This collection is a celebration of the eccentric, exuberant career of NZ screen industry frontrunner Tony Williams. As well as being at the helm of many iconic ads (Crunchie, Bugger, Spot, Dear John) Williams made inventive, award-winning indie TV documentaries, and shot or directed pioneering feature films, including Solo and cult horror Next of Kin.
Great adverts are strange things: mini works of magic, with the power to make viewers smile, cry, and even buy. Kiwi directors have shown such a knack for making them, they've been invited to do so across the globe. But this collection is about local favourites; dogs on skateboards, choc bar robberies, ghost chips. NZ On Screen's Irene Gardiner backgrounds the top 10 here.
This dramatised documentary looks back to 1955, when a female bottlenose dolphin began appearing regularly in Hokianga Harbour, close to the town of Opononi. Opo became a national celebrity, but died in controversial circumstances on 9 March 1956, the suspected victim of bombing by local fisherman. Directed by Steve La Hood (Numero Bruno, Swimming Lessons), the film recreates events of the summer and explores the belief of local Māori that Opo was a messenger sent by Kupe to unite the people. It includes interviews and extensive archival footage of Opo.
Damon Fepulea'i's directing debut follows Megan (Olivia Tennet from Maddigan's Quest), a young girl who finds herself out of her depth amongst the mangroves. While out exploring, she meets two siblings and wants to make friends, but one of them is hostile and argues over who owns a bamboo stake. Megan runs off to play alone and while trying to catch a fish using the stake as a spear, has an accident. She's full of stubborn pride as the tide rises dangerously around her. Watermark debuted at the 2002 Rotterdam Film Festival, and features classic Kiwi song ‘Blue Smoke’.
In this 1972 documentary writer James McNeish visits Opononi to examine the life and controversial death of Opo the dolphin. Working from a McNeish idea, director Barry Barclay uses Opo’s mid 50s visit to the Hokianga as the basis for a probing film essay on people, and other animals. Witnesses recall Opo “oomping away”; they include local Piwai Toi, filmmakers Rudall and Ramai Hayward, and author Maurice Shadbolt. Opo is provokingly not shown on screen. Michael King praised Miracle as “without a doubt the most interesting and evocative” slot in the Survey series to date.
A rod and rally race is the angle for this 1969 light comedy. Legendary angler ‘Maggots’ McClure lures “glamour boy” lawyer and fishing novice Applejoy (Peter Vere-Jones) into a contest to catch three trophy fish in Russell, Taupō, and Waitaki. The old dunga versus Alvis ‘Speed 20’, north versus south duel transfixes the nation; snags, shags and scenic diversion ensue. Directed by noted UK documentary maker Derek Williams, the caper was made with NFU help and funded by energy company BP. It showed with Gregory Peck western The Stalking Mood in New Zealand theatres.
Open Door is a community-based TV series where groups or individuals make a documentary about an issue that concerns them. This episode is about CanTeen, the organisation that supports young people living with cancer (both those battling the disease and their siblings). The documentary shows CanTeen members going to a Winter camp at Mt Ruapehu, on a fishing trip, and having celebrity visits from hip hop stars Smashproof, TV fisherman Geoff Thomas, and All Black Ali Williams and coach Graham Henry.
In Māori mythology Maui fished up the North Island from the sea; here the fisherman plunging into the depths is a giant drill ship, Discoverer II. By the 1960s technological changes had made it possible to prospect for oil in shallow offshore waters. This NFU film documents the months-long process of exploring for oil and gas, and the discovery of the underwater dome off the Taranaki coast that came to be known as the Maui gas field — one of the largest in the world in 1969. The field was subsequently exploited and was mostly depleted by the early 2000s.
Haunui Royal directs this 1999 documentary on the people who live in the Far North, and their guardianship (kaitiakitanga) connection with the land and sea. Royal looks at how this traditional ownership is under pressure: from urban sprawl, pollution, and changing land use. Kaitiaki include farmer Laly Haddon, fisherman Rick, paralegal Ani Taniwha (whose work with ōi (shearwater) helped deepen her connection to the land); Ngāti Kuri members looking after Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Reinga), and a group of rangatahi from Auckland.
Shot on location in Wellington, often after dark, Inside Straight helped usher in a new era of Kiwi TV dramas, far from the rural backblocks. This Minder-esque portrait of Wellington’s underworld was inspired by writer Keith Aberdein’s experiences as a taxi-driver and all night cafe worker. Phillip Gordon (soon to win fame as a conman in Came a Hot Friday) stars as the former fisherman, learning the ways of the city from veteran taxi driver Roy Billing. A solid but unspectacular rater over 10 episodes, the show was scuttled by the launch of trucker’s tale Roche.