NZ On Screen Content Director Irene Gardiner selects five great New Zealand arts documentaries, to mark the start of the 2015 Auckland Arts Festival.

The 2015 Auckland Arts Festival has opened this week, and will run to March 22 with a range of international and local performances from across the artistic spectrum. If you want to supplement your live art appreciation with some excellent television viewing - here are five classic New Zealand arts documentaries for you.

New Zealand television has had various strands of one-off arts documentaries over the years, but the one that seemed to deliver some of the most memorable docos was TVNZ's Work of Art series which ran from 1993 to 1999.

The first documentary to screen in the slot was Sense of Place - Robin Morrison Photographer. Director John Bates' award-winning piece examined the life and work of photographer Robin Morrison, who captured iconic images of everyday New Zealand life and landscape. Part biography, part travelogue, and filmed shortly before the photographer's death, the documentary went on the road with Morrison to revisit some of his best-loved locations. The doco was shot by internationally-successful Kiwi cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh.

You can see Sense of Place - Robin Morrison Photographer below:


Another award-winning documentary about a legendary New Zealand visual artist is Colin McCahon: I Am, made in 2004, and directed by Paul Swadel. The winner of Best Documentary at the 2005 Qantas Awards, the film looks at the life and work of our most celebrated painter. The doco excerpts featured on NZ On Screen look at McCahon's beginnings in Timaru and Dunedin, his time in Muriwai in the 60s and 70s, and the influence of the environment and Maori spirituality on his work. Sam Neill reads from McCahon's letters and writings.

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Watch excerpts from Colin McCahon: I Am here:


Sam Neill also features (as narrator) in this classic biography documentary on Split Enz, made in 1993, but still considered to be the definitive documentary on New Zealand's first international rock successes. Split Enz - Spellbound tells the band's story from Auckland University and art rocker days to their break-up in 1984. The major players talk freely about good times and bad - art rock, the wayward genius of Phil Judd (with a rare interview), Noel Crombie's spoon playing and costume design, hard times in England and the punk backlash, the big pop hits after Neil joined, Tim's solo album, and more.

View Split Enz - Spellbound here:


From 2003, comes this moving documentary portrait of dancer and choreographer Douglas Wright. Haunting Douglas weaves interview with footage of past theatrical performances and extracts from Wright's autobiography; from drug addiction and illness, to determination and triumph on the New York stage with the Paul Taylor Dance Company. Director Leanne Pooley's multi award-winning documentary captures Wright's resilience, "I need to make things to feel that I can cope with whatever reality is. For me, dancing, performing for people, is the ultimate mystery and the ultimate joy."

Watch Haunting Douglas here:


Another regular TVNZ arts documentary strand was Artsville, which ran from 2005 to 2007, and this quirky look at the story of the ukulele in New Zealand is one of the most enduringly popular films from the strand. Bill Sevesi's Dream makes its way from Waikiki to Wellington, using the dream of "godfather of Polynesian music" Bill Sevesi as its starting point: namely "that the children would be playing the ukulele all over the country." Presenter Gemma Gracewood (of the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra) reveals the instrument's Pacific adoption and burgeoning popularity, and meets acolytes of 'the uke': from Herman Pi'ikea Clark to Jennifer Ward-Lealand, to Sevesi strumming with onetime pupil Sione Aleki.

You can see Bill Sevesi's Dream here: