Section 7 was New Zealand’s first urban TV drama series and followed soon after Pukemanu (which was set in a logging town). Taking its name from the Criminal Justice Act section which placed offenders on probation, it focussed on a Probation Service office and addressed issues of the day including new migrants, ship girls and domestic violence. Expatriate Ewen Solon returned from England to take the lead role in a series very much based on British dramas of the time. More popular with critics than the public, Section 7 was limited to 11 half-hour episodes.
This documentary about the sex industry in New Zealand features frank but sympathetic interviews with sex workers (including the Prostitutes Collective) and their clients. Topics discussed include the sex workers' reasons for doing the job, physical and sexual safety, the impact of AIDS, the role of drink and drug abuse, and managing a relationship with a husband or boyfriend. The film screened on TV3 after arguments about censorship, which Costa Botes writes about here. A Double Standard makes a compelling case for the industry to be decriminalised. Law change occurred in 2003.
The light-hearted but star-heavy I'll Make You Happy unapologetically showcases a group of Auckland prostitutes, united by girl power — and a general distaste for their pimp (Michael Hurst). Jodie Rimmer dons many wigs and personas as Siggy, the spunky young sex worker who fends off Hurst's pleading advances, while pulling a nerdy banker (Ian Hughes) into her plans for a game-changing heist. The eclectic soundtrack is heavy on electronica, while the cast includes Rena Owen, Jennifer Ward-Lealand, dancer Taiaroa Royal, and a one-minute cameo by Lucy Lawless.
In a nod to his theatre training, Whale Rider actor Rawiri Paratene (then better known as a presenter on Play School) unveils three stories to a marae audience. A bored schoolboy (Faifua Amiga) banters with a sarcastic teacher; a musical number features a prostitute (Rena Owen) and her client; and a young girl and her grandfather prepare and wait for the body of her father at the pā. This was the first screen drama directed by Don Selwyn, who argued "what Rawiri is saying in his script is that there are lots of things Māori which are left out of the education system."
In more repressed times, Carmen was one of NZ's most colourful and controversial figures. Geoff Steven's doco traces the life story of the transgender icon who was born Trevor Rupe in Taumarunui in 1936 and went on to be a dancer, sex worker, madam, cafe owner — and one of the few non-MPs to appear before the Privileges Committee. Steven shines a light on a bygone era of gay culture but avoids the temptation to focus on the seedy — opting, instead, for extended fantasy sequences (featuring Neil Gudsell aka Mika) to illustrate key moments in Carmen's life.
The Feltex-winning series Pioneer Women dramatised the lives of groundbreaking New Zealand women. This episode looks at the story of controversial safe-sex campaigner Ettie Rout. In World War I she travelled to Egypt to care for Kiwi soldiers; there she found venereal disease was rife, and recommended that prophylactic kits be issued and that brothels be inspected for hygiene. To the establishment her pioneering ideas on health, sex and gender were ‘immoral’ and received with hostility; while the RSA and some doctors considered her a “guardian angel of the ANZACs”.
Director Grahame McLean uses the notorious (then recent) 'Mr Asia' drug smuggling saga as fodder for this Wellington underbelly tale. Hello Sailor’s Harry Lyon headlines as a musician and ex-con who partners with a beautiful journo to investigate a global drug syndicate, in between nightclub sessions with fellow musos Beaver and Hammond Gamble. High on 80s guitar licks, Should I be Good? was made in the tax break era without Film Commission investment. McLean followed it right away with The Lie of the Land, becoming a rare Kiwi to make two movies back to back.
This Queer Nation episode, presented by Max Currie, is an overview of the capital city's queer history. The literary demimonde is first up: Katherine Mansfield's lesbian affairs and a scandal involving Norris Davey (aka Frank Sargeson). Then the role is explored of the Dorian Society (1962-1986) and its subgroup the Homosexual Law Reform Society, which paved the way towards decriminalisation in the 1980s. The programme also introduces viewers to NZ’s most famous trannies: Carmen and then-MP Georgina Beyer. Interviews and archive material spice up the history.
Intergenerational warfare, mad aunts, bored teens, affairs, abortions and the ache of regret are on the menu in place of sausage rolls in Home Movie. A christening is the crux around which a family does its best to pull apart at the seams. Performances and a script attuned to the details of domestic disturbance don't hold back (America's Funniest Home Videos this ain't). Directed and written by Fiona Samuel, it was part of TV One's Montana Sunday Drama series. It won best actor, actress and TV drama at the 1998 NZ Film and TV Awards. Samuel writes about making Home Movie here.
Fifteen-year-old James is a suburban kid who tries to have it all one night on Courtenay Place. A sensitive lead turn from newcomer Aaron McGregor captures the intensity of being taken by the night, as booze and hormones derail romantic intentions. Choice Night was a second short collaboration between director Christopher Dudman and writer Paul Stanley Ward, loosely based on the latter’s experiences as a teenager in 90s Wellington. It was selected for the Clermont-Ferrand (in competition) and BFI London film festivals, and won Best International Short at Geneva.