Films Directed by NZ Women at the #NZIFF

Here’s New Zealand women directors’ work at the New Zealand International Film Festival (NZIFF): short films; documentaries; and long-form drama. I’ve highlighted the directors this time, but I also love the writers and appreciate the producers. And, in this year filled with issues around parents who make movies, here’s one of the directors at work: Gwen Isaacs filming Where There is Life!

Short Films

Here, in alphabetical order by director, are the short films selected for three sections of the NZFF. Because a successful short film is seen as an element of the pipeline to taxpayer funding for a feature film in New Zealand, selection of these films really matters.

Some of these come from this year’s New Zealand’s Best Short Film competition (BSF), where half of those elected are #DirectedByWomen. NZIFF programmers Bill Gosden and Michael McDonnell made a shortlist of 12 films from 83 submissions and veteran filmmaker Gaylene Preston selected six finalists. And the winners of the associated awards do well! A jury of three will select the winner of the $5,000 Madman Entertainment Jury Prize, and the Wallace Foundation and Wallace Media Ltd will award a $3,000 Wallace Friends of the Civic Award to the film or contributor to a film they deem to merit special recognition. The winner of the audience vote takes away the Audience Choice Award, consisting of 25 percent of the box office from the main-centre NZIFF screenings.

Others come from latest and best Māori and Pasifika short films (MP), selected by Leo Koziol, Director of the Wairoa Māori Film Festival, and Craig Fasi, Director of the Pollywood Film Festival; four out of six selected are #DirectedByWomen. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this group’s listings included cast-and-crew details; and competed for a group of awards, too?

Some Shorts with Features (SwF) are part of a third group, where three out of twelve films are #DirectedByWomen. It’d be good to have more details for these, too. Where I can, I’ve provided some additional information. Fingers crossed, the women who directed these will make features before too long. Let’s seek out their work and cherish them.


2016 (BSF, 12 minutes)

Two boys wait outside a dairy for a phone call.

Director Amberley Jo Aumua 
Screenplay Samuel Kamu 
Photography Greer Lindsay Editor Huhana Ruri-Panapa

With Desmond Malakai, Casta-Troy Cocker-Lemailie


2017 (BSF, 11 minutes)

A frustrated mum struggles to find intimacy while raising a young family.

Director/Screenplay Becs Arahanga 
Producers Julian Arahanga, Kath Akuhuata-Brown 
Photography Chris Mauger Editor Luke Evans

With Aidee Walker, Jarod Rawiri

Untitled Groping Revenge Fairytale

2017 (BSF, 9 minutes)

A woman pitches a tent on the edge of a forest and starts to collect men.

Director/Screenplay Catherine Bisley 
Producer William Bisley 
Photography/Editor Paul Wedel

With Loren Taylor

Sunday Fun Day

2016 (MP, 15 minutes)

A teenager and a solo mum prepare to have their own fun on a Sunday.

Director/Screenplay Dianna Fuemana 
Producer Jay Ryan


2017 (MP, 16 minutes)

A young woman with a shameful secret hides out from friends and family in a massive tree.

Director/Screenplay Lauren Jackson 
Producers Andrew Cochrane, Jeremy Macey

Lauren Jackson’s multi-award-winning I’m Going to Mum’s was a finalist for Best Short Film in 2013, selected by Alison Maclean.

Each to Their Own

2016 (SwF, 19 minutes)

A grieving girl is drawn in by a charismatic church.

Director Maria Ines Manchego 
Producer Lani-Rain Feltham

Festivals: Locarno


2016 (MP, 9 minutes)

A Māori girl receives a precious waiata composed by her deceased grandfather. (Qianna is the youngest-ever writer/director to have a film in the NZIFF. Lovely Māori television interview with her here.)

Director/ Screenplay Qianna Titore 
Producer Eloise Veber

Have You Tried, Maybe, Not Worrying?

2017 (SwF, 15 minutes)

A young woman’s battle with an anxiety disorder, over a 48 hour period.

Director/ Screenplay Rachel Ross
Producer Hamish Mortland


2017 (MP, 15 minutes)

An ancient spirit tries to send a message to a recent immigrant in the city that never sleeps.

Director/Producer/Screenplay Renae Maihi
Renae is also one of the eight directors of Waru, a feature film selected for the festival.

Festivals: ImagineNATIVE

Do No Harm

2017 (BSF, 12 minutes)

A doctor abides by her Hippocratic oath even when violent gangsters interrupt her surgery.

Roseanne Liang 
Producer Hamish Mortland 
Photography Andrew McGeorge 
Editor Tom Eagles

With Marsha Yuan, Jacob Tomuri

Festivals: Sundance; Etheria Film Night (Audience Award); SXSW

The World in Your Window

2016 (SwF, 15 minutes)

Eight year old Jesse lives in a twilight world of sadness and silence, squeezed into a tiny caravan with his grief stricken father: looking forward is harder than looking back.

Director Zoe McIntosh

Screenplay Costa Botes, Zoe Macintosh
Producer Hamish Mortland

Festivals: Tribeca; Clermont Ferrand (Prix Etudiant de la Jeunesse); Busan International Film Festival

The Docos

I’m waiting (always) for more feature documentaries by *and* about women from Aotearoa New Zealand. Coming soon I hope.

And some of you will read this and wonder about docos by and about Māori women and by and about indigenous women of other parts of the Pacific; and by and about women from our immigrant communities. ‘Where are they?’ you might ask. I wonder, too. Most years.

And now, when I wonder, I reflect on a recent and brilliant essay, Poutokomanawa — The Heartpost, by award-winning fiction writer, essayist and teacher Tina Makereti. There, she writes about her writing students–

In a class of young middle class+ Pākehā students (e.g. the majority university classes) there are many clever, witty, talented, politically astute and very pleasant people. Some of them are beautiful writers. Educationally, they have always been surrounded by writers, theorists and educationalists with the same socio-cultural capital as them. Few of them have stories to tell. Yet.

In a class of Māori / Pasifika / immigrant students (not so many middle class, not so many young) there are many clever, witty, talented, politically astute and very pleasant people. Some of them are beautiful writers. Few of them have ever had the opportunity to read writing from their own communities. Few of them have ever had the opportunity to write from or about their own communities. Yet, I struggle to remember a single one that didn’t have a compelling story to tell.We know we don’t have a strong record in publications, yet we do have the talent to produce those publications. And look what happens when that talent finds publication. Gina Cole’s Best First Book Prize for Black Ice Matter is just one recent example.

One of our issues is pure socioeconomics. Māori & Pasifika families are generally larger and more communal and frankly, poorer… I have encountered many students for whom the clash between family commitments and the desire to write, or even just study, was insurmountable. I don’t think most Pākehā writers will have ever encountered the kinds of pressures I’m talking about. I think we need a fund that takes a writer through from promising early stages to completed single author publication, and I think that’s a process that takes three to five years. If we are serious about changing [that record of publication], we need to get people up that last step, where you need serious time, but you also have to pay the bills.

I believe that the issues are the same for Māori & Pasifika women filmmakers and that’s partly why their work is missing from this list. (And it’s well worth reading the whole beautiful essay.)

In the meantime, drumroll!!!!!, here are the local women’s docos that will screen at NZIFF, listed in director alphabetical order or, in one case, by the writer. Book here!

Note, some of these may not be shown in your city when the festival tours; and others may be added that we won’t see in Wellington. And thanks to NZonScreen for their great info about each director, which I’ve linked to, in case you want to know more.


directed, produced and photographed by Andrea Bosshard and Shane Loader

Andrea Bosshard’s portrait of her father Kobi Bosshard, widely regarded as the grandfather of contemporary New Zealand jewellery, explores his philosophy of life and work and is described as ‘warm and humorous’. It looks as though it’s beautiful, too.

If you enjoyed Andrea’s award-winning narrative feature The Great Maiden’s Blush (her third) last year, here’s your chance to see how she — as an artist — approaches her family history; her mother Patricia is also part of the film.

Kim Dotcom: Caught in the Web

directed by Annie Goldson

Just over five years ago, 76 officers swarmed upon the Kim Dotcom’s mansion north of Auckland and arrested him. This doco sets out the battle between Dotcom and the US Government and entertainment industry, and ‘goes to the heart of ownership, privacy and piracy in the digital age’.

Festivals: SXSW and Hot Docs

No Ordinary Sheila

screenplay Christine Dann, director Hugh Macdonald

Another ‘family’ film: Sheila Natusch is Hugh Macdonald’s cousin. And what a cousin, (born on Rakiura, Stewart Island), an adventurer, natural historian, illustrator and writer and now a nonagenarian.

Sheila’s is a ‘radiant, defiant and unconventional story’. It features historic footage from the 30s and 40s, glimpses into life as one of few female students at Otago University, and covers Sheila’s friendship with Janet Frame.

My Year With Helen

directed and produced by Gaylene Preston

Veteran filmmaker Gaylene Preston accompanied former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark over the year that included her campaign to become the United Nations’ new secretary general, when she hit a glass ceiling. What a year that must have been for these two warrior women.

One of the festival’s Big Nights, with (as at all these doco screenings, in Wellington at least) the director in attendance for a Q&A. But without Helen Clark who, according to one report, will be on a long-planned trip on the trans-Siberian Railway.

Festivals: Sydney Film Festival

Where There is Life

directed and produced by Gwen Isaacs

This observational documentary is also a ‘family’ film. It was shot over the four years that followed Margaret Lee’s diagnosis with motor neurone disease, when her husband Stephen Lee chose to be Margaret’s full-time carer and the focus of the family shifted from raising a young daughter to providing palliative care to the wife and mother.

A mother herself, the director was initially interested in providing a visual memory for Margaret’s then 10-year-old daughter, Imogen. But quickly, she learned that Margaret’s approach to dying was unconventional.

TEAM TIBET: Home Away From Home

directed and produced by Robin Greenberg

His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Thuten Kesang & NZ’s then-Prime Minister, the late David Lange

Robin filmed this account of Tibetan culture-in-exile over 22 years, a story told through the experience and advocacy of Thuten Kesang, New Zealand’s first Tibetan refugee. His father sent him to school in India in 1954, where he was raised by Scottish Presbyterians and unable to return to Tibet after his parents were arrested in the wake of the 1959 uprising, he’s been a fully committed Kiwi since 1967.

‘He lost his country, his parents and his language, but not what it means to be Tibetan and to remain open-hearted’ says the director.

Free Theatre

screenplay by and directed and produced by Shirley Horrocks

Shirley’s tenth #NZIFF documentary, almost all of them about art and artists.

This time she turns her attention to Christchurch’s 37-year-old avant-garde and often-controversial Free Theatre, founded by Peter Falkenberg in 1979; it’s taken seven years to make (so many of these films have taken a long time!) and is ‘especially observant of the…theatre’s imaginative engagement with community activation since the earthquakes’.

Long-Form Drama

Every year, Women & Hollywood counts the #DirectedByWomen features at Cannes, in the various categories. This year, the site noted a slight increase, to 29 percent overall.

To compare, for the first time since 2014, I’ve just counted the NZIFF features listed in its Wellington catalogue. I included docos, but excluded the animation and short film programmes.

I used to feel that I was the only person concerned about the NZIFF stats. That’s no longer so. Many more people now want there to be gender equity behind the camera and to explore ways to make this happen. Many more people are also concerned about representation in front of the camera, about how we’re all affected by seeing the world primarily through the white male gaze. Actor Jessica Chastain is one of these. This is what she said at the final press conference, after she sat on the main jury at Cannes this year and it’s important partly because the NZIFF accesses some of its films from Cannes–

Are we being offered Cannes features with ‘disturbing’ portrayals of women? Is this an issue for the NZFF? It would be good to know.

Of the 162 NZIFF films I counted, 23 percent are #DirectedByWomen and 4 percent by a mixed gender team. This compares with 13 percent #DirectedByWomen in 2010, 12.5 percent 2011, 14 percent 2012, 13 percent in 2013, and 9 percent of dramas and 20 percent of docos in 2014, so it’s an improvement. But it still means that men directed or co-directed a whopping 73 percent of what we’re offered here in Welly this year.

In this year’s list, 38 percent of the features have female protagonists, interpreted generously to include films where females are part of a central couple or threesome. Almost two-thirds of these are directed by men, 5 percent by mixed gender teams and 34 percent #DirectedByWomen. This compares 32 percent of the features with female protagonists (including docos) #DirectedByWomen in 2014, 64 percent by men and 4 percent by a mixed team, so that’s no improvement. This year, if my calculations are correct — and I’m not always totally reliable, even and sometimes especially with spreadsheets, so please let me know if I’m mistaken — there are just 21 films #DirectedByWomen and about girls and/or women: 12 percent. And that’s a tiny tiny proportion, isn’t it?

There are many more features #DirectedByWomen and about women and girls now available pout there in the world. And there are diverse and excellent festivals that find and select them. For instance, at the Los Angeles Film Festival last month, 42 percent of the films were #DirectedByWomen and 40 percent by people of color. Close to home earlier this year, just up the road in Otaki, 60 percent of the Māoriland Film Festival films were #DirectedByWomen. Is it time for the NZIFF to work a little harder, maybe even to attend the big women’s fests, like Créteil in France, the Seoul International Women’s Film Festival, the Dortmund/Köln International Women’s Film Festival as well as indigenous festivals like ImagineNATIVE?

I love going to the NZIFF. But I want it to do better. Here, in alphabetical order by director, are this year’s long-form dramas directed by New Zealand women.

The Inland Road

screenplay/director Jackie van Beek
producer Aaron Watson

According to the NZIFF programme notes, written by the ever-insightful Jo Randerson, Jackie’s philosophical enquiry focuses on mothering, daughters, boyfriends and the after-effects of sexual encounters.

Here’s the trailer.

Jackie will be present for Q&As, after the screenings.

Top of the Lake: China Girl

screenplay Jane Campion, Gerard Lee (who will together introduce the series’ single screening) 
directors Jane Campion, Ariel Kleiman

And it’s good to see NZ veteran producer Philippa Campbell in there with all the other executive producers and producers.

From the NZIFF catalogue: ‘An intimate epic that touches upon everything from sex work and surrogacy to patriarchy in the digital age and the instinctive push towards parenthood…’

I hoped there’d be a women-only screening, like those women-only screenings of Wonder Woman in the United States; they sounded like rich-and-wonderful experiences. Next time, perhaps.


screenplay Briar Grace-Smith, Casey Kaa, Ainsley Gardiner, Josephine Stewart Te Whiu, Katie Wolfe, Chelsea Cohen, Renae Maihi, Paula Jones

directors Awanui Simich-Pene, Briar Grace-Smith, Casey Kaa, Ainsley Gardiner, Katie Wolfe, Chelsea Cohen, Renae Maihi, Paula Jones

producers Kerry Warkia & Kiel McNaughton

Each writer and director contributed a sequence to this feature, which unfolds around the tangi of a small boy, Waru, who died at the hands of his caregiver.

This is the feature I’ve been waiting for — along with many others — partly because we haven’t seen Māori (and other) characters through Māori women’s eyes in a drama made for the big screen since Merata Mita’s Mauri, thirty years ago.

Last year, the Waru group gave an extraordinary presentation at the national Big Screen Symposium, which you can listen to at the link here. I found it very powerful because of ‘its in-depth discussion of how we come to our truths and how we support one another to access and speak and show our truths…a ‘how-to’ talk par excellence, with eleven different perspectives…‘how-to’ with heart, intelligence, courage, humour and spirit’.

And now, in the NZIFF catalogue, distinguished broadcaster Mihingarangi Forbes has also acknowledged the courage of the group and describes the finished work as ‘a hugely important film’, with ‘electrifying’ and ‘powerful’ performances, as a film ‘everyone in the family should see and talk about’.

So I’m surprised and disappointed that Waru is not included among the NZIFF’s Big Nights, as a Special Event or Special Presentation, especially when only four of the fourteen Big Nights features are #DirectedByWomen.

In the printed catalogue, Waru is grouped among nineteen other ‘Aotearoa’ features, both dramas and docos. And as the only Māori one, the only Māori feature this year, as the first Māori women’s feature for three decades, as a ‘hugely important film’, wouldn’t it have been the ideal Special Event with which to open the festival?

There are other reasons for this, too. The shameful child abuse rate in Aotearoa is or should be a central concern for every single New Zealander. And Waru also includes karanga, integral to the beginnings of so many Māori events — the electrifying performances Mihingarangi Forbes describes are those of the actors playing Waru’s grandmothers, ‘demonstrating their skill in the art of the karanga…their wailing and laments call on their ancestors to safely take their mokopuna’. How wonderful it would have been to begin the festival with a film that included karanga. But at the very least Waru should have been named as the Special Event, Special Presentation that it undoubtedly is.

In addition, and like The Inland Road, Waru doesn’t get a single screening in the most attractive and comfortable cinemas, the big Embassy or the smaller Embassy Deluxe. Instead, it’s along the road at the much-loved but shabby Paramount. Take a look at the qualities of the features by New Zealand and other male directors that do get a screening at the Embassy and see if you agree with me that the NZIFF could have been, should have been, more welcoming to and appreciative of Waru (and The Inland Road).

Of course, it’s possible that those involved with both films are entirely happy with the NZIFF’s reception of their work. I’m not, but I’ll be online getting my tickets just as soon as bookings open in the morning. And listening closely to the Q&As.

This was first published as NZ Updates, #6-#8, on Wellywood Woman.

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