New Zealand Cinema

We take a look at the development of New Zealand Cinema, from the Lord of the Rings trilogy to The Piano.

The land of the Kiwi has given us many great things over the years. Jonah Lomu, Shortland Street, OMC (they did that How Bizarre song that was big in the 90s. You know you remember it). It’s only fair then that we take a look at what New Zealand has contributed to the world of movies!

We all marvelled at the beauty of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The films were epic and the setting was befitting of such an immense production. Peter Jackson had invited the world to view his homeland and the lush rolling hills captivated us as much as the tale of Frodo and his journey.

Film in New Zealand began many decades before the 2001 release of The Lord of the Rings. Rudall Hayward was the first pioneering film-maker to entice movie lovers to view New Zealand. Although he only directed seven feature films (meagre by today’s standards), his career spanned five decades from the 1920s to the 1970s. His first film My Lady of the Cave was released in 1922, his final To Love a Maori in 1972. Although not a commercial success, it does have the honour of being the first New Zealand film to be shot in colour.

Kiwi cinema didn’t stop at the death of Hayward, but it did produce more documentaries than feature films for a while. In 1977 that changed with the release of Sleeping Dogs, which was also released in the USA. Starring Sam Neill and directed by Roger Donaldson, it was the first film to be made entirely by a New Zealand crew. The political thriller attracted a large audience in its home country and was shown again in a celebration of New Zealand cinema in 2007, thirty years after its initial release.

A new decade heralded the most profitable of home grown films. Goodbye Pork Pie was released in 1981 and the road movie was proclaimed as the turning point of New Zealand cinema. Made by New Zealanders, showcasing the country and its inhabitants. Director Geoff Murphy was soon off to Hollywood where he directed Emilio Estevez in Young Guns 2 and Freejack amongst others, before revisiting his roots with the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

It was the 1990s when New Zealand cinema really hit its stride. We’ve all seen the French and Saunders skit, but it was in 1993 when Jane Campion’s The Piano hit our screens. Starring Holly Hunter and Harvey Keitel as well as New Zealand actors Sam Neill and Anna Paquin, the story was set in 19th century New Zealand and focused on a mute pianist and her daughter. The film was a critical success and this was cemented by Hunter and Paquin both receiving Academy Awards, with a further being bestowed for Best Original Screenplay.

Peter Jackson soon got in on the act and in 1994 Heavenly Creatures was released. Starring Kiwi actress Melanie Lynskey and a pre-Titanic Kate Winslet, the film was a dark tale of an obsessive friendship between two teenage girls, Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme. Based on the true story of the girls and their eventual murder of Pauline’s mother, it was launched at the Venice Film Festival and was another success from New Zealand. 1994 was a good year for another New Zealand director. Lee Tamahori released Once Were Warriors. Based on an Alan Duff novel, the film showcased a gritty view into a Maori household, where alcoholism and violence often prevailed. It was another success and even surpassed The Piano in New Zealand.

Peter Jackson has continued to promote his homeland with his releases. Both 2005’s King Kong and 2009’s The Lovely Bones once again showcased the jaw dropping visuals that the country has to offer. The filming of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy was something that provoked some criticism of The New Zealand Department of Conservation. The National Parks that were used for various battle scenes were left scarred by the effects of the filming and vast amounts of restoration was needed. This hasn’t stopped Jackson from going back to film another trilogy, The Hobbit.

In 2007 the romantic comedy Eagle vs. Shark was released. Directed by Taika Waititi it had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. Although the film received mixed reviews it has garnered a cult following and has drawn comparisons to Napoleon Dynamite. A tale of star-crossed geeks who have very different things on their minds; one wants nothing more than the attention and affection of the other, who in turn is continually plotting revenge against his childhood bully (Lovefilm it and see what folks are talking about).

Fans of Flight of the Concords have been eagerly waiting for the film’s release, but now those in New Zealand need wait no more. September 20th was the opening night for Two Little Boys. Directed by Robert Sarkies and starring Concords alumni Bret McKenzie, the film is centred on the friendship between Nige (McKenzie) and Deano (Hamish Blake). A road tripping buddy comedy, it leaves the likes of Dumb and Dumber in its wake as it curses its way through the ensuing rollercoaster of friendship between Nige, Deano and the giant security guard , Gav (Maaka Pohatu)who threatens to come between them. No word on when the rest of the world will be seeing the offering though, so if you want to see it now, better hot foot it over to the land of the Kiwi pronto.

Many other blockbusters have been filmed in the beautiful country. Its landscape lends itself to X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans and one of the most visually arresting films or recent years, Avatar. The upcoming release of The Hobbit and its sequels means that we will be back in New Zealand soon enough. Keep an eye out though, as you may be visiting the offspring of the sunken continent Zealandia without even realising.

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