Smither is best known for his unflinching portraits of family life, works like 'Sarah with Baked Beans' which capture the untamed energy of small children. Smither acknowledges the hardship behind these famous paintings, and the toll it took on his first marriage. Ex-partners (including novelist Rachel McAlpine) open up about their time with Smither.
This NZBC religious programme goes where TV cameras had never gone before: behind the walls of the Carmelite monastery in Christchurch. There, it finds a community of 16 Catholic nuns, members of a 400-year-old order, who have shut themselves off from the outside world to lead lives devoted to prayer, contemplation and simple manual work. Despite their seclusion, the sisters are unphased by the intrusion and happy to discuss their lives and their beliefs; while the simplicity and ceremony of their world provides fertile ground for the monochrome camerawork.
The God Boy is a portrait of a troubled teen Jimmy (Jamie Higgins) growing up in post-war small town New Zealand and wrestling with a repressive education and home front turmoil. Adapted from the Ian Cross novel by Ian Mune and directed by Murray Reece, the landmark film was the first NZ telefeature, gaining Feltex awards and front page reviews. With menace and Catholic guilt ever-present, it’s credited as a pioneer of what Sam Neill dubbed NZ’s “cinema of unease”. Higgins later starred in Australian TV show The Sullivans.
This sixth episode of Mike King's exploration of the original journey of the Treaty travels to Tauranga, where the comedian finds tales of murder, cannibalism, inter-tribal conflict — and a missing Treaty sheet. King’s whodunit asks why some people signed and why some were so against it, notably Hori Kingi Tupaea. The Tauranga sheet includes 20 signatures from Ngāi Te Rangi and only one chief from Ngāti Pukenga. King also discovers an unlikely twist: an unused Treaty sheet has ended up with the (then-French-aligned) Catholic Church for safekeeping.
Gardening with Soul follows four seasons in the life of irresistible gardening nun Sister Loyola Galvin. Director Jess Feast (Cowboys and Communists) unearths sage gems from the nonagenarian on everything from compost to Catholic Church sex abuse scandals. The cycles of Wellington’s weather are charted via its influence on Loyola’s Island Bay garden, from the 2011 snow to flax-drunk tui. Feast worked with editor Annie Collins to piece together a paean to a life lived with zest and compassion. Soul won the Best Documentary at the 2013 Moa (NZ Film) Awards.
This documentary follows the fight to save Christchurch’s “other” earthquake damaged cathedral, the Roman Catholic basilica. A team led by a heritage consultant and a structural engineer struggles to keep pace with fresh damage inflicted on the basilica by ongoing quakes. Drones and a Defence Force robot aid investigations into the interior of the now dangerous building. There are hard questions about the venture’s costs. But, as parishioners tell their stories, there’s also reminders that the basilica isn’t just an architectural treasure — it has been the heart of a community.
Backch@t was an award-winning magazine-style arts and culture show that appealed, right from the opening acid-jazz theme tune, to a literate late-90s arts audience. Fronted by media personality Bill Ralston, these excerpts from the first episode come out guns blazing with a debate by panellists about Tania Kovats's controversial artwork 'Virgin in a Condom', the sculpture that caused national upset when it was exhibited at Te Papa in 1998. Managing to keep a panel discussion convivial rather than confrontational, Ralston handles the catholic debate with aplomb.
Central North Island art is spotlighted in this episode of the road trip arts show. Douglas Lloyd Jenkins and Nick Ward discuss Len Lye's 'Wind Wand' and visit Michael Smither works in a Catholic church. Novelist Shonagh Koea reads in her favourite antique shop while photographer Sarah Sampson serves tea and discusses her fabric work and "chick art". Rangi and Julie Kipa reconcile traditional Maori process with modern art, performance artists Matt and Stark deconstruct the family sedan; and, in Wanganui, Ross Mitchell-Anyon is proud to call himself a potter.