Sam Neill has acted in forgotten Kiwi TV dramas (The City of No) and classic Kiwi movies (Sleeping Dogs, The Piano, Hunt for the Wilderpeople). His career has taken him from the UK (Reilly: Ace of Spies) to Hawaii (Jurassic Park) to dodgy Melbourne nightclubs (Death in Brunswick). As Neill turns 70, this collection celebrates his range, modesty and style — and the fact he was directing films before winning acting fame. In these backgrounders, friends Ian Mune and Roger Donaldson raise a glass to a talented, self-deprecating actor and fan of good music and pinot noir.
Marlborough's beloved grapevines star in this comedy feature, which was shot at a winery in just 11 days. Twenty-something Harry (Hayden J Weal from Chronesthesia) is dumped by his fiancée, just days before their wedding at a vineyard. Two of Harry's friends ensure the wine doesn't go to waste as they try to cheer him up. Written and directed by Casey Zilbert, the film was inspired by classic Ernest Hemingway novel Fiesta (aka The Sun Also Rises) about drunken expats in Europe. Hang Time is Zilbert's first movie; at university, her studies included Fiesta and wine science.
Film director Roger Donaldson and motor racing legend Steve Millen both began making their mark in New Zealand, before making the move to California. The first Coming Home episode sees them at work in the USA, and visiting old haunts in Aotearoa. Donaldson shoots the effects-heavy Dante's Peak and prepares $100 million thriller Thirteen Days, while Millen hits the race track, in-between running his custom car parts company. Later he returns to the farm near Auckland, where his need for speed began on the family tractor. Donaldson heads to Auckland and Queenstown.
This 1978 National Film Unit documentary provides a potted history of settler groups that came to New Zealand from Europe. Archive material and narration covers the colonials. Then visits are paid to the German-descended Eggers, tobacco growers from Moutere, and newly arrived French bakers and Dutch dairy farmers. Aptly for a film directed by actor and future winemaker Sam Neill, the film drops in on an Italian play and the Babich family of Dalmatian winemakers. Neill worked at the NFU in his 20s, around the time of his breakout acting role in Sleeping Dogs (1977).
Winemaker Lionel Collard broke new ground in the 1980s when he began inviting Kiwi artists to decorate his wine labels — breaking the trend of plain, to the point text. Collard started with Billy Apple. Later artists to feature on Collard Brothers bottles included Pat Hanly, Philippa Blair, Gavin Chilcott and Carole Shepheard. They talk about their art in this documentary. Wine writer Keith Stewart praises the art-infused labels for embodying the idea that winemaking is an artform. Wine seller Joe Jakicevich vouches for the commercial benefits of the vibrant, eye-catching labels.
Filmed in France, Belgium and New Zealand, The Vintner's Luck (aka A Heavenly Vintage) is a tale of growing grapes and meeting angels. Belgian actor Jeremie Renier (L'Enfant) stars as Sobran, a poor winemaker who one day encounters an angel. The two make a pact. One day each year, as Sobran's fortunes wax and wane, the angel returns to hear more about Sobran's life. Director Niki Caro adapted Elizabeth Knox's bestselling novel with help from US script consultant Joan Scheckel; the film also reunites Caro with Whale Rider discovery Keisha Castle-Hughes, who plays Sobran's wife.
This 2014 series looks at the role of architects on Kiwi building projects, as they respond to the challenges of budget, environment, site and client expectations. In this last episode of the series, host Peter Elliott asks if "architectural design can be financially achievable". He meets company Herbst Architects, and talks space, emotion and design for a steep Waiheke Island section, and a modular bach. Two fathers share the build of a John Irving-designed beach house; and a Point Chevalier house designed by A Studio aims for zero energy. Plus Elliott recaps the series' grand designs.
In this early, Edinburgh-centric episode of arts show Frontseat, Flight of the Conchords return to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for a sellout third season — although they argue the new show is “a shambles”. Also present at the fest are an array of Kiwi technicians, performers, and arts programmers. Meanwhile in his Marlborough vineyard, globetrotting cinematographer Michael Seresin critiques Kiwi society and its ugly towns, and calls New Zealand a “lonely, soulless sort of nation”. Also on offer: Artist Phil Dadson in Antarctica, and award-winning dancer Ross McCormack.
This 2015 Loading Doc looks at a Japanese winemaker running a vineyard in New Zealand. Amber Easby and Henry Oliver’s short film explores the triumphs and travails of Hiro Kusuda’s search for terroir in the Marlborough soil, framed around the threat that Cyclone Pam poses to his grape harvest. “Everything is so fragile,” reflects Kusuda. Kusuda left a career as a lawyer and diplomat to study viticulture in Germany, before moving to New Zealand in 2001. Kusuda screened at the 2015 NZ International Film Festival, and was shared by the Japan Times and wine websites.
This TV2 take on The Truman Show sees Hawkes Bay vineyard worker Sam participating in a reality show where – unknown to him – all his housemates are fakes. In this first episode Sam’s flatmates play to the archetypes of reality TV, as host Mark Ferguson sets them ridiculous challenges (eg water bomb wet t-shirt reading). The Spinoff 's Alex Casey called it “a one off, never to be repeated format, and crikey it was good, bad TV.” The cast were only let into the show's secrets after winning their parts. Sarah Thomson ('rich bitch' Tiffany) was later an undercover cop on Shortland Street.