Guest Post: Three Films About Life in New Zealand

Today I have a special treat for all of you – a guest post from my favorite Kiwi film fan, Melanie McMinn, who blogs at The Frugal Kiwi. She keeps me updated on Hobbit goings-on and other Kiwi-related film projects.

The Frugal Kiwi has also been nominated for the “Best Green Home Blog of 2011” award, so hop over to the Homies and cast your vote!


Rena Owen of ‘Once Were Warriors’; Fine Line Features

Three Films About Life in the OTHER Down Under

by Melanie McMinn, The Frugal Kiwi

When I was considering emigrating to New Zealand, I would have no more moved without watching NZ movies than without checking the cost of living. You learn a lot about a culture through its films.

Here are three NZ films you might enjoy to give you a taste of life in the OTHER Down Under. No kangaroos here. Two of the films focus on the lives of Maori, the original inhabitants of these shores, and the third, one of the more recent emigrant groups.

All these movies are available on Netflix. I’ve sprinkled in a bit of information about some faces you’ve seen around Hollywood movies, but might not have know are Kiwis a.k.a. New Zealanders.

These films are all by New Zealand directors on New Zealand subjects. Kiwi films tend to focus on the adult market, so none of the following films are for young children.

THE FILM:Once Were Warriors’; 1995; rated R for pervasive language and strong depiction of domestic abuse, including sexual violence and substance abuse.

THE SCOOP: A powerful drama focusing on the problem of domestic abuse in the Maori population of urban Auckland. The brilliant opening shot of this film shatters the fantasy of New Zealand as a country of nothing more than stunning vistas and herds of sheep. I know grown people who cannot watch this film, as it hits too close to their own childhood experience of domestic violence. The skillfully told story leads you on a difficult journey, but not to a bleak destination.

THE STARS: You may recognize the male lead, Temuera Morrison. He has appeared in a number of Hollywood films including ‘Speed 2,’ ‘Six Days Seven Nights,’ ‘Vertical Limit’ and, most memorably to a Star Wars geek like me, as Jango Fett in ‘Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones.’

whale-rider-poster THE FILMWhale Rider’; 2003; rated PG-13 for brief language and a momentary drug reference.

THE SCOOP: A heartwarming drama where a young girl must challenge a thousand years of Maori tradition and her grandfather’s vision of a woman’s place in the world to fulfill her destiny. The stand-out moments of warmth from the Maori women make this movie shine beyond the obvious. Feisty Pai will melt your heart and you’ll want to start honing your own taiaha skills.

THE STARS: You may recognize the young female lead, Keisha Castle-Hughes, and her movie father Cliff Curtis. Keisha has also appeared in ‘The Nativity Story’ and ‘The Vinter’s Luck,’ as well as appearing as the next Queen of Naboo (after Natalie Portman/Padme) in ‘Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith.’ She was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award at the age of 13 for her role in ‘Whale Rider.’

Once you know Kiwi Cliff Curtis, you’ll start seeing him everywhere. He has 40 acting credits in the Internet Movie Database including the recent TV series ‘Trauma’ and movies with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars. ‘The Last Airbender,’ ‘Live Free or Die Hard,’ ‘Runaway Jury,’ ‘Collateral Damage,’ ‘Blow’ and ‘Once Were Warriors’ are only a few of his movie credits.

samoan-wedding-posterTHE FILM: ‘Samoan Wedding’; 2006; not rated. This movie has not been rated by the MPAA; however, if they ever get around to it, they will give it an R rating for sexual situations, plus maybe a bit of profanity. It’s known in New Zealand as ‘Sione’s Wedding,’ but maybe the distributor thought that name was just too scary and foreign sounding. Unlike ‘Samoan Wedding.’ But I digress.

THE SCOOP: Before you start yawning and thinking this is another ‘Big Fat Greek Wedding’ knock-off, stop it. Just stop it right there. It is no such thing. This is a movie about a bunch of guys — friends who are about to banned from going to the wedding of one of their best mates because they are terrible screw-ups. These too-old-to-be-excused ne’er-do-wells are notorious for going to weddings and causing disasters, and the only way they are going to be allowed to go to Sione’s wedding is if they come with girlfriends. Not dates. Real girlfriends. Written and starred in by the famous in New Zealand comedy troupe the Naked Samoans**, you won’t be disappointed at the lengths they go to in order to make it to their mate’s wedding. Completely laugh out loud hilarious. That is coming from me, who is rarely impressed by comedies.

THE STARS: Sadly, despite being big local stars, none of the Naked Samoans have gotten a big Hollywood break. If you’ve got a good eye, you might recognize Robbie Magasiva, although not from his role in ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,’ where he was covered in a whole lot of orc make up. Robbie was in the Jason Behr vehicle ‘The Tatooist’ back in 2007.

**Cultural Note: Why Samoans, in whatever state of undress, in New Zealand? Auckland, NZ’s largest city, has the largest Polynesian population of any city in the world. There are people from many Pacific Islands, but a good number of these folks are Samoan. Talofa!

I hope you enjoy this slice of Kiwi cinema. Feel free to drop by for a bit of New Zealand life at my blog any time. I might be back one day with a few more New Zealand film suggestions.

Note from Jane: Check out the trailer for ‘Samoan Wedding.’ Melanie knows I love light-hearted comedies, and this looks like just the film for me. Thanks, Melanie!

Images: HanWay Films; Fine Line Features; Newmarket Films


28 responses to “Guest Post: Three Films About Life in New Zealand”

  1. […] I get to live a secretly held dream to be a film reviewer! I’m guest posting over at Reel Life with Jane and dish the dirt about three New Zealand […]

  2. Sheryl Avatar

    Thanks for these, Melanie and Jane. I never would have known about any of them if it weren’t for your reviews. And I could especially use a light-hearted comedy right about now!

  3. NoPotCoooking Avatar

    I hadn’t heard about any of these either. I am very curious about NZ (would love to visit someday), so I will check them out.

  4. Susan Avatar

    I hadn’t heard of any of these, but I’m curious about life in NZ and I’d love to see the opening scene of this first movie. I hear NZ has gorgeous scenery, so I’ll check it out.

  5. Roxanne Avatar

    The hobbit reference made me laugh. I’ve seen 1 of the 3. I’ll have to check out the others on Netflix.

  6. Ruth Pennebaker Avatar

    What a fascinating, informative post. The idea of checking out a country’s movies before moving there is nothing short of brilliant.

  7. Kris Bordessa Avatar

    Whale Rider is one of my family’s all time favorite movies. We’ve watched it almost as many times as we’ve watched The Princess Bride. I love Pai’s strength and determination and love getting a look at another culture. Thanks for this – I’ll have to look for the other titles!

  8. MyKidsEatSquid Avatar

    I loved the whale rider. Thanks for reminding me about that one. I’d like to see it again.

  9. Stephanie - Wasabimon Avatar

    I loved Whale Rider. Such a great movie. Also, loved the trailer. Thanks!

  10. Vera Marie Badertscher Avatar

    Not sure the final one would appeal to me, but I loved Whale Riders. And I LOVED New Zealand. All those magazine ads comparing it to Switzerland lured us there ten years ago, and it was magnificent!!!!! (enough !!s?)

  11. Alisa Bowman Avatar

    This is a great round up! What a great idea to learn about a country through its film!

  12. merr Avatar

    I love this type of thing because it opens up a whole world (no pun, or, maybe a pun!) of films I likely might not have heard of. Thanks for thee tips.

  13. Christine Avatar

    I totally agree you learn a lot about a culture from its films. I was the same way about the foreign country we eventually moved to. The only film from NZ I remember seeing is Heavenly Creatures.
    Thanks for the fascinating reviews!

  14. Alexandra Avatar

    I always am on the lookout for cultural differences in foreign films. I did see Whale Rider, but will check Netflix for the other two. Thanks.

  15. Vera Marie Badertscher Avatar

    I just popped back in to say congratulations on being one of the five finalists for best blogger about movies at the 2011 Bloggies. You’re my movie guru, and I’ll surely go to the and vote for you as THE BEST.

  16. Jennifer Margulis Avatar

    I’ve seen Whale Rider. I can’t wait to see the other two! They sound fantastic.

  17. Sophie Avatar

    Hubby made me watch “Once Were Warriors” before taking me to NZ in 2001. His dad’s family are Maori, but nothing like the family portrayed in the movie, but I think the idea was to convince me that NZ wasn’t just about gorgeous scenery and bungy-jumping (not that LotR was out by then, but Xena: Warrior Princess was!).

    It worked – I was a bit “guh?!” to start with (showing your propective wife a film about domestic violence isn’t exactly SOP where I’m from…), but 10 years on and we’re married, have child and living in NZ 🙂

    Other movies that I was eventually made to watch (since OWW didn’t scare me off) for Kiwi culturalisation purposes were:
    Bye Bye Pork Pie
    Footrot Flats
    One Man’s Dream (though that one can only apply if you’re a motorcycle freak and can’t stand Anthony’s Hopkins appalling attempt at a Kiwi accent in “The World’s Fastest Indian”)

    I’ve never seen the sequel to OWW though – What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted.

  18. Casey Avatar

    Frankly, I’d rather watch Once Were Warriors than a poorly animated kangaroo any day! Thanks for the recommendations – I trust them implicitly.

  19. Donna Hull Avatar

    New Zealand is a favorite destination. My husband would move us there if we didn’t have family here in the states. Thanks for introducing me to New Zealand movies. If we can’t live there, might as well soak in the atmosphere via movies.

    Also, congratulations for being named a finalist in Best Entertainment Blogs, 2011 Bloggies. Reel Life With Jane is my go to for entertainment news. A well-deserved recognition for you.

  20. Jeanine Barone Avatar

    Thanks for letting me know about “Samoan Wedding.” I saw the other two and loved them. Now I’ll have to check this one out as well.

  21. sarah henry Avatar

    Have seen the first two — total classics — and will add the third to my netflix queue, thanks for the tip Melanie. As an Aussie I am happy to say that New Zealanders craft some mighty fine movies and thanks Jane for providing a forum to share them with folks here.

    As for that other NZ export…Flight of the Conchords…hilarious! Saw them live at the Greek Theater in Berkeley with my son. Too funny.

  22. […] that we’ll watch again (Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Wars, The Princess Bride, Whale Rider) are keepers. Others (White Fang, American Graffiti, Big) will go back to the thrift store for […]

  23. […] Best Entertainment Blog Jane Boursaw is my Go-To source for the inside scoop in the Entertainment industry over at Reel Life with Jane. I also guest posted on her blog recently about New Zealand films. […]

  24. idgie Avatar

    Has any one else seen Boy? Highly recommend it, you can read the synopsis on Amazon and buy it Region 0 too.

    1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

      I hadn’t heard of this film til you mentioned it, but it looks entertaining. Here’s a review from IndieWire and Eye For Film. And here’s the film’s official site. Will see if I can snag a copy.

  25. Jasmine Jennings Avatar
    Jasmine Jennings

    Highly recommend it, you can read the synopsis on Amazon and buy it Region 0 too. Too funny.

  26. Macnafe Avatar

    I loved Keisha Castle-Hughes in The Nativity Story. I checked her IMDB to look for her other films and saw Whale Rider. It has good reviews and she was also nominated for an Oscar so I was really intrigued and wanted to watch the film. I got busy and forgot. Thanks for reminding me about it.

  27. silviu visan Avatar

    If you want to see how peaceful the life in NZ is, you can also watch the Lord of the Rings. That movie was shot there, and although you don’t actually experience how the actual life is there, you can see beautiful shots with the environment and landscapes and you can get the idea.

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