'No 8 wire' Kiwi ingenuity is defined by problem solving from few resources (No 8 wire is fencing wire that can be adapted to many uses, an ability that was particularly handy for isolated NZ settlers). Embodied in heroes from Richard Pearse to PJ, Kiwi ingenuity is a quality dear to our national sense of self. It has been memorably celebrated, and sometimes satirised, on screen.
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.
Central North Island art is spotlighted in this episode of the road trip arts show. Douglas Lloyd Jenkins and Nick Ward discuss Len Lye's 'Wind Wand' and visit Michael Smither works in a Catholic church. Novelist Shonagh Koea reads in her favourite antique shop while photographer Sarah Sampson serves tea and discusses her fabric work and "chick art". Rangi and Julie Kipa reconcile traditional Maori process with modern art, performance artists Matt and Stark deconstruct the family sedan; and, in Wanganui, Ross Mitchell-Anyon is proud to call himself a potter.
David Sims' impressionistic National Film Unit short film explores the responses of four NZ painters to a landscape illuminated by a distinctive light, but yet to feel the full impact of human settlement. The award-winning film examines Brent Wong’s floating architectural shapes, Colin McCahon’s religious symbolism, Toss Wollaston’s earth-hued palette and Michael Smither’s hard-edged realism. Their works are taken from safe gallery confines and moved closer to their subject matter, while the words of writers (Katherine Mansfield, Charles Brasch, Bill Pearson) provide another angle.
This documentary is a portrait of Wellington art-dealer Peter McLeavey, who spent over 40 years running his influential Cuba Street gallery. In the Leon Narbey-shot film, McLeavey talks about his life: a roving North Island railway childhood, an early love of art, discovering his New Zealand identity while living in London, and returning home to run over 500 plus exhibitions, initially from his flat — including key showcases of artists such as Toss Woollaston, Gordon Walters, and Colin McCahon.
This whimsical film starring New Zealand artist Michael Smither, animal wrangler Caroline Girdlestone, and cartoonist Burton Silver, documents Smither's quest to learn to fly. It is a documentary in the accepted sense but lyrical and full of surprises. Made by Wellington filmmaker Tony Hiles, edited by Jamie Selkirk (future Oscar winner for The Return of the King), and gorgeously shot on location at Farewell Spit and Wharariki Beach. Smither is well known for his idiosyncratic realist paintings, such as Rocks With Mountain.
New Zealand artist Michael Smither (well known for his idiosyncratic realist paintings, such as Rocks with Mountain) is a man of many theories and ideas. This film, made for TV, documents his experiments rebuilding eroded beaches around Taranaki with driftwood. Only partially successful, these experiments nonetheless reveal Smither as something of a visionary. They contrast with the New Plymouth City Council's own efforts to check sand erosion; and over two decades later, Smither's less orthodox methods look the more sensible, and sustainable.
Director Tony Hiles has been making films and documentaries since the mid 1960s; from helming TVNZ staples such as Country Calendar, to independent docos and art films. In 1996 he won an NZ Film Best Director award for his debut feature Jack Brown Genius. His beginnings at TVNZ’s Avalon Studios in the 1970s, where he directed game shows, music, and current affairs programmes Founding production company City Associates with partner Judith Fyfe in 1980, and his experiences making local history documentaries Making films with artists Michael Smither and Robin Morrison, and the fun of small-crew, seat-of-your-pants shooting Being brought on board as consultant producer on Peter Jackson’s break-out splatstick debut Bad Taste Directing Good Taste Made Bad Taste, the movie’s ‘making of’ story His relationship with producer Jim Booth and the impact that his untimely death had on Jack Brown Genius This interview is also available on YouTube. Credits: Direction and Interview - Clare O'Leary, Camera and Editing - Leo Guerchmann
This documentary backgrounds the process of turning Murray Ball's comic strip into New Zealand's first animated feature. Who will voice the iconic Dog? Pat Cox, the original producer, stays off-screen; but there are interviews with perfectionist Footrot creator Murray Ball, fellow Manawatu scribe Tom Scott and John Clarke, who argues he narrowly beat Meryl Streep to provide the voice of Wal. Amongst the making of footage, the late Mike Hopkins (who won Oscar glory on Lord of the Rings) lends his feet to the sound effects. Tony Hiles writes about the making of the film here.
In 1986 Footrot Flats: The Dog's (Tail) Tale and its theme song ‘Slice of Heaven’ were huge hits in New Zealand and Australia. The adaptation of Murray Ball's beloved Footrot Flats comic strip marked Aotearoa's first animated feature. There were a lot of big questions to answer: Will Wal become an All Black? Will Cooch recover his stolen stag? Will the Dog win your hearts and funny bones? Punters answered at the box office. This John Toon-shot trailer doubled as a promo for the Dave Dobbyn-Herbs song, and smartly leveraged both. Tony Hiles writes about the film's making here.