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Main | NORWAY »
Saturday
Aug122017

NEW ZEALAND

Geographical isolation from the European centre of early film technology was no hindrance to the development of a strong cinema culture in New Zealand. As far back as 1896, cinema projection was introduced to the North island of Aoteoroa – at the Auckland Opera House as part of the Charles Godfrey Vaudeville Company travelling showcase. By 1910, one of the oldest theatres in the world, The Kings Theatre in Wellington, opened its doors and featured the premiere of the French silent short Two Kids on a Spree in Brussels (1909).

The birth of global cinema ignited the curiosity and ingenuity of New Zealand’s early film craftsmen, and soon the newsreel spools of pioneers A.H. Whitehouse and Joseph Perry were capturing life in The Antipodes on celluloid. Whitehouse directed the earliest footage that still survives from the period – the January 1900 departure of troops for the Boer War, of which fifty feet, or thirty-three seconds, of usable frames remains to this day. They are the very earliest images of a nation bound to Monarchist rule and a society struggling to integrate a centuries-old indigenous culture and young European settlement.

Film production began in 1913, when filmmaker/adventurer Gaston Melies (brother of famed French producer Georges Melies) declared “To get something fresh, set sail on the Pacific for the land of the sunny south.” He would produce three short films highlighting Maori culture and mythology - Loved by a Maori Chieftainess, How Chief Te Ponga Won His Bride and Hinemoa, the first of many adaptations of the local legend (George Tarr directed a 1914 version that is still regarded as New Zealand’s first feature film). A major achievement from the period was the work of James McDonald of the Dominion Museum who, with the blessing of Maori elders, filmed the now famous ‘Scenes Of Life’ series, documenting for the first time tribal life and customs. Some of the surviving reels were restored and screened in 1986, among them Scenes at the Rotorua Hui (1920), Scenes of Maori Life on the Whanganui River (1921; pictured, above) and Scenes of Maori Life on the East Coast (1923).

Newsreel and travelogue productions flourished, with the occasional silent feature being produced, such as Barry Marschel’s adaptation of the nationalistic ballad The Kid From Timaru (1917) and Australian director Harrington Reynold’s hugely-popular The Birth Of New Zealand (1922), which featured re-enactments of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and Captain Cook’s landing. Filmmaking endeavours were springing up in most major cities, including Maoriland Films in Otaki, producers of the hit Chaplin homage Charlie’s Capers (1921).


Key to the sector’s growth in the 1920’s was ex-pat Brit, Rudall Hayward. Having relocated to New Zealand at a young age, Hayward applied his passion for the new artform in a most unique way; with his colleague Lee McLeod Hill, Hayward devised the ‘Community Comedy’ films. Travelling from town-to-town, the pair would shoot some slapstick footage with a rudimentary storyline featuring the townsfolk, and return ten days later to screen it. It became a source of national pride to Depression-era New Zealanders to have Hayward or Hill visit their township. (Pictured, above; an advertisement produced to encourage participation in the Community Comedy initiative) 

With his second feature, Rudall Hayward would create one of the most beloved New Zealand films of all timeRewi’s Last Stand (1925; pictured, right), the story of the bloody confrontation at Orakau during the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s when 300 Maori defied five assaults by 2,000 British troops. He would continue to shoot films of a proud, nationalistic flavour, including The Te Kooti Trail (1927), The Bush Cinderella (1928), his first sound film, a bigscreen version of the popular radio serial On A Friendly Road (1936) and the blockbuster release of a remade sound version of Rewi’s Last Stand (1940). His passing in 1974 brought a day of national mourning and honoured the commitment and good grace he always showed for his adopted homeland.

The advent of sound in a January 1930 ‘Coubray-tone News’ newsreel from director/journalist Ted Coubray (who had directed the beloved romance Under The Southern Cross in 1927 with Danish filmmaker, Gustav Pauli), the 1929 opening of the 3500-seat Civic Theatre picture palace in Auckland and the establishment of the National Film Unit (N.F.U.) in 1940 were positive signs for the region. The global love of cinema as a social event never waned – imported films, first from the U.K. and then from Hollywood, were hugely popular (though often viewed with disdain by the conservative censorship regime, who would ban Brando’s The Wild One in ’54); screenings of the N.F.U.-produced newsreels ‘Weekly Review’ and ‘Pictorial Parade’, that captured New Zealanders at play, became standing-room only events.

But feature film production all but ceased; incredibly, between 1940 and 1970, only three feature films were produced. Broken Barrier (1952), Runaway (1964), Don’t Let it Get You (1966), directed by John O’Shea for his Pacific Film Unit shingle (later renamed Pacific Film Productions), kept the feature film industry afloat over three decades. Their investment in the industry’s future included financing a slate of documentaries, which allowed technicians and craftsmen to hone their skills. Other forms of New Zealand cinematic ingenuity sprung forth, notably Dunedin-based animator Fred O’Neill, whose stop-motion puppet masterpiece Phantasm (1960) won an amateur filmmaker’s award at the Cannes Film Festival (pictured, above; O'Neill with his creations, photo:Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision.)

The wave of social change that was sweeping the world reignited the New Zealand film industry in the early 1970s. A short documentary made for the World Expo called This is New Zealand (1970) became a sensation in the nation’s cinemas. In 1972, the launch of the Wellington Film Festival and the publication of the magazine Alternative Cinema contributed to film’s resurgence. Maori social and cultural issues were being pushed to the fore; the six-part television documentary Tangata Whenua: the People of the Land (1974) became a landmark small-screen production.



The first New Zealand hit movie in nearly thirty years was Roger Donaldson’s Sleeping Dogs (1977), a brutal, politically-charged tale that featured names that would shape and define New Zealand cinema output foe decades to come – Australian-born Donaldson (Smash Palace, 1981; The World’s Fastest Indian, 2005; McLaren, 2017); actor Sam Neill; industry figurehead Ian Mune (Came A Hot Friday, 1985; The Grasscutter, 1990; What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted?, 1999); and, indigenous industry trailblazer, Don Selwyn (The Maori Merchant Of Venice, 2002).

After years of inactivity, the industry was jolted from its slumber and the government responded with the formation of the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) in 1978. Production surged and the ingrained ‘cultural cringe’ that a generation of domestic audiences had developed having not seen themselves on the silver screen began to crumble. In the early years of the NZFC’s reign, the tax breaks afforded investors led to one of its most prolific and internationally recognised phases of production. This period included Paul Maunder’s Sons for the Return Home (1979); Michael Black’s Pictures (1981); Sam Pillsbury’s The Scarecrow (1982), the first New Zealand film to screen at Cannes in the Director’s Fortnight section; Vincent Ward’s Vigil (1984) and The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey (1988); Rolf Hadrich’s Among the Cinders (1984); John Reid’s French-New Zealand co-shoot, Leave All Fair (1985), with John Gielgud and Jane Birkin; Geoff Murphy’s cult hits Goodbye Pork Pie (1981), Utu (1983), The Quiet Earth (1984) and Never Say Die (1988); Richard Riddiford’s Arriving Tuesday (1986); British director Mike Newell’s New Zealand/U.K. co-production, Bad Blood (1981); and, the prolific hits of genre director John Laing, including Beyond Reasonable Doubt (1981), The Lost Tribe (1983), Other Halves (1984) and Dangerous Orphans (1985). The decade saw the release of the one of the biggest films in New Zealand’s cinema-going history – the late Murray Ball’s rough-around-the-edges animated adaptation of his iconic comic strip, Footrot Flats: The Dog’s Tale (1987; pictured, above).

Of course, it was also the decade in which a young, slightly twisted filmmaker named Peter Jackson unlaunched his unique brand of horror comedy in the landmark gross-out low-budgeters Bad Taste (1987), Meet The Feebles (1989) and Braindead (1992), films that paved the way for one of the most successful international directing careers of all time. By Jackson’s side for much of the way was Costa Botes, who co-created the hilarious mock-umentary on the nation’s film history, Forgotten Silver (1995) before a long career as a factual filmmaker (Saving Grace, 1998; Struggle No More, 2006; Act of Kindness, 2015).



This growth in production and financing also allowed for native Maori and Polynesian islander films to develop. In 1986, a collective of Maori artists, elders and community representatives called Te Manu Aute was established, and from its commitment grew films such as Merata Mitu’s documentary Patu! (1983) and her feature debut Mauri (1988); Mike Walker’s Kingpin (1985), Barry Barclay’s much-loved Ngati (1987) and Te Rua (1991) and Lee Tamahori’s adaptation of the Alan Duff bestseller,  Once Were Warriors (1994), which became a cultural phenomenon upon release. The increased profile and acceptance of Maori culture onscreen led to the NZFC co-financing Niki Caro’s Whale Rider in 2002, a global hit that earned young star, Keisha Castle-Hughes (pictured, top) a Best Actress Oscar nomination.

‘Kiwi’ film output in the new millennium has reflected an industry secure in its native cinematic voice and innovative enough to attract global productions to its unique locales and facilities. Filmmakers who have impacted global cinema in the last two decades that have sprung from the creative community of Aoteoroa include Jane Campion, two-time Palme D’or winner at the Cannes Film Festival, for her short Peel (1982) and her Oscar winning worldwide hit, The Piano (1993) and most recently, the critically acclaimed TV series, Top of The Lake (2015-17); Gaylene Preston (Ruby And Rata, 1990; Bread And Roses, 1994; Perfect Strangers, 2003; Home by Christmas, 2010; My Year with Helen, 2017); Robert Sarkies (Scarfies, 1999, Out Of The Blue, 2006, starring Karl Urban); Christine Jeffs (Rain, 2001; Sylvia, 2003; Sunshine Cleaning, 2009);  and the return home of Vincent Ward (River Queen, 2005; Rain Of The Children, 2008.) In the wake of the …Rings juggernaut, a new generation of directors are emerging, including Chris Graham (Sione’s Wedding, 2006; The Ferryman, 2007), Toa Fraser (No.2, 2007; Dean Spanley, 2009; The Dead Lands, 2014); Glenn Standring (The Truth About Demons, 2000; Perfect Creature, 2006), Dana Rotberg (White Lies, 2013), Jonathan King (Black Sheep, 2008; Realiti, 2014) and James Napier Robertson (The Dark Horse, 2014), with star Cliff Curtis (pictured, above).

The latest local lad to follow in the Hollywood footsteps of countrymen Peter Jackson, Andrew Adamson (Shrek, 2001; The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, 2005) and Martin Campbell (GoldenEye, 1995; The Mask of Zorro, 1998; Casino Royale, 2006) is Taiki Waititi, who arrived on the scene with the Oscar-nominated short Two Cars One Night (2005) followed by a parade of crowdpleasers - Eagle vs Shark (2008), Boy (2010), What We Do In The Shadows (2014) and Hunt For The Wilderpeople (2016). In 2017, he helms the MCU blockbuster, Thor: Ragnarok.

Key Events:
New Zealand International Film Festival – Various cities, New Zealand; from July.
The New Zealand International Film Festival is the banner under which four key New Zealand cities hold their annual film events – Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. In addition to these events, a travelling roadshow of selected titles plays to smaller regional centres from July through to November.
https://www.nziff.co.nz

Contact:
New Zealand Film Commission
Level 3, 119 Ghuznee St
Wellington, New Zealand
Tel: (+64 4) 382 7680
Email: info@nzfilm.co.nz
Web: www.nzfilm.co.nz

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