It doesn't take much digging to uncover a long-held car connection in Kiwi cinema. From the menacing Chevys of Once Were Warriors to Pork Pie's beaming Mini Cooper S, cars have played a central role in some of our biggest films. Furthermore, some of our biggest names in filmmaking have scored career breaks with auto-themed outings.
When it came time for Taika Waititi to make his directorial debut, he summoned a scenario many New Zealanders could recognise. Two Cars, One Night draws on our car (and drinking) culture, tracing the budding friendship between two vehicle loads of kids waiting outside the pub for their parents. The short film launched Waititi's international profile, winning a bevy of awards and earning him an Oscar nomination in 2005.
Watch Two Cars, One Night here:
Waititi wasn't the first New Zealand director to experience a breakthrough with a car film. In 1981, a petrol-fumed Kiwi cinema classic kick-started Roger Donaldson's US career. Smash Palace tells the story of a former racing car driver (Bruno Lawrence), running a wrecker's yard in the shadow of Mount Ruapehu, and desperate to keep hold of his daughter in the wake of a failed marriage. The film quickly drew Hollywood's eye, and Donaldson would go on to spend a decade based there as a studio director, his credits including Tom Cruise blockbuster Cocktail and Kevin Costner thriller No Way Out. In 2005 he returned with another motor-powered smash, The World's Fastest Indian.
See an excerpt from Smash Palace here:
Acclaimed filmmaker Florian Habicht (Love Story; Pulp: A Film about Life, Death and Supermarkets) made his first documentary in 2004, capturing the characters of the Far North demolition derby scene in Kaikohe Demolition. Behind the burnouts, prangs, and blow-ups, the heart and soul of a small town is laid bare, making for some magical viewing. Habicht would return to Northland five years later, documenting the Red Snapper Classic fishing competition in Land of the Long White Cloud. His work also caught the eye of Pulp's Jarvis Cocker, leading the two to collaborate on his much-lauded documentary on the band.
Watch Kaikohe Demolition here:
A road movie with a heart of gold, Mark II has been dubbed "the Polynesian Easy Rider". First screened in 1986, the film was TVNZ's first telefeature, following three teens on a journey south from Auckland in a scene-stealing two-tone Mark II Zephyr. Along the way, they have a helpful encounter with the Mongrel Mob, and experience love, prejudice and jealousy - all the while being pursued by a van-load of vengeful thugs.
Watch Mark II here:
The purchase of a used Jaguar leads to plenty more than bargained for in 1985 thriller Mr Wrong. While driving a country road, Megs hears screams coming from the back of the car - but there's no one there. When she picks up a woman in the rain, she recognises her from a dream, eventually discovering her identity as the Jag's previous owner. Directed by Gaylene Preston (Bread & Roses), the film still packs enough frights to put a serious dent in the second-hand car market.
See an excerpt from Mr Wrong here:
Kiwi blockbusters have one key film to thank for paving their way to success. Released in 1981, Geoff Murphy's original Goodbye Pork Pie was a low-budget sensation, definitively proving that a local production could be a box-office hit. The film was our first to gross over $1 million, and went on to be picked up by a number of overseas territories, the iconic yellow mini driving the profile of New Zealand cinema to previously unreached heights.
See an excerpt from Goodbye Pork Pie here:
You can see more great content here, in NZ On Screen's Car Collection.