A Portrait of Michael Smither

Television, 2007 (Full Length)

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. 

Collection

Kiwi Ingenuity

Curated by NZ On Screen team

'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.

The Man in the Hat

Film, 2009 (Full Length)

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.

Kaleidoscope - Attitudes Towards Landscape

Television, 1987 (Full Length)

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.

The Big Art Trip - Series One, Episode Five

Television, 2001 (Full Length Episode)

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.

Painting in an Empty Land

Short Film, 1981 (Full Length)

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.

Flight of Fancy

Short Film, 1987 (Excerpts)

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.

One Man and the Sea

Television, 1984 (Excerpts)

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.

Interview

Tony Hiles: Art films, Jack Brown Genius, and more...

Direction and Interview - Clare O'Leary, Camera and Editing - Leo Guerchmann

Director Tony Hiles began making commercials and documentaries in the mid 1960s; from helming staples like Country Calendar, to independent docos and art films. In 1996 he won an NZ Film Best Director award for his debut feature film Jack Brown Genius.

The Making of Footrot Flats

Television, 1986 (Full Length)

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.