History of New Zealand screen industry

New Zealand’s film-making industry experienced a resurgence in the late 1970s, with Roger Donaldson’s 'Sleeping Dogs' (1977) one of a series of features that helped revitalise the industry.

After the success of his second movie Smash Palace (1982), Roger Donaldson was the first New Zealand director to begin making features in Hollywood. He made one more New Zealand feature, The World’s Fastest Indian, featuring Anthony Hopkins in the lead role, which was released in 2005.

Geoff Murphy made three early New Zealand features which earned substantial popularity with local audiences and critics: Goodbye Pork Pie (1980), Utu (1983), and The Quiet Earth (1984).

Vincent Ward became the first New Zealand director to win selection for competition at the Cannes Film Festival with Vigil (1984) and then The Navigator (1988). His most recent features River Queen (2005) and Rain of the Children (2008) are both unique depictions of New Zealand’s past.

After her first New Zealand feature An Angel at My Table (1990), Jane Campion went on to direct The Piano which shared the 1993 Palme d’Or at Cannes and won three Academy Awards - the first New Zealand film to be so honoured.

The accolades for Campion keep on coming. She received international-acclaim for her mini-series Top of the Lake, filmed in Queenstown and Glenorchy in the South Island of New Zealand, and was awarded the prestigious Carrosse d’Or award, given for innovation and boldness in the field of directing and production at the 2013 Cannes Festival.

Lee Tamahori’s Once Were Warriors (1994) became a local record-breaker and a world-wide success, introducing the world to the grittier life of urban New Zealand and launching his career as an international director which included the James Bond Die Another Day (2002).

New Zealand film stars

Warriors also launched international careers for three stars - Rena Owen, Temuera Morrison and Cliff Curtis.

The first New Zealand actor to achieve international acclaim was Sam Neill, whose career was launched with Sleeping Dogs.

For her performance in The Piano, Anna Paquin was the first New Zealand actor to win an Oscar; later Keisha Castle-Hughes was nominated for Whale Rider.

More recently Melanie Lynskey (whose first feature was Heavenly Creatures), Martin Henderson, Daniel Gillies, Karl Urban, Lucy Lawless and Marton Csokas are among New Zealand actors working internationally.

New Zealand directors

New Zealand continues to produce directors who earn international reputations including Christine Jeffs with Rain (2001), followed with Sylvia (2003), and Sunshine Cleaning (2008); and Niki Caro whose debut feature was the box office hit Whale Rider (2002) followed by North Country (2005) The Vintner’s Luck (2009) and White Lies (2013).

The biggest reputation of all is that of Sir Peter Jackson, whose first features were Bad Taste (1988), Meet the Feebles (1990) and Brain Dead (1992) and whose international recognition started to climb with his fourth feature Heavenly Creatures (1994).

The highpoint for New Zealand production came with Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001 - 2003) which he produced and directed. Those three films, with state-of-the-art digital effects technology realised at his facilities in Wellington, are proof of New Zealand film’s technical and production capacity at every level.

In 2011 Peter Jackson used his skills to co-produce The Adventures of Tin Tin, with Steven Spielberg. Spielberg directed the feature and post production was completed in Wellington at Park Road Post.

Jackson's latest work sawthe director return to Middle-earth with The Hobbit Trilogy. The three films based on J.R.R Tolkien's prequal to The Lord of The Rings was once again produced and shot on location in New Zealand.

Young New Zealand film-makers

In the 21st century, more young New Zealand filmmakers are establishing reputations, and pursuing a broad range of themes and genres.

Outstanding in the list of newcomers is actor-director Taika Waititi (nominated for a best short film Oscar in 2005 for Two Cars, One Night) whose delight in a unique Kiwi quirkiness was evident in his first feature the darkly charming Eagle vs Shark (2007). His second feature Boy (2010) became the highest grossing local film ever released in New Zealand.

Toa Fraser and Chris Graham, with No. 2 (2006) and Sione’s Wedding (also 2006) respectively, explored Pacific themes in New Zealand settings with a real passion.

Six years later, debut Wellington director Tusi Tamasese delivered The Orator, (2011) using Samoan locations for a story of traditional conflicts.

Chris Graham moved into the horror genre with The Ferryman (2007). This genre was also followed by Jonathan King with Black Sheep (2007) and Peter Burger with The Tattooist (2007). Science fiction and horror were combined in Glenn Standring's Perfect Creature (2007), an original retelling of the vampire myth set in an alternate version of the 1960s.

Robert Sarkies explored a tragic episode in New Zealand's history with Out of the Blue (2006); his latest offering Two Little Boys (2012) featured Bret McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords in a leading role.

Among many low-budget features, the standout so far is Second Hand Wedding (2008) a comedy directed by Paul Murphy, the second generation of his family to make New Zealand feature films. He completed his second feature, Love Birds, in 2011.

International Film Production

The talented and innovative people who created the dynamic New Zealand industry have also introduced world filmmakers to one of the country's most persistent characters - New Zealand's land and scenery.

Ron Howard was one of the first Hollywood directors since the silent period to discover New Zealand as a location when he shot Willow (1988) in the Southern Alps. Expatriate New Zealanders Lloyd Phillips (New Zealand’s first recipient of an Oscar for the short The Dollar Bottom) and Martin Campbell, also shot their spectacular mountaineering film Vertical Limit in 1999 in the Southern Alps.

New Zealand proved to be the perfect Middle-earth in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and more recently The Hobbit Trilogy. In The Last Samurai (2004) Ed Zwick found the North Island provided scenery ideal for his vision of 19th century Japan. Three years later, in Akihiko Shiota's Dororo (2007), the setting was a fantasy land that culturally resembles old Japan but is in fact the wilder parts of New Zealand's South Island.

In 2003 Without a Paddle filmed throughout the lower North Island; and in 2004-05 LA-based expatriate Andrew Adamson returned to New Zealand with The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, using the spectacular backdrop of the Southern Alps to bring the film alive.

Adamson’s other work includes the blockbuster animation movies Shrek and Sherk 2. His latest offering was Mr Pip (2012) based on the book of the same name by New Zealand author Lloyd Jones. Scenes from Mr Pip were shot around New Zealand and post-production was completed at Wellington’s Park Road Post.

Stepping away from Middle-earth, Peter Jackson created vibrant jungles and 1930s New York in his Wellington studios for his remake of King Kong (2005).

In 2006 Roland Emmerich filmed part of the epic tale 10,000 BC (2008) in Wanaka; and New Zealand doubled as Alaska in the vampire saga 30 Days of Night (2007), directed by David Slade.

Increasingly, fable, fantasy and fabulous effects have entered the filmmaking landscape in New Zealand, and the children's fantasies Bridge to Terabithia (Gabor Csupo) and The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep (Jay Russell) were both made in New Zealand for release in 2007.

In 2013 the Auckland film industry hit the spotlight with the release of Fede Alvarez' remake of the classic horror film Evil Dead. The film was shot entirely in the Auckland region, reached number one in the US box office and grossed a massive $26 million (US).

Avatar and Weta Digital

A high point of New Zealand's involvement in the film industry came with James Cameron’s Avatar (2009), which was largely created at Weta Digital in Wellington. Weta Digital used a new camera system for the film and shot on a virtual stage - for which they won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.

It also developed new technologies for supporting software and a new production pipeline in order to reach a new level of creative and technological excellence, delivering the film in 3D.

Weta Digital has provided digital effects for many other international box office hits including The Avengers, Prometheus, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Return of the Planet of the Apes, I, Robot, X-Men: First Class, Gulliver’s Travels, Enchanted, Jumper, The Day the Earth Stood Still, District 9, The Lovely Bones and Man of Steel.

Park Road Post

As well as The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Trilogies, King Kong and The Adventures of Tintin, US features which have been based at Jackson’s Park Road Post in Wellington have included Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (Gran Via, Miramax Films, Tequila Gang); The Lovely Bones (Wingnut Productions/ Dreamworks/ Paramount) ; District 9 (Sony); Knowing (Summit Entertainment) ; 30 Days of Night (Ghost House Pictures / Columbia Pictures) and 10,000 BC (Warner Bros. Pictures).

International features have included The Warrior’s Way (Korea), Red Cliff (China) and Lucky Miles (Australia.)

Other international productions benefiting from the talent of New Zealand visual and physical effects teams have included Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Kingdom of Heaven, Van Helsing, Peter Pan, I Robot, The Legend of Zorro, and An Inconvenient Truth.

New Zealand based directors

2013 has seen the release of two new feature films from New Zealand-based directors. Beyond the Edge is a docudrama based on prolific New Zealander, Sir Edmund Hillary and Nepalese sherpa, Tenzing Norgay’s historical climb to the top of Mount Everest in 1953.

The gripping film was directed by American-expat Leanne Pooley and was shot on location on Everest and New Zealand and stars New Zealander Chad Moffit, who has previously worked at Sir Peter Jackson's Weta Digital.

White Lies is another New Zealand film writen and directed by Mexican-born director Dana Rotberg and released in 2013. The film was based on the novel, Medicine Woman, written by acclaimed New Zealand writer Witi Ihimaera.

Witi Ihimaera also wrote The Whale Rider - a book that was turned into an internationally successful film in 2002. Interestingly it was watching The Whale Rider that inspired Rotberg to move to New Zealand and make the country her home.

More information

New Zealand’s film star landscapes

Wellington is world’s coolest little film capital

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