Whakatāne born and raised Pietra Brettkelly has been awarded an Arts Foundation 2019 Laureate, receiving the Dame Gaylene Preston Award for documentary filmmakers.

Arts Foundation Laureate Awards celebrate and empower artists with outstanding potential for future growth whose practice has an impact on New Zealand.

The Arts Foundation recognises 10 exceptional artists with a $25,000 award and were this year celebrated in style at the New Zealand Arts Ball recently held at Auckland's waterfront.

Brettkelly is described as a leading documentary filmmaker of international standing who confronts challenging and unexpected subject matter.


Her work has been featured in the Sundance, Berlin, Venice and Toronto film festivals.

Her most recent documentary, Yellow Is Forbidden, premiered in competition at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York in 2018 and is based on Chinese designer Guo Pei and her journey to become part of the world of haute couture in Paris.

Most famously the "forbidden dress" was worn by Rihanna at the Met Gala.

"My parents brought me up to wonder at the world and wander the world," Brettkelly said.

"It is, I think, the greatest gift, that I learned to look beyond myself. I'm now a slave to my curiosity, and to the films I make, following my questions."

Brettkelly spent two-and-a-half years in Afghanistan for her 2015 documentary, A Flickering Truth, about cinephiles who retrieved more than 8000 hours of film footage they'd hidden during the Taliban war.

The New Zealand Arts Ball was attended by a sold-out crowd of over 420 well-known arts patrons, business people and artists.

The Arts Foundation 2019 Laureate Award recipients:


Ruth Paul – the Mallinson Rendel Illustrators Award
Louise Potiki Bryant – award for choreography & dance
Kris Sowersby – award for design & typography
Solomon Mortimer – Marti Friedlander Photographic Award
Val Mmith – award for performing arts
Pietra Brettkelly – Dame Gaylene Preston Award for
documentary filmmakers
Laurence Fearnley – award for literature
Yvonne Todd – Theresa Gattung Award for Female Arts
Sima Urale – Burr/Tatham Trust Award
Jessica Hansell aka Coco Solid – award for mixed media