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Cinema of New Zealand

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Title: Cinema of New Zealand  
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Subject: Media of New Zealand, Cinema of New Zealand, History of New Zealand, New Zealand literature, New Zealand art
Collection: Cinema of New Zealand, New Zealand Films
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Cinema of New Zealand

Cinema of New Zealand
The Skycity Village Cinemas next to Aotea Square in Auckland City, New Zealand.
Number of screens 411 (2010)[1]
Produced feature films (2011)[2]
Fictional 19
Animated 1
Documentary 5
Number of admissions (2010)[1]
Total 15,300,000
 • Per capita 3.6 (2010)[3]
Gross box office (2012)[4]
Total $145 million
National films $3.19 million (2.20%)

New Zealand cinema, can refer to films made by New Zealand-based production companies in New Zealand. However, it may also refer to films made about New Zealand by filmmakers from other countries. In addition, due to the relatively small size of its film industry, many New Zealand-made films are co-productions with companies based in other nations.


  • Defining New Zealand Film 1
  • History 2
    • Early film 2.1
    • The Classical era 2.2
    • The 1970s and 1980s 2.3
    • The Coming of Age of The New Zealand Short Film 2.4
    • International success 2.5
  • New Zealand Film Archive 3
  • Recently released New Zealand films 4
    • 2002 4.1
    • 2003 4.2
    • 2004 4.3
    • 2005 4.4
    • 2006 4.5
    • 2007 4.6
    • 2008 4.7
    • 2009 4.8
    • 2010 4.9
    • 2011 4.10
    • 2012 4.11
    • Recent & Future releases 4.12
    • Other movies partially filmed or to be filmed in New Zealand 4.13
  • Notable feature directors 5
  • Notable actors 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Defining New Zealand Film

In October 1978 the New Zealand Film Commission was formalised by Parliament under the Third National Government. The functions of the Commission under Section 17 of the New Zealand Film Commission Act 1978 were to:[5]

  • Encourage and assist in the making, promotion, distribution and exhibition of films
  • Encourage and promote cohesion with NZ film industry
  • Encourage and promote maintenance of films in archives

With this Act, the New Zealand film industry became more stabilised. Section 18 of the Act, entitled "Content of Films", would serve to define which aspects a film had to have in order for it to be labelled as a New Zealand Film. To qualify as a New Zealand film, the film must have "significant New Zealand content", taking into account the following:[5]

  • The subject of the film
  • The locations at which the film was made
  • The nationalities or places of residence of:
    • the authors, scriptwriters, composers, producers, directors, actors, technicians, editors, etc.
    • the owners of any company, partnership, or joint venture involved in making the film
    • the copyright holders
  • The sources from which the money is derived
  • The ownership and whereabouts of the equipment and technical facilities

These defining aspects have in recent years caused debate on whether films like The Frighteners and the The Lord of the Rings qualify as New Zealand Films. The impact of the New Zealand Film Commission on the industry was in getting films made, coming to a definition of NZ Film, and helping establish a Screen Industry in New Zealand.

Most New Zealand films are made by independent filmmakers, often on a low budget and with sponsorship from public funds. Relatively few New Zealand-made films have been specifically commissioned for the international market by international film distributors.

Recently, international film companies have become more aware of the skills of New Zealand filmmakers, and have increasingly used the New Zealand film industry as a base to shoot and also sometimes finish their feature films.

Private funding for New Zealand films has often been in short supply, although for a period in the early eighties tax-breaks resulted in a rush of money and a production boom. Although the trend seems to be changing for the better, some New Zealand directors and actors have been ignored in large part by their own country, despite success overseas, and often had to work in the US, Australia, and the UK as a result.


Early film

The first public screening of a motion picture was on 13 October 1896 at the Opera House, Auckland and was part of a show presented by Charles Godfrey’s Vaudeville Company.[6]

The first screening of a colour film (colour process, not just a colourised black and white film) was on Christmas Eve in 1911. It was a simultaneous showing at the Globe Picture Theatre, Queen Street and the Kings Theatre, Upper Pitt Street (now Mercury Lane).

The first filmmaker in New Zealand was Alfred Whitehouse, who made ten films between 1898 and mid-1900. The oldest surviving New Zealand film is Whitehouse's The Departure of the Second Contingent for the Boer War (1900).

The first feature film made in New Zealand is arguably Hinemoa. It premiered on 17 August 1914 at the Lyric Theatre, Auckland.[7][8]

New Zealand's oldest surviving cinema is the Roxburgh cinema, located in Central Otago. It was opened in 11 December 1897 [9] and is still open.

The Classical era

New Zealand film was a small-scale industry during the 1920s-1960s. During the 1920s and 1930s, director Rudall Hayward made a number of feature films on New Zealand themes. Rewi's Last Stand was probably his best, but little of this 1925 film survives. The film was remade with sound in 1940. Independent filmmaker John O'Shea was active from 1940 to 1970 making New Zealand cinema; his company Pacific Films produced numerous short films as well as the three New Zealand feature films made in that period: Broken Barrier (1952) with Roger Mirams, Runaway (1964), and Don't Let It Get You (1966).

However, during this period, most New Zealand-made films were documentaries. The National Film Unit was a government-funded producer of short films, documentaries, and publicity material. This is New Zealand, a short film made for the World Expo in 1970 was extremely popular there and subsequently screened in New Zealand cinemas, to much public acclaim. It used three projectors onto a wide screen, and was restored in 2004–05 and later re-released.

The 1970s and 1980s

During the late 1970s, the New Zealand Film Commission was established to fund the production of New Zealand cinema films. A number of film projects were funded and this led to a revitalisation of the New Zealand film industry.

One of the first New Zealand films to attract large-scale audiences at home - and also see release in the United States - was Sleeping Dogs, directed by Roger Donaldson in 1977. A dark political action thriller that portrays the reaction of one man to the formation of a totalitarian government, and subsequent guerrilla war in New Zealand, it introduced Sam Neill as a leading actor. While its local images of large-scale civil conflict and government repression were unfamiliar to most viewers, they became a reference point after the 1981 Springbok Tour protests and police response, just a few years later.

Sleeping Dogs was also notable for being the first full-length 35mm feature film made entirely by a New Zealand production crew. Before then, feature films such as 1973's Rangi's Catch had been filmed and set in New Zealand, but were still produced and directed by foreign crews.

1981 saw the release of the road movie Goodbye Pork Pie, which made NZ$1.5 million (a figure comparable with major Hollywood blockbusters of the time like Star Wars or Jaws). Director Geoff Murphy accepted movie offers from Hollywood.

The release of Goodbye Pork Pie is considered to be the coming-of-age of New Zealand cinema, as it showed that New Zealanders could make successful films about New Zealand. Before Murphy was lured away by Hollywood, he made two other key New Zealand films, Utu, (1983), about the land wars of the 1860s, and The Quiet Earth (1985) a science fiction film. Both films featured Bruno Lawrence, who became a movie star in the country.

Melanie Rodriga was the first woman to write and direct a feature film (as Melanie Read) with the thriller ‘Trial Run’ (1984), although Yvonne MacKay had directed the Ian Mune-scripted ‘The Silent One’ (1984).

In 1987 Barry Barclay's film Ngati, screenplay by Tama Poata and starring veteran actor Wi Kuki Kaa, was released to critical acclaim and some box-office success. 'Ngati' is recognised as the first feature film to be written and directed by a member of a minority indigenous population (in this case Maori).

Merata Mita was the first Maori woman to write and direct a dramatic feature film, Mauri (1988).[10] An accomplished documentary film-maker, Mita made landmark documentaries including Patu! (1983) about the controversial and violent anti-apartheid protests during the 1981 Springboks rugby tour from South Africa, and Bastion Point: Day 507 (1980)[11] during the eviction of Ngāti Whātua Maori tribe from their traditional land Bastion Point, known as 'Takaparawhau' in Maori.

The Coming of Age of The New Zealand Short Film

During the late 1980s a trend developed that saw the reinvention of the New Zealand short film form. Alison Maclean's landmark short Kitchen Sink came to typify the trend. Instead of trying to be short features focused on dialogue and character, the new shorts tried instead to push the envelope in terms of visual design and cinematic language. The result saw an explosion of visually rich and compelling works that seemed to aspire more to the best of European cinema than the mainstay of Hollywood fare (Paul Shannon, 1995).

Key examples of these are: The Lounge Bar (Don McGlashan, Harry Sinclair as The Front Lawn, 1989), 12 Min, 35 mm, colour; Kitchen Sink (Alison Maclean, 1989), 14 minutes, 35 mm, b/w; A Little Death (Simon Perkins, Paul Swadel, 1994), 11 minutes, 16 mm, colour & b/w; Stroke (Christine Jeffs, 1994) 8 Min, 35 mm, colour; La Vie En Rose (Anna Reeves, 1994), 7 Min, colour; A Game With No Rules (Scott Reynolds, 1994), 16.30 Min, colour; Eau de la vie (Simon Baré, 1993), 13 Min, colour; and notably O Tamaiti (The Children) (Sima Urale, 1996) which won the Silver Lion Best Short Film at the Venice Film Festival; and Two Cars, One Night (Taika Waititi) which was nominated Best Short Film at the Academy Awards. Watch Two Cars, One Night and O Tamaiti online.

International success

The early 1990s saw New Zealand film gain international recognition, most obviously with Jane Campion's The Piano (1993), which won three Academy Awards. Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures (1994) and Lee Tamahori's Once Were Warriors also gained international critical acclaim and high grosses in a number of countries. The first two examples showed an increasing tendency for New Zealand films to be partially or completely overseas-funded, and also star non-New Zealand actors (Holly Hunter and Harvey Keitel in The Piano and Kate Winslet in Heavenly Creatures). This did not stop the migration of New Zealand talent to the United States: Tamahori, Melanie Lynskey of Heavenly Creatures and Canadian-born Piano star Anna Paquin are now all primarily based in America, and some of the Warriors cast also found work there.

A notable exception to the migration tendency is Peter Jackson, who has continued to make films in New Zealand. Jackson's career began with low-budget comedy movies, such as Bad Taste (1987) and Meet the Feebles (1989). He gradually became noticed by Hollywood, and directed the phenomenally successful The Lord of the Rings films. Although made with mainly American money (and an advantageous tax break from the New Zealand government) and a primarily international cast, Jackson filmed the movies in New Zealand, using a largely Kiwi production crew, helping create an enormous skill base in the New Zealand film industry.

This has led to a number of prominent Hollywood films being made in New Zealand, with major international productions not only filming there but also using the various post-production facilities and special effects companies on offer. The resulting films include The Last Samurai and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. While the funding for these movies is largely American, it has helped New Zealand film studios and filmmakers develop their skills and improve their facilities. The audiences of Bollywood fell in love with New Zealand after the super hit movie Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai was released in 2000, starring Hrithik Roshan.

However, some industry figures claim that having large international productions employ New Zealanders has its downside. One New Zealand filmmaker recently highlighted how difficult it was to employ cameramen when working on a low-budget New Zealand film, as cameramen are now used to receiving large wages.[12] Other film makers find that the opposite is true, and argue that the greater number of local professionals may actually have driven wages down from the relative heights of the 1980s. Another alleged downside is that the big-budget internal productions swallow up any funding New Zealand has available, making it far more difficult for local productions to find money.

Despite this, local content has also significantly increased with Whale Rider (directed by Niki Caro - 2002) becoming the second highest grossing North American Independent Film (2003) and third highest worldwide earning $40.1 million. Other notable films include In My Father's Den (directed by Brad McGann - 2004) and The World's Fastest Indian (directed by Roger Donaldson - 2005). Both films have done very well at the New Zealand box-office, with The World's Fastest Indian beating the record held by Once Were Warriors to become the highest grossing New Zealand film at the domestic box-office, taking in over $6.5 million. This record was again beaten in 2010 by Boy (directed by Taika Waititi - 2010).

The latter part of this decade saw the expansion of Peter Jackson's filmmaking empire with Jackson optioning the rights to The Lovely Bones, Halo, The Dam Busters and the fantasy dragon series Temeraire. Major productions such as James Cameron's Avatar and the 2007 summer blockbuster The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep are also utilising Jackson's Wellington studios and enlisting special effects giant Weta Digital.

An important and accessible retrospective of New Zealand film, Sam Neill and Judy Rymer's Cinema of Unease was made in 1995. The film presented the history of New Zealand film from the personal perspective of Sam Neill.

New Zealand Film Archive

The New Zealand Film Archive was founded and incorporated on 9 March 1981. Film enthusiast, critic and historian Jonathan Dennis (1953 – 2002) was a primary driving force behind the archive and became its first director. The archive was set up to preserve and restore significant New Zealand film and television images. It now holds a collection of much of early New Zealand cinema film and holds public screenings of its collection.

Much of the early cinema film made in New Zealand has been lost, as it was printed on unstable nitrate film base. In 1992, when film enthusiasts and the New Zealand Film Archive realised how much of New Zealand's film heritage was being lost, they mounted the Last Film Search and found 7,000 significant films, both in New Zealand and around the world.

Recently released New Zealand films


Name Director Starring Notes
Whale Rider Niki Caro Keisha Castle-Hughes, Cliff Curtis Academy Award nominee for Best Actress 2003


Name Director Starring Notes
The Locals Greg Page Kate Elliott, Dwayne Cameron
Perfect Strangers Gaylene Preston Sam Neill, Rachael Blake


Name Director Starring Notes
Fracture Larry Parr Kate Elliott, John Noble
In My Father's Den Brad McGann Emily Barclay, Matthew Macfadyen Released internationally
Spooked Geoff Murphy Ian Mune, Cliff Curtis


Name Director Starring Notes
50 Ways of Saying Fabulous Stewart Main Andrew Patterson, Jay Collins
Boogeyman Stephen Kay Barry Watson, Lucy Lawless Co-production with the US
Memories of Tomorrow Amit Tripuraneni Richard Thompson, Rachel Gilchrist, Ray Trickett Independent film
River Queen Vincent Ward Samantha Morton, Kiefer Sutherland
The World's Fastest Indian Roger Donaldson Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Cauffiel Highest grossing NZ film


Name Director Starring Notes
Sione's Wedding Chris Graham Robbie Magasiva, Nathaniel Lees (or Samoan Wedding)
Out of the Blue Robert Sarkies Karl Urban, Paul Glover Based on a true story
Meet Me in Miami Iren Koster' Carlos Ponce, Tara Leniston Independent film


Name Director Starring Notes
Black Sheep Jonathan King Oliver Driver, Peter Feeney Winner of 2008 Sir Julius Vogel Award. Best Reviewed New Zealand Horror Film of 2007
Bridge to Terabithia Gábor Csupó Robert Patrick, Zooey Deschanel Filmed in Auckland
Eagle vs Shark Taika Waititi Jemaine Clement, Craig Hall
Perfect Creature Glenn Standring Saffron Burrows, Dougray Scott
The Tattooist Peter Burger Jason Behr, Michael Hurst
The Devil Dared Me To Chris Stapp Chris Stapp, Matt Heath


Name Director Starring Notes
The Ferryman Chris Graham Amber Sainsbury, John Rhys-Davies, Kerry Fox
Apron Strings Sima Urale Peter Elliott, Laila Rouass, Scott Wills
Show of Hands Anthony McCarten Melanie Lynskey, Stephen Lovatt
Dean Spanley Toa Fraser Peter O'Toole, Jeremy Northam, Sam Neill, Bryan Brown
Last of the Living Logan McMillan Morgan Williams, Ashleigh Southam, Robert Faith, Emily Paddon-Brown


Name Director Starring Notes
District 9 Neill Blomkamp Sharlto Copley Nominated for 4 Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, & Best Visual Effects.
The Vintner's Luck Niki Caro Jérémie Renier, Gaspard Ulliel, Vera Farmiga, Keisha Castle-Hughes
Under The Mountain Jonathan King Sam Neill, Oliver Driver
The Strength Of Water Armagan Ballantyne Hato Paparoa, Melanie Mayall-Nahi, Jim Moriarty, Nancy Brunning
The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls Leanne Pooley The Topp Twins
The Warrior's Way Sngmoo Lee Kate Bosworth, Geoffrey Rush 2009


Name Director Starring Notes
Boy Taika Waititi James Rolleston, Taika Waititi
Home by Christmas Gaylene Preston Martin Henderson, Tony Barry
Matariki Michael Bennett Sara Wiseman, Alix Bushnell, Jarrod Rawiri
Gordonia Tom Reilly Graham Gordon
Predicament Jason Stutter Jemaine Clement, Heath Franklin, Hayden Frost, Tim Finn


Name Director Starring Notes
My Wedding and Other Secrets Roseanne Liang Michelle Ang, Matt Whelan


Name Director Starring Notes
Sione's 2: Unfinished Business Simon Bennett Oscar Kightley, Robbie Magasiva

Recent & Future releases

Name Director Notes Release date
The Most Fun You Can Have Dying Kirstin Marcon Matt Whelan, Roxanne Mesquida 2012
The Dam Busters Christian Rivers TBA
Temeraire Peter Jackson TBA
Untitled Charles Upham biopic TBA
Untitled Bruce McLaren biopic TBA

Other movies partially filmed or to be filmed in New Zealand

Name Director Starring Filming location
10,000 BC Roland Emmerich Steven Strait, Camilla Belle Queenstown
Avatar James Cameron Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana Wellington
The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep Jay Russell Emily Watson, Ben Chaplin Wellington
Underworld: Rise of the Lycans Patrick Tatopoulos Bill Nighy, Michael Sheen Auckland
X-Men Origins: Wolverine Gavin Hood Hugh Jackman Otago
Tracker Ian Sharp Ray Winstone, Temuera Morrison Auckland, Queenstown

Notable feature directors

Name Notable works Notes
Andrew Adamson Shrek 1 and 2, The Narnia film series Academy Award-winner
Martin Campbell Casino Royale, The Mask of Zorro, GoldenEye BAFTA-winner
Jane Campion The Piano Academy Award-winner, Golden Palm-winner
Niki Caro Whale Rider, North Country BAFTA- winner
Roger Donaldson Dante's Peak, Cocktail, The World's Fastest Indian, The Recruit Golden Palm-nominee
Ellory Elkayem Eight Legged Freaks
Peter Jackson The Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong Three-time Academy Award-winner
Geoff Murphy Goodbye Pork Pie, Young Guns II
Andrew Niccol Lord of War, Gattaca, The Truman Show (writer) BAFTA-winner, Academy Award-nominee
Robert Sarkies Scarfies, Out of the Blue, Two Little Boys
Lee Tamahori Die Another Day, Along Came a Spider, Once Were Warriors
Taika Waititi Eagle vs Shark, Two Cars, One Night, Boy Academy Award-nominee
Vincent Ward River Queen, What Dreams May Come Two-time time Golden Palm nominee

Notable actors

Name Notable works Notes
Keisha Castle-Hughes Whale Rider, The Nativity Story, Legend of the Seeker Academy Award nominee
Russell Crowe Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, Les Misérables Academy Award winner
Marton Csokas The Lord of the Rings, Kingdom of Heaven
Cliff Curtis Runaway Jury, Collateral Damage, Once Were Warriors, Whale Rider, River Queen
Alan Dale Ugly Betty, The O.C., LOST SAG nominee
Daniel Gillies Spider-Man 2 and 3
Wi Kuki Kaa Ngati, Utu
Martin Henderson The Ring, Flyboys, Torque, Off the Map
Lucy Lawless Xena: Warrior Princess, Battlestar Galactica
Bruno Lawrence Smash Palace, Race for the Yankee Zephyr, Utu, The Quiet Earth, The Rainbow Warrior
Melanie Lynskey Flags of Our Fathers, Two and a Half Men, Heavenly Creatures
Temuera Morrison Once Were Warriors, Speed 2: Cruise Control, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Sam Neill Jurassic Park 1 and 3, Sleeping Dogs, The Rainbow Warrior, The Piano Emmy, Golden Globe nominee
Anna Paquin X-Men film series, The Piano, True Blood Academy Award winner
Jessica Rose I Know Who Killed Me, lonelygirl15 Gained fame on YouTube
Karl Urban Star Trek, Doom, The Bourne Supremacy, The Lord of the Rings
Bruce Hopkins Ike Days Of Thunder, 1nite, The Lord of the Rings
Donogh Rees Crush, Starlight Hotel, Lovely Rita

See also


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^ MIC - Film pioneers
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Mount Benger Mail, 10 December 1897 (Hocken Library, Dunedin)
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^

External links

  • New Zealand Film Commission
  • New Zealand Film Archive
  • NZ On Screen
  • New Zealand Feature Films on DVD
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