In the beginning — of both movies and books — is the word. Many classic Kiwi films and television dramas have come from books (Sleeping Dogs, Whale Rider); and many writers have found new readers, through being celebrated and adapted on screen. This collection showcases Kiwi books and authors on screen. Plus check out booklover Finlay Macdonald's backgrounder.
Mintaha Beca hasn't seen Lebanon in 25 years. At the age of 86, she sets off from her adopted home of New Zealand to visit her birthplace, following two decades of war. After flying into Beirut with her daughter and grandson, filmmaker Steve La Hood, she is able to laugh about demands to pay a film equipment tax at Beirut's airport. Having witnessed destruction and construction in the former 'Paris of the Middle East', the group set off for the nearby city of Zahlé, where Beca was born. There she is reminded that some things stay the same, and others are no longer hers to own.
The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) was waged between Republicans and General Franco’s Nationalists. Thousands of volunteers from around the globe joined the fight, mostly on the Republican side. These excerpts from a 1976 documentary on the 20 or so Kiwi veterans of the conflict feature Joan Conway, who reflects on the death of her brother Griff Maclaurin fighting the fascists; Tom Spiller, another International Brigade soldier; socialist George Jackson, who discusses official apathy from the NZ Government, and Geoffrey Cox, who wrote a book about the war.
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.
In 1983, after riots in Sri Lanka ushered in an extended civil war, the number of arrivals from Sri Lanka to New Zealand rose dramatically. This episode, one of the most moving in the Immigrant Nation series, profiles two Sri Lankan families down under - one from the island's Sinhalese majority, one from the minority Tamils. Both families left home out of fear for their children's future. Amidst the challenge of a new culture, there is celebration too: including double marriage ceremonies which require multiple outfits, when a Tamal Christian marries a Hindu.
Hokonui Todd is a portrait of African statesman Sir Garfield Todd (1908 - 2002). Todd was an outspoken supporter of black right to self determination in Rhodesia (which became Zimbabwe in 1980, after a bloody civil war). Here Todd and wife Gracie reflect on their lives: from their "egalitarian" New Zealand upbringing; their arrival in Rhodesia as missionary farmers; Todd's time as Prime Minister; being imprisoned by Ian Smith's racist white regime (along with daughter Judith); to emerging as a "conscience of the country" burdened with postcolonial troubles.
Act of Kindness follows the search for one very helpful man, in a country of 11 million people. In 1999 Kiwi Sven Pannell arrived penniless in Rwanda, after bribing himself out of a worrying encounter with rebel militia in Burundi. He was saved by a street beggar who spoke perfect English. Eight years later Pannell got the chance to return to Rwanda with camera in hand, and say thanks — if only he can track his saviour down. Directed by Pannell and Costa Botes (Forgotten Silver), the documentary is a portrait of compassion, obsession, and a nation recovering from tragedy.
Open Door is a unique form of community-based television that allows groups or individuals to apply to make a documentary programme about an issue that concerns them. This episode focuses on Burundian refugees living in New Zealand and the importance of reuniting families separated by ethnic conflict in their home country. A number of refugees share their stories and explain the way their lives have changed since coming to New Zealand and the efforts they go to bringing other family members here.
Smith (Sam Neill, in his breakthrough screen role) is devastated when his wife runs off with his best friend Bullen (Ian Mune). Smith escapes to the Coromandel. Meanwhile, the government enlists an anti-terrorist force to crack down on its opponents. Bullen, now a guerrilla, asks Smith to join the revolution. Directed by Roger Donaldson, this adaptation of CK Stead's novel Smith's Dream heralded a new wave of Kiwi cinema; it was one of the only local films of the 1970s to win a big local audience. This excerpt includes a much talked about scene: a baton charge by government forces.
Five-part series The New Zealand Wars took a new look at the history of Māori vs Pākehā armed conflict. It was presented by historian James Belich, who with his arm-waving zeal proved a persuasive on-screen presence: "we don't need to look overseas for our Robin Hood, our Genghis Khan, Joan of Arc, or Gandhi". The popular series reframed NZ history, and its stories of Hōne Heke, Governor Grey, Tītokowaru, Te Whiti, Von Tempsky and Te Kooti, easily affirmed Belich's conviction. The New Zealand Wars was judged Best Documentary at the 1998 Qantas Media Awards.