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 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).
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.
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.
Cinematographer Graeme Cowley created the moody imagery for classic movies Utu and Smash Palace. Elsewhere he played another vital role in the Kiwi film renaissance, by establishing camera equipment hire company Film Facilities, alongside the late Nigel Hutchinson. Cowley went on to produce black comedy Carry Me Back, and work on the restoration of Utu.
Niki Caro's near wordless Sure to Rise was nominated for best short film at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival. Four years later her debut feature Memory and Desire was invited to Cannes. Caro followed it with Whale Rider, winner of more than 27 awards, and still one of New Zealand's most successful films abroad. Since then Caro has directed everywhere from vineyards in France to mining towns in Minnesota.