In this series, epitaphs on gravestones provide the starting point for presenter Paul Gittins to unravel skeletons in cupboards, lovestruck suicide pacts, and fatal love letters. Combining documentary and reenactment, the show used compelling personal stories to retell New Zealand history. An actor and history enthusiast, Paul Gittins became a household name on Shortland Street (as Dr Michael McKenna) before devising this series for Greenstone. Epitaph ran for three seasons, and won Best Factual Series at the 1999 New Zealand Television Awards.
An old woman (Olive Bracey) recounts to her nephew (actor Martyn Sanderson) memories of her life in Hokianga. The film is a mix of personal return journey for Sanderson and an affectionate record of his spirited aunt (she's "the one who ate wheatgerm" in the family). Autumn Fires mixes conversations, photos, and dramatisations of romantic letters. Sanderson rambles on the farm, picks mussels in bull kelp sandals, muses on industrial agriculture and on the "unambitious peaceful life". Directed by Barry Barclay, the elegiac film screened in TV1's Scene series.
In the 13th episode of Epitaph's second season, Paul Gittins goes digging in Waikumete Cemetery. The epitaph for 25-year old convicted murderer Dennis Gunn, hanged in 1920 for shooting the Ponsonby Postmaster, includes an intriguing inscription: "sadly wronged". Gittins unearths the story of a post office robbery, and the first conviction in New Zealand based on fingerprint identification. The judge called the print an "unforgeable signature". Before he died, Gunn claimed innocence: "if only my brother-in-law will speak up I will be saved".
Cartoonist and writer Dylan Horrocks heads to England to trace his family lineage in this documentary, which mixes science and history. Horrocks uses DNA analysis to investigate if he is related to 17th century English astronomer Jeremiah Horrocks. In 1639 the scientist was the first person to observe the Transit of Venus. This planetary movement prompted Captain James Cook to travel to the Pacific. Horrocks heads to Tolaga Bay to view the transit in 2012, a special moment as the next one will be in 2117. The 70-minute film is directed by Dylan's stepmother Shirley Horrocks.
Amanda Billing played the "neurotic, belligerent but deeply sensitive" Doctor Sarah Potts on Shortland Street for 10 years. Billing felt devastated when the beloved character died on the soap, but it gave her the impetus to pursue other work. She has gone on to act in acclaimed comedy Find Me a Māori Bride and sci-fi children’s drama The Cul de Sac.
Documentary director Bryn Evans has honed his skills on an eclectic range of subjects, from Kiwi tragedies (Descent from Disaster) to the Taliban cricket team (The Great Game) to elderly hip hop dancers. The Great Game (2002) marked one of his earliest directing credits. After working on multiple seasons of genealogy series Tātai Hono, Evans won international acclaim for Hip Hop-eration, a feature-length documentary about elderly hip hop dancers heading to the World Hip Hop Championships in Las Vegas. In late 2018 he followed it with Born Racer, about Kiwi IndyCar racing driver Scott Dixon.
Broadcaster, teacher and Māori language advocate Kōtuku Tibble spent his life championing te reo. Tibble boasted a diverse CV — he had a hand in the launch of te reo pop group, Aaria, taught around the North Island for 28 years, and presented shows for television and radio over more than a decade. The father of two passed away on 24 September 2017, at the age of 53.