This week saw the 120th anniversary of the first public film screenings in New Zealand. NZ On Screen's Nicky Harrop marks the occasion with a look at some of the local films that have helped shape both our country and screen history.

On October 13th 1896, New Zealand's first public motion picture screening was held at Auckland's Opera House, prompting a rave review from the NZ Herald ("Everything moved as though in life; in fact, it was life reproduced"), and igniting our local film industry. After more than a century, the following are some of the many Kiwi films that have gone on to define our history on the big screen.

Arriving after a local filmmaking drought (due to WWII) Broken Barrier marked the first New Zealand dramatic feature of the 1950s. Its production saw makers John O'Shea and Roger Mirams crowd into a Vauxhall with a rickety dolly and two silent cameras, ditching dialogue for 'spoken thoughts'. The pioneering film examines cultural complications in a romance between a Pākehā journalist and a Māori nurse.

Watch the trailer for Broken Barrier here:


Released in 1977, Sleeping Dogs heralded the new wave of New Zealand cinema, and triggered three important events in our screen history - the launch of the NZ Film Commission, the directorial debut of Roger Donaldson (Smash Palace, The World's Fastest Indian) and the breakout of actor Sam Neill. An adaptation of the CK Stead novel Smith's Dream, the film marked a turning point in Kiwi audiences responding to seeing ourselves and our stories on screen.

See an excerpt from Sleeping Dogs here:

Goodbye Pork Pie took our new screen manifesto and drove it (and an iconic yellow mini) all the way to the top of the box office. Director Geoff Murphy's tale of two men on the run became our first film to gross over $1 million, and sold to more than 20 international territories. Earlier this year, a remake of the film went into production, directed by Murphy's son Matt.

See an excerpt from Goodbye Pork Pie here:

Directed by Jane Campion, The Piano painted a bleak yet beautiful portrait of mid-19th century Aotearoa, described by critic Roger Ebert as "one of those rare movies that is not just about a story, or some characters, but about a whole universe of feeling." The film went on to win multiple Oscars, and remains the only New Zealand feature to have won the top award at the Cannes Film Festival.

See an excerpt from The Piano here:

While The Piano offered a glimpse of our past, Once Were Warriors opened the eyes of cinemagoers worldwide to a harrowing aspect of modern New Zealand life. Adapted from Alan Duff's best-selling novel, the film generated both controversy and box office success, and provided career-defining roles for Temuera Morrison and Rena Owen. Twenty two years on, it remains one of our most watched local releases.

Watch the trailer for Once Were Warriors here:

Our most successful film (to date) is also one of our most recent. Earlier this year, Taika Waititi's Hunt for the Wilderpeople eclipsed his earlier feature Boy to become New Zealand's biggest ever box office hit. The film continues to receive ongoing praise with international audiences. Meanwhile, Waititi is currently working on his next film, superhero sequel Thor: Ragnarok.


Watch the trailer for Hunt for the Wilderpeople here:

A season of iconic local cinema, Films That Shaped New Zealand, screens at Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision in Wellington from October 12 - 22, in partnership with Manatū Taonga Ministry of Culture and Heritage, and supported by the NZ Film Commission.
Further details can be found here.

You can see more Top New Zealand Films here, in NZ On Screen's Collection.