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Some New Zealand films

Everyone knows about the films shot in New Zealand, such as Lord of the Rings, because of the unique scenery. But New Zealand actually makes some interesting cinema itself. Here are just a few examples for anyone who would like to see what else there is on screen in NZ apart from hobbits.

This is not a "best of" list, and is biased toward the period when it all seemed new.

Politics:

Sleeping Dogs (1977)

Political/action, with Sam Neill in his first big role. This film was something of a breakthrough for NZ. New Zealand becomes an oppressive police state and the protagonist gets caught up unintentionally in the resistance. If the premise seems a bit far-fetched, remember that this was the 1970s, with the Chilean coup of 1973 a recent event.

Drama:

Middle Age Spread (1979)

Adaptation of a play by NZ playwright Roger Hall, about lives of "quiet desperation". The characters in the film come out a bit less sympathetic than they did in the play, but still worth seeing.

Comedy:

Goodbye Pork Pie (1981)

A road movie in a Mini. What more can you say?

There was a remake recently. I feel that Goodbye Pork Pie is the sort of classic that should not be remade. Admittedly my wife feels it is the sort of classic that should not have been made in the first place.

Science Fiction:

The Quiet Earth (1985)

Science fiction on the "last man on earth" theme. Haunting imagery. There were various works which were sources of inspiration but the film itself is unique, and is a little-known classic.

Fantasy/Art

The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey (1988)

A fantasy in which medieval peasants visit the present. It can be read with various symbolic and mythic meanings, but it's good even without all that. (One source was the culture shock New Zealanders experienced when travelling to the big cities of the west, at least in those times.)

Māori culture:

Ngati (1987)

The first feature film written and directed by Māori. It's set in the fictional town of Kapua in 1948, and deals with life, death, and rediscovery of roots. Low-budget and low-key, and yet gripping. The film doesn't explain everything: you, along with the young doctor who is a main character, are thrown into the society of Kapua. Superb, fulfilling.

Whale Rider (2002)

Based on the novel by Witi Ihimaera. It's described as a "family drama" but there is some heavy stuff in it. Māori culture and tradition, gender, whales. It was filmed on location at the real village where the book was set. It avoids cliches and as a result you really don't know where it's going. Beautiful and ultimately uplifting.


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