The World's Fastest Indian

The World's Fastest Indian - written and directed by New Zealander Roger Donaldson, and starring Oscar-winning Sir Anthony Hopkins - puts New Zealand centre-screen.

The World's Fastest Indian is just one of a number of high-profile films shot in New Zealand and directed by top Hollywood-based New Zealanders.

As more overseas films are made in New Zealand, more New Zealand stories are being told and striking a chord with international audiences.

Burt Munro

In The World's Fastest Indian, Anthony Hopkins plays the true story of New Zealander Burt Munro, a man who never let the dreams of youth fade.

After a lifetime perfecting his classic 1920 Indian motorcycle, Munro sets off from New Zealand to test his bike at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. With all odds against him, Munro wins support from unusual allies in his quest to set a new speed record.

Burt Munro's 1967 world record remains unbroken and his legend lives on today.

Successful Hollywood career

Roger Donaldson and his production partner Gary Hannam returned to New Zealand to make the film.

The World's Fastest Indian was Donaldson's first New Zealand-made film, since embarking on a successful Hollywood career 20 years earlier. This project was the culmination of a dream that Donaldson had held for more than 30 years. As a young filmmaker in the 1970s, he had worked on a documentary about Burt Munro called Offerings to the God of Speed.

Inspired by the Invercargill speedster, he wrote the original film script of The World's Fastest Indian in 1981. The script is based on Burt Munro's journeys to Bonneville during the 1960's. It follows the road to fulfilling a dream - and the magic in the true story of a man who believed:

"If it's hard, work harder; if it's impossible, work harder still. Give it whatever it takes, but do it."

Burt's story

Donaldson had been intrigued by Burt's story for many years.

"Some would say my obsession with this film matches Burt's obsession with his bike," he said.

Determined not to compromise his vision of the story, Donaldon finally made the film as intended.

"One thing about New Zealand is that if you are determined to do something, this is a country where things can happen.

"You don't get held back by bureaucracy or people having a preconceived idea of what a film-maker is, or what sort of training you should have, or if you've got the wherewithal to go out and do it. This is a country that's always been very sympathetic to the 'go, do it' mentality."

"Munro set about getting the world's fastest motorcycle in a typically New Zealand way," said Donaldson.

Sir Anthony Hopkins

Sir Anthony Hopkins, voted one of Britain's finest actors, played the eccentric and lovable character of Burt Munro. Hopkins described Donaldson as a great director and a perfectionist.

The World's Fastest Indian was a fine script and the crew was the best he had worked with in years, Hopkins said.

"It is the best thing I've done - the best experience I've had."

Aaron Murphy

Young New Zealand actor Aaron Murphy played Munro's next door neighbour, Tom.

Only 13-years-old at the time of filming, Murphy - from Warkworth in the North Island - had already starred in four New Zealand productions to great acclaim. As well as being shot in Salt Lake City, Utah much of The World's Fastest Indian was filmed in and around Southland, the most southerly region of New Zealand.

Spectacular Oreti Beach, with its broad expanse of white sand, features in the New Zealand speed scenes.


Producer Gary Hannam described Invercargill - NZ's most southern city - as a great base for a film.

"Having excellent industries there, like engineering, was just as important as having the right scenery. We could have filmed this movie anywhere, but we wanted to do it in Invercargill, where Burt Munro was from. The locals were incredibly cooperative and enthusiastic, and the quality of the extras was wonderful."

Invercargill's colourful mayor, Tim Shadbolt, who took a role in the film said the post-film tourism opportunities would be huge for the region.

"This gives us the opportunity to promote Invercargill and its Southland region throughout the world."

Biographical details

Roger Donaldson - Writer / Director / Producer

  • 1977 - Donaldson directs his first movie Sleeping Dogs, starring Sam Neill in his feature film debut.
  • 1982 - after his hit film Smash Palace, Donaldson moved from NZ to the USA and was signed to direct The Bounty.
  • The epic retelling of the famous mutiny on the Bounty starred Anthony Hopkins, Mel Gibson, Liam Neeson, Daniel Day Lewis, and Lawrence Olivier.
  • Donaldson has directed many Hollywood hits, including The Recruit, Thirteen Days, Dante's Peak, Species, Cadillac Man, Cocktail, The Getaway and No Way Out.

Sir Anthony Hopkins

  • Anthony Hopkins has more than 90 film and television credits to his name.
  • 1991 - won 'Best Actor' Academy Award for an unforgettable performance as Hannibal Lecter in the thriller The Silence of the Lambs.
  • 1995 - nominated for 'Best Actor' for his performance in Nixon (1995).
  • 1993 - BAFTA Best Actor Award for The Remains of the Day.
  • Hopkins' film credits: The Bounty, The Lion in Winter, Shadowlands, Red Dragon, Bad Company, Hannibal, Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Meet Joe Black, Instinct, Titus, The Mask of Zorro, Howard's End, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Legends of the Fall, The Road to Wellville, Surviving Picasso, The Edge, 84 Charing Cross Road, The Elephant Man, Magic, and A Bridge Too Far.

Gary Hannam - Producer

  • 1981 - Gary Hannam is executive producer for Smash Palace (Director: Roger Donaldson).
  • 1984 - co-producer for Vigil (Director: Vincent Ward).
  • 1987 - co-producer Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey (Director: Vincent Ward).
  • 2002 - co-founded Swiss-based EuroAsset partners GmbH with Australian entertainment financier Justin Pearce; they jointly established with Commerzbank AG, a €300 million film fund.
  • 2002 - founded the Film Investment Corporation Foundation, a charitable trust, to assist young New Zealanders to obtain international experience.
  • 2004 - founded Tanlay AG to finance, produce and sell new projects, including The World's Fastest Indian.

More information:

Set-jetting around New Zealand film locations