For this screen showcase of NZ visual arts talent, critic Mark Amery selects his top documentaries profiling artists. From the icons (Hotere, McCahon, Lye) to the unheralded (Edith Collier) to Takis the Greek, each portrait shines light on the person behind the canvas. "Naturally inquisitive, with an open wonder about the world, they make for inspiring onscreen company."
This selection — in partnership with the NZ Film Commission — showcases award-winning examples of Kiwi short filmmaking. From the the tale of two men and a Cow, to the sleazy charms of The Lounge Bar, from Cannes to Ngawi; this collection is a celebration of "a beautiful medium for nailing an idea to the fence post with a piece of No.8 wire."
The decade of fondue and flares also cooked up colour television. Our black and white living room icons — from Selwyn Toogood to Space Waltz — melted into a Kiwi kaleidoscope of Top Town, Grunt Machine, and Close to Home. And 'our stories' and rights fights — boks, hikoi, nukes and 'nam — echoed onscreen (Sleeping Dogs, Tangata Whenua). Ready to roll?
In 1979, Red Mole was New Zealand's best-known alternative theatre troupe. During two seasons in New York, they wowed audiences with their Dada-influenced shows. "All possible elements of theatre and spectacle are employed by the skilful members of the group." (The Villager). In this 16mm film directed for the National Film Unit by soon-to-be-famous actor Sam Neill, the group takes a surreal journey through actual and imaginary New Zealand. Neill would later collaborate with editor Judy Rymer on Cinema of Unease.
Innocent Gert, who works in a rubbish dump, can't believe his luck when he's ordered by his imperious 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 debut feature from Elam grad Florian Habicht took Aotearoa to the art house with unprecedented wit, weirdness and wonder.
In Geoff Steven's Kiwi riff on the European art film, a vulcanologist (Brit character actor Nigel Davenport) roams the Volcanic Plateau accompanied by a journalist, a photographer and escapees from a cholera quarantine. Steamy philosophical musings and symbolic intent made for a marked departure from the realism of the NZ feature film renaissance (e.g. Steven’s own Skin Deep). The second feature produced by John Maynard (The Navigator), this moody allegorical tale was co-scripted by Czech writer/designer Ester Krumbachova and Czech-based Kiwi Michael Havas.
In this National Film Unit-produced 'documentary' a circus sets up at the beach. Made for the Ministry of Works to stir debate about the use of coastal land, director Michael Reeves' wiggy treatment of the subject situates the film in the 'frustrated auteur meets sober commission' NFU tradition. Ringmaster Ian Mune is a seaside Willy Wonka canvassing claims to the coast. Demands of development, recreation, and housing are dramatised — including a bizarre look at stranger danger in suburbia, and a graphic illustration of the risks of off-mains sewerage treatment.
Lucinda lives a fairytale life with dairy farmer Rob and his 117 cows. Driving to town one day, she hits an old Māori woman who runs off, unharmed. Some time later, Lucinda decides to test Rob's love for her by trying to make him angry. He passes her tests until a quilt goes missing from their bed. Lucinda spots this on the bed of the old woman she nearly ran over and desperate to get it back, she makes a bargain with her. But the price is high. The Moscow Symphony Orchestra is the soundtrack to director Harry Sinclair's second feature.
This Geoff Steven doco follows NZ chefs Stephen Randle and Neville Ballantyne to a bitterly cold northern Japanese winter to compete in an international snow carving contest. Their entry, a sheep dipping scene created out of a 26 tonne block of snow, manages to look even more surreal in the icy Sapporo cityscape than the British team’s London double decker bus. Spirited competition in sub-zero temperatures produces an America’s Cup style rules controversy, but there’s light relief from the hard partying alternative American team from Portland, Oregon.
Headless Chickens were a rogue electronic act on the traditionally guitar-dominated Flying Nun label, so it makes sense that this Chickens video would be equally outlandish. Inspired by both the Mexican Day of the Dead and Eastern European circus traditions, it has the band dressed as gypsies, beckoning us towards the chaotic carnival which they inhabit. Accompanying the band are a brigade of performers, including knife throwers and stilt walkers, only adding to the surreal feel.