This was a series of stand-alone documentaries that examined the work of some of New Zealand’s iconic visual artists. Commissioned from some of NZ’s best producers and directors, Work of Art was the result of a funding initiative from NZ On Air. With slightly more generous budgets and a broad creative brief, the Work of Art series gave our more accomplished television and film practitioners a canvas for their own art. This was a forerunner to the Artsville and Festival documentary strands.

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Act of Murder

Television, 1993 (Excerpts)

This film documents Miranda Harcourt taking her stageplay Verbatim (written by Harcourt and William Brandt) to prison audiences. The play is a six-character monologue made up of accounts of violent crime, all performed by Harcourt. Director Shirley Horrocks captures the reactions of the prison inmates watching their own lives unfold on stage. Harcourt’s powerful performance is augmented with revealing testimonies of the broken men and women who agree to be interviewed. The documentary won the premier prize at the 1993 Media Peace Awards.

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Breaking Barriers

Television, 1993 (Full Length)

John O'Shea was godfather to generations of Kiwi filmmakers; he was an inspirational force committed to bringing new perspectives to the screen. As Ngati actor Wi Kuki Kaa put it, "had he been a Māori, he would have been a kaumatua years ago". This documentary backgrounds O'Shea and his pioneering indie production company Pacific Films, ranging from his efforts to put Māori on screen, to banned 60s ads. The cast provides proof positive of O'Shea's influence — amongst the ex-Pacific staff interviewed are the late Barry Barclay, Tony Williams and  Gaylene Preston.

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By the Light of the Mune

Television, 1993 (Full Length)

This Work of Art documentary follows veteran actor and director Ian Mune as he works with NZ Drama School graduates, to write and shoot a 15 minute film in just two days. Many of the actors (who include future bro'Town voice David Fane and Saving Grace's Kirsty Hamilton) have little experience acting for the camera. Mune passes on lessons learned in a career that began long before such tuition was available locally. Shot at Wellington Railway Station, Rush Hour, the resulting film, is included in its entirety during this fascinating insight into the creative process.

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Flip & Two Twisters

Television, 1995 (Excerpts)

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.

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Footage

Television, 1996 (Full Length)

This documentary is a hallucinogenic exploration of the allure of the foot and the cult of the shoe. What other item of clothing carries the promise of such pleasure or pain? A podiatrist, a ballerina, a cross dresser, a mistress, an academic, a transexual, a femme fatale and a couple of shoe salesmen journey into the depths of their soles. Selected for Venice Film Festival in 1996, Footage was an award-winning excursion into documentary making for feature director Niki Caro.

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God, Sreenu and Me

Television, 2000 (Full Length)

Filmmaker Stewart Main traverses India seeking enlightenment. There he meets ex-pat Kiwis who seem to have found it, which only leaves him feeling trapped in a life of the senses. Especially when he falls for his Indian sound recordist, Sreenu. Or so he would have us think. Made for TVNZ's Work of Art documentary slot, Main's startling, provocative film explores the cracks between the divine and the sensual, documentary and fiction. Director Andrew Bancroft writes about the result in this backgrounder.

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Hair

Television, 1993 (Full Length)

Apemen, Barbie dolls, and hairy shoes ... as this doco demonstrates, hair turns up everywhere (or not, as one man's poignant and matter-of-fact testimony to the horrors of losing it demonstrates). Hair's co-director, Auckland artist Judy Darragh, uses her fascination with all-things hirsute as a springboard for wit, thought-provoking theories, and some unusual artwork. She also phones Welsh author Elaine Morgan, who believes our ancestors lost much of their hair thanks to a semi-aquatic past. Producer Fiona Copland joins Darragh as co-director. 

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Icon in B Minor

Television, 1996 (Full Length)

Icon in B Minor: a musical odyssey is the tale of two creative souls from different centuries with the same belief in spiritual transformation through their art. World-renowned New Zealand concert pianist Michael Houstoun is filmed on his pilgrimage to Germany, where composer Franz Liszt spent his last years. Houstoun is preparing for his performance of Liszt's monumental work, Sonata in B Minor. Produced and directed by Tainui Stephens, Icon in B Minor screened as part of the Work of Art series.

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In Bed with the Orchestra

Television, 1993 (Full Length)

This Steve La Hood-directed documentary provides a candid, behind-the-scenes portrait of an orchestral musician's life, following the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra for 13 days on a nationwide tour. Included is footage of rehearsals, travel, and concert performances. There's a glimpse of some internal politics, and insight into how the musicians relax. Holding the baton is conductor Nicholas Braithwaite; guest pianist on tour is Peter Donohoe. Rachmaninov's 3rd Piano Concerto and Paul McCartney's Liverpool Oratorio feature prominently.

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Intent to Construct

Television, 1995 (Full Length)

Pacific Monarch by New Zealand sculptor Paul Dibble was installed in front of the Manawatu Art Gallery, Palmerston North, in 1995. This film documents the production of this large scale bronze sculpture, and in doing so reveals something of its maker. Dibble's knowledge and skill in manipulating the process of bronze casting to produce his delicately balanced sculptures is evident - the casting, the welding together of all the parts, and the assembling of a team of sympathetic experts. 

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In the Shadow of King Lear

Television, 1996 (Full Length)

This documentary shows two directors and a cast of actors working to breathe new life into Shakespeare. Veteran Ian Mune prepares to tackle one of the most difficult leading roles in classical theatre: King Lear. "If you're gonna climb hills, why not Everest?" he says. The unorthodox, bring it alive approach of Theatre At Large directors Anna Marbrook and Christian Penny (future director of Toi Whakaari) seems to err on the side of playfulness. But viewers are shown there is a method to their madness, when scenes from Shakespeare's drama are presented in beautifully-lit tableaus.

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Mike Nock

Television, 1993 (Excerpts)

"Jazz is an attitude ... how you look at yourself, how you look at the world." So argues the subject of this rich and moody Work of Art documentary: jazz pianist Mike Nock. The Ngaruawahia-raised muso first went on the road in his teens, and by 18 had left New Zealand for a long career in Sydney, London and New York City. Director Geoffrey Cawthorn and his film crew travel with Nock in small-town New Zealand and big city NY, capturing memories of childhood, touring and inspiration. Also included: some beautifully-lit performances by Nock and his cohorts.

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Pacific 3-2-1-Zero

Television, 1993 (Full Length)

Pacific 3-2-1-Zero is a record of a performance of the eponymous work by renowned percussion group From Scratch. The work was devised in 1981 as a protest against nuclear testing and waste dumping in the Pacific. Ring-leader Phil Dadson, his players and their instruments — from whirling PVC pipes to biscuit tin lids — are arranged in the shape of the peace symbol. From Scratch's rhythms are cut with footage and facts of nuclear testing by director Gregor Nicholas to make for a resonant statement. The film won the Grand Prix at Midem’s 1994 Visual Music Awards.

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Pacific Ikon

Television, 1998 (Excerpts)

Director Stewart Main talked to artist Pat Hanly about life as painter and activist for 1998 documentary Pacific Ikon, from which this excerpt is taken. Interviewed at his Mt Eden home, Hanly discusses his painting career and inspirations — both political and personal. Also interviewed are his wife Gil, who supported him personally and financially, and children Ben, Tamsin and Amber. Like his work, Hanly is ebullient, energetic and articulate, At one point he says: "We are awaiting death with interested anticipation. Some of my best friends are dead." Hanley died in September 2004.

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Peter Peryer: Portrait of a Photographer

Television, 1994 (Full Length)

Ever wondered why artist Peter Peryer photographed himself holding a chicken? This documentary provides the answer. Directed by Greg Stitt (Just Me and Mario), it traces the path of one of New Zealand's most significant, and intriguing, art photographers — from "crucified Christ to laughing Buddha" — through Catholic themes, to a more minimalist approach. Also showcased are some of Peryer's captivating images: the "bodies of work, families of photos, and images that rhyme". The photographer passed away on 18 November 2018.

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Sense of Place: Robin Morrison, Photographer

Television, 1993 (Full Length)

Director John Bates' 1993 documentary examines the life and work of photographer Robin Morrison, who captured iconic images of everyday New Zealand life and landscape. Part biography, part travelogue, the film goes on the road with Morrison to revisit some of his best-loved locations. Stunningly shot by Stuart Dryburgh (The Piano) before Morrison died on 12 March 1993, Sense of Place won Best Documentary at the 1994 New Zealand Film and Television awards, and a certificate of merit at the 37th San Francisco International Film Festival.

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Velvet Dreams

Television, 1997 (Full Length)

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.

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Wise Women and Song

Television, 1993 (Full Length)

Singer Jackie Clarke attends the NZ Smokefree Composing Women’s Festival to find out what goes on there, and find the guidance and inspiration to write a song for the first time. Made for TV ONE’s Work of Art slot, the documentary mixes interviews with performance footage covering a wide range of musical styles, from classical to rock. Among the singer/songwriters appearing are Moana Maniapoto, Shona Laing, Hinewehi Mohi, Mahinarangi Tocker and Jan Hellriegel, plus sometime film composers Janet Roddick and Jan Preston.