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."
Cartoonist and writer Dylan Horrocks heads to England to trace his family lineage in this documentary, which mixes science and history. Horrocks uses DNA analysis to investigate if he is related to 17th century English astronomer Jeremiah Horrocks. In 1639 the scientist was the first person to observe the Transit of Venus. This planetary movement prompted Captain James Cook to travel to the Pacific. Horrocks heads to Tolaga Bay to view the transit in 2012, a special moment as the next one will be in 2117. The 70-minute film is directed by Dylan's stepmother Shirley Horrocks.
This 1978 National Film Unit documentary chronicles the daily lives of New Zealanders in various places: factory, beach, hospital, oil rig, country town, sheep farm, market garden, Auckland produce market, art gallery and primary school. Narration-free, the film features montages of stills by photographer Ans Westra. The impression is of New Zealand as a busy nation of makers and growers, alongside singing ‘Oma Rapiti’ at the bach and visiting the art gallery. Terry towelling, walk shorts, and denim shirts are date stamps. The script is by onetime Variety film reviewer Mike Nicolaidi.
A homage to Dusky Maiden images as well as a playful take on the low art of velvet painting, Sima Urale’s Velvet Dreams provides a tongue-in-cheek exploration of Pacific Island stereotypes. Part detective story, part documentary, an unseen narrator goes in search of a painting of a Polynesian princess that he has fallen in love with. Along the way he meets artists, fans and critics of the kitsch art genre, as well as the mysterious Gauguin-like figure of Charlie McPhee. Made for TVNZ's Work of Art series, Velvet Dreams played in multiple international film festivals.
Flip & Two Twisters is Shirley Horrocks' documentary about New Zealand-born artist Len Lye. Motion maestro Lye's international reputation rests on his work as a filmmaker and kinetic sculptor, and his lively contributions to the London and New York avant-garde. The documentary explores Lye's career and ideas, with the help of historical footage and excerpts from his films. It includes footage of Lye in typically exuberant form outlining his process, introduces many of his kinetic works, and documents how some of his most ambitious plans are being realised in New Zealand.
Prelude to Aspiring was the first National Film Unit title directed by legendary photographer Brian Brake, soon after he joined the Unit in 1948. It follows a group of climbers up the Matukituki Valley, west of Wanaka, towards Mt Aspiring for the opening of a new hut and a trudge through snow to resurrect a flattened shelter high up Mt French. The autumn alpine scenery is breathtaking even in black and white, and the film perfectly performs its role as one of a series of promotional ‘documentaries' made by the NFU.
Globetrotting New Zealander Len Lye was a gifted innovator in many areas of the arts — film, painting, sculpture, photography, and writing. Inventing ways to make films without a camera, he became one of the pioneers of the genre later known as the music video. Later he moved to New York's Greenwich Village and became a leading figure in the kinetic art movements of the 1950s and 60s.
Though Michael Heath helped create a run of pioneering examples of the Kiwi cinema of unease, his contributions to our culture defy easy categorisation. His scripts include many films which have made a comfortable home between genres: children’s vampire tale Moonrise/Grampire, nostalgic Ronald Hugh Morrieson chiller The Scarecrow, Heath’s work with director Tony Williams, and his acclaimed song-cycle A Small Life.
Bruce Morrison's extensive career as director, producer and sometime scriptwriter has crossed the gamut: from innovative arts programming and pioneer music videos, to the long-running Heartland series — plus feature films variously involving fast cars, riotous teens and a glamour-struck Donogh Rees.