Star Kiwi film-makers

New Zealand film makers recognised on the world stage include Sir Peter Jackson, Jane Campion, Andrew Niccol, Niki Caro, Vincent Ward, Geoff Murphy, and Taika Waititi.

Andrew Niccol

Kiwi screen writer and film director Andrew Niccol has carved out a brilliant Hollywood career, hitting the big time when he co-wrote and produced The Truman Show (1999) which garnered an Oscar nomination for best original screenplay, and a BAFTA in the same category.

Born in Paraparaumu, near Wellington, Niccol grew up in Auckland and left at age 21 to begin directing commercials in London. He went on to make a name for himself in science-fiction films, most notably writing and directing Gattaca, starring American stars Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman, in 1997.

Niccol wrote and produced comedy-drama The Terminal, starring Tom Hanks as a man forced to live at JFK Airport due to a revolution in his country, and wrote and directed political crime thriller Lord of War (2005), which starred Nicholas Cage.

Niccol is married to Canadian model Rachel Roberts, and has two children.

Geoff Murphy

Wellington-born Geoff Murphy carved out his name in New Zealand with the classic New Zealand hit Goodbye Pork Pie (1981). The quintessentially Kiwi film received great mainstream success and was hailed as the ‘coming-of-age' of NZ cinema.

A long-time Hollywood resident, Geoff Murphy has directed a string of US action movies.

Murphy’s partner, the late Merata Mita, was a prominent Māori film-maker who was recognised for her contribution to film as a recipient of the Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit. Merata Mita died in May 2010.

Jane Campion

Acclaimed New Zealand film director Jane Campion is one of only four female film-makers to have been nominated for an Academy Award as best director.

When nominated in 1993 for The Piano, Jane Campion missed out on the film-maker award but took home the Oscar for best screenplay. Campion was also the first woman to receive the prestigious Palme d'Or for directing at the Cannes Film Festival.

Born in Wellington, Campion graduated in anthropology from Victoria University. Her first film Sweetie received several international awards including the LA Film Critics New Generation Award in 1990.

Jane Campion’s second film An Angel at my Table, based on the autobiographical works of New Zealand author Janet Frame, won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

Campion's most famous movie is The Piano, which also became the launching pad to a very successful acting career for an 11-year-old Kiwi actress Anna Paquin (True Blood) who won an Academy Award for her role. In 2010 and 16 years on from The Piano, Campion was nominated for a second Palme d’Or, for the movie Bright Star about the life of Keats.

Campion also produced the critically acclaimed television series Top of the Lake (2012) filmed on location in the alpine resort town of Queenstown, in the South Island of New Zealand. In 2014 Campion was named head of the jury for the main competition section of the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.

Martin Campbell

Kiwi television and film director Martin Campbell was born in the Hawke's Bay city of Hastings, but his career has taken him to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood.

Campbell has directed two James Bond movies, Goldeneye (1995) starring Pierce Brosnan, and Casino Royale (2006). He is the Bond series oldest director and only the second to direct more than one 007 film.

Martin Campbell’s Hollywood blockbuster credits include The Mask of Zorro (1998) and The Legend of Zorro (2005) both starring Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

He directed and produced mountain-climbing thriller Vertical Limit (2000), which was also partly shot in New Zealand and Beyond Borders (2003), which stars Angelina Jolie. Jolie adopted her oldest son Maddox while filming the movie in Cambodia.

One of Campbell’s best-known works, the BBC TV drama series Edge of Darkness (1985) won him the BAFTA for best director in 1986. Campbell also directed the big-screen remake of the series, which stars Mel Gibson and Ray Winstone.

Campbell's last directorial effort was the big-screen adaptation of the Green Lantern (2011).

Niki Caro

Best-known for her breakthrough movie Whale Rider (2002), Niki Caro was born in Wellington and studied at the University of Auckland.

The Kiwi film director, producer and writer first came to attention in New Zealand with her feature film Memory and Desire, based on a short story by Kiwi writer Peter Wells. This was followed by Whale Rider, which won international acclaim including an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress for Keisha Castle-Hughes, and several independent film awards.

Caro went on to direct the film North Country (2005), starring Hollywood actress Charlize Theron, and the screen adaptation of bestselling Kiwi novelist Elizabeth Knox’s novel, The Vintner’s Luck.

Sir Peter Jackson

Sir Peter Jackson is New Zealand’s best-known film-maker. He was knighted for his significant contribution to the New Zealand film industry in the 2010 New Year Honours.

Jackson first came to international attention with the movie Heavenly Creatures (1994), which won a Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival. The film, based on the true story of a crime of passion committed by two schoolgirls in Christchurch, was co-written by Jackson and partner Fran Walsh - it was nominated for an Oscar for best screenplay.

Jackson rose to prominance in Hollywood when he produced and directed the Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings trilogy - which was also filmed in New Zealand. He was awarded three Academy Awards for The Return of the King, the last movie in the trilogy, including Oscar for best director.

Jackson grew up in Pukerua Bay, a coastal town near Wellington - and developed a love of films as a child. He has cited King Kong as one of his all-time favourite films, and fulfilled a life-long dream when he was signed on to remake the 1933 classic in 2005.

Although he specialised in ‘splatstick’ horror comedies in his early career, Jackson has since built up a reputation in the fantasy genre. In late 2009, he completed an adaptation based on the bestselling Alice Sebold novel, The Lovely Bones.

In 2012 Jackson brought Middle-earth back to life with the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - the first installment of The Hobbit Trilogy. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) followed.

Away from directing, Jackson is a major player in the world-famous Kiwi special effects company Weta Workshop, based in Wellington. He is one of the founders of the company’s digital division - Weta Digital, which won an Oscar in 2010 for work on Avatar, which quickly became the world’s biggest-selling movie. His Wellington-based film centre also includes Wingnut Films, Park Road Post and Stone Street Studios.

Roger Donaldson

Co-founder of the New Zealand Film Commission, Roger Donaldson made an impression with the debut of his first film, Sleeping Dogs in 1977. The movie was based on a novel by respected Kiwi novelist C.K Stead, and features actor Sam Neill in the lead role.

Donaldson’s first American break came with the movie The Bounty, a remake of ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’, for which he received a Palme d’Or nomination at the Cannes Film Festival.

He went on to make a string of Hollywood hits including historical political drama Thirteen Days, 1980s hit Cocktail starring Tom Cruise, Dante’s Peak and The World’s Fastest Indian - a 2005 movie about the life of Kiwi speed motorcycle racer Burt Munro.

Donaldson’s son, Chris is a sprinter who represented New Zealand at both the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, and the 1998 and 2006 Commonwealth Games.

Taika Waititi

Taika Waititi (aka Taika Cohen) is a New Zealand Māori of Te-Whanau-a-Apanui descent who grew up in Wellington. He is best known for his Oscar-nominated and multi-award winning short film Two Cars, One Night, and for his off-beat international feature breakthrough Eagle vs Shark.

Waititi started out as an actor, earning a New Zealand Film Awards' 'Best Actor' nomination for his role as Alex in Scarfies (1999), and appearing in television series The Strip (2002), before turning to writing and directing.

He has also won acclaim for his painting, photography, design and stand-up comedy. In 1999, he won the 'Billy T Comedy Award' as one half of a New Zealand comedy duo called the 'Humourbeasts'. The other half was Jemaine Clement, of Flight of the Conchords fame.

Waititi also directed and starred in the 2009 Kiwi movie Boy - which knocked out Whale Rider and The World’s Fastest Indian as the bestselling homegrown movie in New Zealand. Boy won an award at the prestigious Berlin Film Festival in 2010.

Waititi appeared in Hollywood superhero movie Green Lantern, playing the role of Thomas Kalmaku - the best friend of ‘the Green Lantern’.

Vincent Ward

Vincent Ward was born in the small Wairarapa town of Greytown, New Zealand. While Ward is best known for art-house movies, his What Dreams May Come, starring Hollywood actor Robin Williams, earned two Oscar nominations and the Academy Award for best visual effects in 1999.

Ward came to prominence with his first film Vigil in 1984, which also became the first New Zealand film to show at the Cannes Film Festival. Vigil, along with The Navigator (1988) and Map of the Human Heart (1993) won more than 30 international awards at film festivals in Italy, Spain, Germany, France and the US.

Vincent Ward wrote the story for Alien 3, and also worked on The Last Samurai, starring Tom Cruise and filmed in New Zealand, before writing and directing River Queen in 2005. River Queen is an historical film set in 1868 during military conflict between Māori and colonial forces in the south Taranaki region.

The Kiwi film Rain of Children, based on an earlier short film Ward had made as a student, documents the life of an elderly Māori woman and her schizophrenic son. The film was nominated for best documentary at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards, and Ward was nominated for best director at the Australian Directors Guild Awards.

More information

Kiwi film-maker Jane Campion

Star Kiwi actors

The World's Fastest Indian