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Top 10 NZ Feature Films

Curated by NZ On Screen team

Arm yourself with jaffas and get set for debate: NZ On Screen has gone out on a limb and selected an all-time NZ feature film Top 10. Starring the icons of the Kiwi big screen — Blondini, Ada, Beth, Boy. Whet your appetite for our finest features via choice 10-minute excerpts of the movies. Cook the man some eggs, we're taking this Top 10 to Invercargill!

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That Look in Your Eyes

Th' Dudes, Music Video, 1979

This slow-burning Ian Morris/Dave Dobbyn song was the B-side of Th’Dudes first single ‘Be Mine Tonight’. Music videos for both songs were shot in a day at TVNZ’s Christchurch studios,  in the era before the music video boom – back when, as Dave Dobbyn puts it, “the state made your videos”. A relatively straightforward performance piece, with some outsized masks for visual relief, it has the band largely entering into the spirit of things — with the exception of Dobbyn who shows up at one point with a strange spot on his forehead, before managing a manic stare.

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Holmes - Joe Karam and James McNeish on David Bain

Television, 1997 (Full Length)

In May 1995, 22-year old David Bain was convicted of murdering five members of his family with a rifle in their Dunedin home. Bain would spend over a decade in prison before being acquitted on all charges. National debate around the 1995 verdict was galvanised by the release of two conflicting books on the case — Joe Karam’s David and Goliath and James McNeish’s The Mask of Sanity. The former All Black and the writer go head-to-head in this often testy Holmes debate from 1997. Ten years later, the Privy Council quashed Bain’s 1995 conviction; he was acquitted in a 2009 retrial.   

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New Zealand Munitions

Short Film, 1941 (Full Length)

New Zealand Munitions was the 26th National Film Unit effort, and the longest made in the Unit's first year. The NFU was established in August 1941 to make films illustrating New Zealand's war effort. Completed in December of that year, this is a classic propaganda piece. As World War II intensifies, New Zealanders are reassured that the country has the heavy industry required to supply its army. Factories are converted to wartime needs and munitions pour out. A suitably bellicose script informs viewers "This is our striking power: men and munitions."

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A Master of Light - The Life and Work of Brian Brake Photographer

Television, 1987 (Full Length)

Brian Brake is regarded as New Zealand's most successful international photographer; he worked for Magnum and snapped famous shots of Pablo Picasso at a bullfight and the Monsoon series for Life magazine. In this Inspiration documentary — made shortly before his 1988 death — Brake reviews his lifelong quest for “mastery over light”: from an Arthur’s Pass childhood to a fascination with Asia. He recalls his time at the National Film Unit and is seen framing waka huia, Egyptian tombs, and punters at Castlepoint’s beach races (for a new version of book Gift of the Sea).

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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Film, 2014 (Trailer)

Touted as the defining chapter of the trilogy, The Battle of the Five Armies sees Smaug wreaking havoc from the sky, Thorin Oakenshield succumbing to dragon-sickness, and a climactic battle to dwarf anything seen in the first two Hobbit films. As Orcs look to the Lonely Mountain with their eyes on the treasure, dwarves, elves and humans must decide whether to unite and fight them off. The final Hobbit film arrived in cinemas 15 years after Peter Jackson first trained his cameras on Middle-earth — and made it clear that global blockbusters could come from New Zealand. 

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Film, 2013 (Trailer)

After only 17 days in international cinemas, the first part of the Hobbit trilogy stacked up enough treasure to become 2012's fourth highest-grossing movie. In part two director Peter Jackson ups the adventure quotient further, thanks to spiders, high speed river rides and the first encounter between hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and Smaug the Dragon, as envisioned by Weta Digital and British star du jour Benedict Cumberbatch. Legolas (Orlando Bloom), one of the breakout characters in the Lord of the Rings movies, also makes an appearance.

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Film, 2012 (Trailer)

JRR Tolkien's beloved novel The Hobbit follows Bilbo Baggins on a quest to help reclaim the lost dwarf homeland of Erebor from the dragon Smaug. Shoulder-tapped by Gandalf for the mission against some opposition, Bilbo joins a company of dwarves in an epic adventure: vying against goblins, orcs and Gollum's riddles. After the box office blitzing and Oscar-slaying Lord of the Rings trilogy, adapting the precursor novel was an expected journey. Martin Freeman (The Office, Sherlock) is Bilbo, and Peter Jackson is again at the helm in this first of a three-part adaptation.

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Circumspect Penelope

Look Blue Go Purple, Music Video, 1985

This dense, swirling number from Look Blue Go Purple’s first EP provides a more jaundiced view of the tale of the faithful Penelope waiting 20 years for Odysseus to return from the Trojan War. The video, directed by Pat O’Neill, is another example of a Dunedin band celebrating its local environment, and features LBGP driving a classic Borgward Isabella in and around Hoopers Inlet on Otago Peninsula, intercut with a performance from a mask party at The Oriental Tavern (with a rare on-camera appearance by Dunedin music identity Roy Colbert – in an ape’s mask).    [This video is made available by The Film Archive]

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Landmarks - A Land Apart

Television, 1981 (Full Length)

Presented by Kenneth Cumberland, Landmarks looked at New Zealand history through the landscape — and at man "coming to terms" with it. In this episode Aotearoa's "last, lonely, remote" geography is framed as a stimulus for ingenuity. A narrative of "triumph over the elements" finds its flagbearer in the DIY story of jetboat inventor Bill Hamilton. Cumberland is donnish but game in pursuit of telling landmarks: exposing seashells alongside the Napier-Taupō highway (700 metres above sea level) like a downunder Darwin, or in a gas mask on an erupting White Island.