Writer Janet Frame (1924 - 2004) is an icon of New Zealand literature; her 'edge of the alphabet' use of language has seen her acclaimed as "one of the great writers of our time" (San Francisco Chronicle). This collection celebrates Frame's life and work on screen, from applauded Vincent Ward and Jane Campion translations to a rare TV interview with Michael Noonan.
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."
This short documentary series looked at New Zealand's landscape art from the arrival of Pākehā up until the 1980s. The four episodes moved from the development of a local version of the European tradition (through artists such as John Gully and Petrus van der Velden) through to the homegrown modernism emerging in the 20th Century: the distinct hard-edged styles of Binney, White and Smither, the spiritual abstracts of McCahon and Woollaston, to the later impact of Māori artists like Hotere, Whiting and Kahukiwa.
This 1978 National Film Unit documentary provides a potted history of settler groups that came to New Zealand from Europe. Archive material and narration covers the colonials. Then visits are paid to the German-descended Eggers, tobacco growers from Moutere, and newly arrived French bakers and Dutch dairy farmers. Aptly for a film directed by actor and future winemaker Sam Neill, the film drops in on an Italian play and the Babich family of Dalmatian winemakers. Neill worked at the NFU in his 20s, around the time of his breakout acting role in Sleeping Dogs (1977).
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.
In the early stages of World War I, New Zealand artist Edith Collier joined a group of women artists who left London to capture Ireland on canvas. Their destination: Bunmahon, a poverty-stricken fishing village on Ireland’s southern coast. Michael Heath’s second documentary on Collier sees him visiting Bunmahon with cameraman Stephen Latty. Guided by Collier’s paintings and sketches, they talk to locals about her visit, and life in Ireland 100 years ago. They also capture persuasive evidence of their own, attesting to the area’s often melancholy beauty.
TVNZ’s flagship 80s arts show looks at Sir Toss Woollaston — a pioneer of modern art in New Zealand. Topics include his development as an artist and the “struggle of painting” (contra convention), difficult years trying to support a family, the influence of his wife, and the liberation he felt in his mid-50s when he could finally earn a living from painting. Woollaston is blunt but generous with his time and opinions. There are precious riffs off his famous description of wanting to paint the sunlight in a landscape, “after it had been absorbed by the earth”.
Painter Grahame Sydney has been pigeonholed by some as a landscape artist, but this doumentary contends that his evocative depictions of his Central Otago surroundings are much more than just exercises in realism. Fellow locals, poet Brian Turner and actor Sam Neill discuss the emotional and artistic resonance his work holds for them. Sydney's portraits and figure studies are also examined. The production of one of his lithographs is followed from inception — as a sketch on a slab of Bavarian limestone brought to NZ over 200 years ago — to fully fledged print.
Dunedin-based painter Jeffrey Harris is profiled in this episode from an early 80s arts series made for TVNZ. Harris talks about his quest for intensity and impact; and how violence both attracts and repulses him. He also discusses two of his influences at the time — the surrounding landscape (particularly the wilds of Otago Peninsula and Seacliffe, and the older parts of Dunedin) and the photographs, ranging from family portraits to newspaper pictures, that provided the figures that populated his expressionistic works.
By the time she died in 1947 aged 78, expat Frances Hodgkins was recognised as a key figure in British art. Subtitled 'A Painter of Genius', this 1989 Kaleidoscope portrait mixes archival material with recreations of Hodgkins working in England in the 1940s, and being interviewed by Vogue. Her "gypsy" life ranges from a Dunedin upbringing, leaving New Zealand in 1901, to painting and teaching in Europe, and struggles with poverty and health. After embracing modernism in the 1920s, her art combined still life and landscape in original ways. TV veteran (and artist) Peter Coates directs.