NZ on Screen: Controversial crime stories


In the wake of the police report into the Crewe murders, NZ On Screen Content Director Irene Gardiner looks back at how some of our most controversial court cases have been represented on film and television.

The Crewe murders, and the subsequent arrest and then pardon of Arthur Thomas, was the first controversial court case to be played out in the television age in New Zealand. The murders happened in 1970, and media coverage of the events surrounding them continues to this day. There has even been a feature film made about the case.

In the 44 years since the Crewe murders, there have also been several other controversial New Zealand court cases that have become the subject of high profile documentaries and films.

One of our leading "miscarriage of justice" documentary-makers is Keith Hunter, whose credits include The Remand of Ivan Curry, Staunch and Out of the Dark. In 2003, Hunter made Murder on the Blade?, about Scott Watson's conviction for the murders of Olivia Hope and Ben Smart.

You can see the first 20 minutes of this award-winning documentary here:

David Tamihere's conviction for the murder of two young Swedish tourists has also been one of the country's most debated cases, and it too inspired an award-winning documentary from one of our top filmmakers - Leanne Pooley's Relative Guilt, produced in 1999.

Watch excerpts from the documentary here:

In more recent times, the Teina Pora case has featured prominently on TV3's current affairs series 3rd Degree, and has also been the subject of a Maori Television documentary called The Confessions of Prisoner T. Director Michael Bennett examines the case against Pora, and the groundswell of belief in his innocence.

This excerpt includes footage from Pora's original police interview and a crime scene visit where he fails to identify murder victim Susan Burdett's house:

As well as documentaries about our high profile crime stories, some of the cases have also provided the inspiration for TV dramas and films. Until Proven Innocent is based on the case of David Dougherty, who was wrongly convicted and jailed in 1993 for the rape and abduction of an 11-year-old girl. This one-off television drama covers the campaign to prove his innocence, which involved journalism, court appeals and a key piece of DNA evidence.

Chosen to open 2009's Sunday Theatre season on TV ONE, the tele-movie was nominated for 10 Qantas Awards, and won five, including best drama and best actor (for Cohen Holloway's standout performance as Dougherty).

You can see the trailer here:

Finally, to complete this selection of crime documentaries and dramas, we return to where we started - the most argued over court case of them all, the Crewe Murders. The case became the subject of one of our classic feature films, 1980's Beyond Reasonable Doubt, an early credit for prolific producer John Barnett.

Here's the trailer:

For more behind-the-scenes information on Beyond Reasonable Doubt, this 1980 episode from the TVNZ arts series Kaleidoscope has some great "making of" footage.

Kaleidoscope - Beyond Reasonable Doubt

- NZ Herald

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