Good Tekau - Top NZ Documentaries

Top 10 Documentaries


Patu! - (Merata Mita - 1983)

is a remarkable protest story told in the face of adversity, and a monument to a time when New Zealand was torn in two by the 1981 Springbok rugby tour. You were either for or against. And Patu!, with its highly-charged images of violent clashes between police and anti-tour marchers, is firmly sided with the later. It is passionate, activist film-making at its most compelling.

While working for TVNZ, Merata conceived of a 25-minute documentary on the anti-apartheid movement's campaign. She was motivated by a moral duty to "raise awareness of the racial aspect of the tour". The project was seen to be too much of a political hot potato, and Mita left TVNZ to finish what would develop into a feature film.

Film stock was shifted around and, at times taken out of, the country, as the Patu! production team were forced to go into hiding in order to prevent the police from hijacking the editing of the film.

Patu! was made on a shoestring budget of $41,000 using old film stock from the National Film Unit, and with some financial assistance from the Catholic community, NZ Film Commission and the Arts Council.

Though the protests sought to highlight the plight of black South Africans, the conflict surrounding the tour ultimately exposed the racial divide in New Zealand. A Māori marcher states that he is supporting "our brothers - they're suffering, same as we're suffering here". Canon Hone Kaa implores New Zealanders to address racism at home. The point is made apparent in the end scene: a protest march whose cause is not anti-Springbok Tour, but critical of the government's treatment of Māori.

"I was asked repeatedly if I thought I was the right person to make the film, or why I was making it. The reason I was asked the question was that some people told me they feared that the film would not be accurate because it would have a Māori perspective! The Pākehā bias in all things recorded in Aotearoa was never questioned.

Merata was refused access to television footage and networks, and mainstream cinema chains wouldn't screen the film. But despite opposition from within the film and television institutions, Patu! received a standing ovation at its premiere (at the 1983 Wellington Film Festival)  - plus high praise from around the world when it screened at international film festivals. It eventually screened on television eight years later in 1991, the 10th anniversary of the tour.

Testament to the courage and faith of both the filmmakers and marchers, Patu! is a landmark in New Zealand's film history.

You can watch Patu for free here -


Tickled - (David Farrier - 2017)

Tickled is a made by television reporter, David Farrierwhose beat focuses on "quirky and odd stories",[4] sees videos online about an activity described as "competitive endurance tickling", in which young athletic men are restrained and tickled by each other; he begins to research it for a story. However, his inquiry to video producer, Jane O'Brien Media elicits a hostile reply,[5] which focuses on Farrier's bisexuality[6] and asserts that the sport is a "passionately and exclusively heterosexual athletic endurance activity". Farrier partners with television producer Dylan Reeve to learn more about tickling videos and the people who produce them.

After blogging about the incident, they receive legal threats from Jane O'Brien Media, who send Kevin Clarke and two other representatives to New Zealand. Although their interactions are superficially cordial, the Jane O'Brien Media people seem intent on bullying the investigators into dropping the project. Farrier and Reeve respond by traveling to Los Angeles, and find the representatives at a site where the company records videos, but are turned away at the door.

Researching the phenomenon further, they uncover information about a person known as Terri DiSisto (alias "Terri Tickle"), who pioneered recruiting and distributing tickling videos online in the 1990s. They interview independent tickling-video producer Richard Ivey whose operations are a low-key affair with an acknowledged homoerotic aspect. They speak to a few former participants in Jane O'Brien Media's videos who describe coercive and manipulative treatment by the producers, such as defamation campaigns against them, exposing their personal information and contacting school or work associates to discredit them as homosexual or as sexual deviants, in retaliation for challenging or speaking out against the company. A local recruiter in Muskegon, Michigan, describes "audition" videos he had helped make, which were published by O'Brien Media without the participants' consent. You can watch Tickled on  - Netflix


Forgotten Silver - (Peter Jackson 1995)

He basically trolls NZ. Forgotten Silver purports to tell the story of "forgotten" New Zealand filmmaker Colin McKenzie, and the rediscovery of his lost films, which presenter Peter Jackson claims to have found in an old shed. McKenzie is presented as the first and greatest innovator of modern cinema, single-handedly inventing the tracking shot (by accident), the close-up (unintentionally), and both sound and color film years before their historically documented creation. The film also shows fragments of an epic Biblical film, Salome, supposedly made by McKenzie in a giant set in the forests of New Zealand, and a "computer enhancement" of a McKenzie film proving that New Zealander Richard Pearse was the first man to invent a powered aircraft, several months before the Wright Brothers.[1]

The film also shows a (staged) premiere screening of a recovered McKenzie film presented by film promoter Lindsay Shelton. It features deadpan commentary from actor/director Sam Neill and director and film archivist John O'Shea, as well as critical praise from international industry notables including film historian Leonard Maltin, and Harvey Weinstein of Miramax Films.

In reality, McKenzie is a fictional character, and the films featured in Forgotten Silver were all created by Peter Jackson, carefully mimicking the style of early cinema. The interviewees are all acting. Thomas Robins, the actor who portrays Colin MacKenzie, is today more easily recognized by audiences as Sméagol's ill-fated cousin Déagol in Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King


Poi E - (Te Arepa Kahi - 2016)

Poi E is the latest chapter in director/writer Tearepa Kahi’s exploration of New Zealand’s musical history. His first film, Mt Zion, was a fictional story inspired by his musician father and his whānau in the 1980s.

This film is the true story of the visionary musician and leader Maui Dalvanius Prime, the entrepreneur responsible for the iconic New Zealand song ‘Poi E’ becoming a huge hit in the 1980s. Upbeat, catchy and danceable, it remains a favourite more than 30 years later.  It could be called the country’s unofficial national anthem - it’s the song Kiwis use to celebrate success at major events. And every New Zealander feels they can sing it (the chorus at least).

‘Poi E’, composed by Dalvanius with Māori language expert Ngoingoi Pēwhairangi and performed by the Patea Māori Club, remains the only song in Te Reo Māori to reach No 1 in the charts, 32 years since its 1984 release.

‘Poi E’ topped the charts for four weeks and was the biggest-selling single in New Zealand for 1984. It has been in the Top 10 in New Zealand every decade for the past 30 years. After featuring in the jubilant finale of Taika Waititi’s blockbuster film Boy, ‘Poi E’ reached No 3 again in 2010.

Kahi says the song ‘Poi E’ is significant because “it was the first pop song that used a drum machine, spacey noises, sound effects and put Te Reo Māori to that music. It was the first time you saw modern and traditional come together and when that fusion happened a huge feeling just leaped across the country. That song represents a really important time marker for when Māori and Pākehā started doing the bop together.

“It might be a difficult song to sing, but it’s an easy song to feel. And all of that celebration and euphoria that happened the first time we heard that song still happens every time we hear it now.”


This Way of Life - (Tom Burstyn - 2009)

Filmed over four years, This Way of Life documents the story of Hawkes Bay hunter and horse wrangler Peter Ottley-Karena, wife Colleen (Ngāti Maniapoto), and their six children. Intercut with Peter's articulate bush philosophy, it captures the family's romantic, dignified relationship to each other and to the natural world. Ever-present amongst the challenges their commitment to a 'simple life' faces is Peter's broken relationship with his step-father. Life received a special mention at the Berlin Film Festival; Variety called it "resonant and stunningly shot". Shortlisted for the 2011 Academy Awards This Way of Life is a lush and evocative portrait of an inspiring and maverick Maori family living on the edge of the world. Peter and Colleen Ottley-Karena live with their six kids and 50 horses in the almost wild freedom of New Zealand’s isolated mountains. Until Peter’s escalating battle with his own father has profound consequences.


Rain of the Children - (Vincent Ward - 2008)

This film weaves drama with documentary to unravel the extraordinary story of Puhi, the Tuhoe woman who welcomed the young filmmaker into her home in 1978. Ward made the observational film In Spring One Plants Alone about Puhi’s day-to-day life in the remote Urewera Ranges. By then almost 80, she was obsessively caring for her schizophrenic adult son Niki, whose violent fits terrified her. In this new cinema feature Ward sets out to unravel the mystery that has haunted him for 30 years: Who was Puhi?

And why was she so obsessed with this last remaining son?

Using his relationship with Puhi as the framework to explore her life, he finds a woman of extraordinary fortitude who, at the age of 12, was chosen by the great Tuhoe prophet Rua Kenana to marry his son, Whatu. Rua gave her the name, Puhi (“special one”). At 14, she had her first baby while hiding in the bush, having escaped from the 1916 police raid on Rua’s community at Maungapohatu, where she witnessed the arrest of Rua and Whatu and the killing of Toko, Rua’s other son, said to be her lover.

She would go on to have 13 more children. But by the time Ward made his initial film, there were few signs of what had become of them. He finds out how the loss of her children affected the course of her life. The tragedies she lived through were so powerful that some, including her, believed she was cursed.

After a tumultuous second marriage and the manslaughter of her third husband, Puhi was left with her dependant son, Niki. She dedicated herself to this man-child, trying to protect him at all costs, even from beyond the grave.

This is Ward’s search for the truth of a woman who has remained a touchstone for him throughout his life.  (Directed by Vincent Ward - 2008)

Dawn Raids - (Damon Fepulea'i - 2005)


This documentary chronicles a shameful passage in NZ race relations: the controversial mid-70s raids on the homes and workplaces of alleged Pacific Island overstayers. Director Damon Fepulea’i examines its origins in Pacific Island immigration during full employment in the 1960s, when a blind eye was turned to visa restrictions. As times got tougher, that policy changed to include random street checks by police, despite official denials. Resistance by activists and media coverage helped end a policy which has had a long term effect on the Pacific Island community. With the economy in recession and unemployment rising, attention turned to the issue of ‘overstayers’ – immigrants whose temporary visas had expired. Singled out for overloading the welfare system, some were chased up and deported. Dawn raids on the homes of alleged overstayers by police had occurred in 1974 but intensified in October 1976. Homes were stormed at night or in the early hours of the morning, tactics that caused outrage and brought accusations of racism. Samoan and Tongan overstayers were singled out; some people of these ethnicities were stopped in the street and asked for proof of residency. It was pointed out that the greatest influx of temporary immigrants had come from the United Kingdom and Australia. The dawn raids cast a dark shadow over race relations in this country.


Richie McCaw: Chasing Great - Justin Pemberton and Michelle Walshe - 2016

Chasing Great reminds us that Richard Hugh McCaw is one impressive bloke. He flies gliders and helicopters. He cooks. He does cryptic crosswords. And in his old job he was [insert superlative of your choice] All Blacks captain, ever. Essentially, Chasing Great is a faith-based movie designed for followers of our national religion. if you're a Richie fan, then your appreciation of the man will possibly elevate to devotion after this handsome hagiography.

Yes, it promises a level of behind-the-scenes access, its makers having spent the year with McCaw leading up to his last game and final victory at last year's Rugby World Cup Final.

But it's hard to detect an unguarded moment among McCaw's interviews or those who worked with him.

"He's a complicated rooster," offers All Blacks coach Steven Hansen who adds McCaw got to be himself while playing rugby on the field, rather than being the famous rugby star off it.

Certainly, Greg McGee made him interesting in his terrific 2012 authorised biography, a book which ended on a resonant note - the RWC final of 2011.

The movie shifts that story to RWC 2015 where McCaw's new goal is to be captain of the first team to win the competition back-to-back and go out on a high. That's understandable. But the "or else?" isn't as dramatically loaded as it was four years previous.