Action movie The Dead Lands joins the short list of screen tales set in Aotearoa, before the pākehā. James Rolleston (star of Boy) plays Hongi, the son of a Māori chief. After the massacre of his tribe, Hongi sets out into the forbidden Dead Lands, hoping to enlist the help of a legendary warrior (Lawrence Makoare). The Anglo-Kiwi co-production marked new screen territory for director Toa Fraser (No. 2) and writer Glenn Standring (fantasy Perfect Creature). After debuting at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival, The Dead Lands topped the Kiwi box office and won three Moa awards.
A party of returning raiders hauls a massive waka taua (war canoe) through dense Waitakere bush, driven by their brutally insistent chief towards safety. Two water-boys are crouched in the bow. One of them risks a bold act of compassion — towards the trophy prisoner tied to the stern. The impressively-produced portage has echoes of Werner Herzog movie Fitzcarraldo, but the story is palpably Māori. Directed by Tearepa Kahi, Taua won Best Short at National Geographic’s 2007 All Roads festival, and was selected for the Berlin, Rotterdam and Clermont-Ferrand festivals.
This family-friendly series from company Flux Animation follows the adventures of Tamatoa, a young Māori boy and his friends Moana, Manu (the moa), Moko (the tuatara) and Kereru (the kereru). Making clear director Brent Chambers’ lifelong love of American animation, the ten-minute episodes feature visual gags aplenty, most of them sold with a Kiwi twist. Set in pre-European times, the series features the voice talents of comedian Cal Wilson, Jason Hoyte (Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby) and Stephanie Tauevihi (Shortland Street).
Toby Mills began as an actor (eg. short films Mananui and The Find). After managing theatre company Te Rakau Hua o te Wa o Tapu, he took up directing, and in 2000 was awarded for series Nga Morehu, which profiled Māori elders. Mills works often with his partner Moana Maniapoto; together they have won awards for docos on Syd Jackson and carver Pakaariki Harrison. Mills also helmed te reo short Te Po Uriuri.
The idea that New Zealanders often take for granted the depth of talent in the local screen industry is well illustrated by the career of Flux Animation founder Brent Chambers. Most Kiwis would have seen at least one example of his prolific output, yet few would be able to put a face or a name to his work. Chambers was tireless in building a competitive and viable international business, with a distinct local identity.
Innocent Gert, who works in a rubbish dump, can't believe his luck when he's ordered by his boss to take his beautiful mute daughter, Princess Plum, to meet her prospective husband. The two set off on a mythical quest through a fairytale Far North landscape. On the way they encounter freaks and monsters, and experience danger and romance. In an unusual reversal, the voices and music for Woodenhead were all recorded before filming. This surreal second feature from Elam art school grad Florian Habicht took Aotearoa to the arthouse with unprecedented weirdness and wonder.
New Zealander Bill Gavin began his film career in the United Kingdom. After arranging finance for everything from The Killing Fields to Sid and Nancy, he returned home in the 90s to produce a number of features, including What Becomes of the Broken Hearted? and Jubilee. During two years as Head of Feature Films at South Pacific Pictures, he helped develop and finance 2002 hit Whale Rider.
For three decades, playwright and critic Bruce Mason played intelligent, impassioned witness to many key developments in Kiwi theatre and culture; a number of them his own. His play The Pohutukawa Tree has spawned more than 180 productions, and was watched by 20 million after being adapted for the BBC. The End of the Golden Weather is both a classic solo play, and movie.
Veteran actor Kate Harcourt was named a Dame Companion of the NZ Order of Merit in 1996, for her contribution to theatre. Her long performing career also encompasses many roles on screen (Plain Tastes, The Dig, Apron Strings), often playing maternal figures. In her ninth decade she won Best Actress at Rhode Island International Film Festival as the plucky rest home rebel in short film Pacific Dreams.
Harry Sinclair first won fame as a member of beloved 80s multimedia duo The Front Lawn; whose shorts included Walkshort, Linda's Body and The Lounge Bar. Starting with Topless Women Talk about Their Lives, the first of three features exploring 'modern love', Sinclair displayed his talent for offbeat humour and improvisation, and his belief in the creative importance of the actor.