Taika Waititi always wanted to make a film about Waihau Bay—the rural New Zealand of his childhood. What started as a short film called “Two Cars, One Night” soon became a feature length script—a story about a family reconnecting in the’80s, what he calls New Zealand’s “coming-of-age decade.” But he was hesitant to take the next step.
“I thought, ‘Okay, this is a really important script to me—I’m probably going to screw it up.’ Since I had no experience making a feature, I didn’t know what the rules were or anything.”
So he put aside that script and wrote Eagle Vs. Shark, “a very simple story about two people trying to fall in love,” one “that could handle those bumps as he taught himself how to make a feature film. He gathered up his friends he did theater and comedy with—including Jemaine Clement, before HBO had picked up Flight of the Conchords—and took his first film to Sundance. “Once I’d done that and felt like I learned enough on that film, then I could come back to Boy, use what I’d learned and make a better film.”
That he did and it stands strong among the tradition of New Zealand filmmaking. Waititi selected five of his favorite Kiwi films to give you an introduction:
1. In Spring One Plants Alone (Vincent Ward)
Ward is one of our most famous filmmakers. He made a lot of really cool art films, and then he did a stint in Hollywood. On this documentary, there’s no voiceover; there’s no story. It’s just really observational, watching this old woman in her 80s. She’s had this incredible history. She lives with her son, Nicky (the character of Weirdo in Boy is based a little bit on this guy). He’s very connected to animals, but not socially available. And they just live together. It’s this beautiful relationship. He’s deeply bipolar, probably, and she just looks after him. But she’s got some kind of ghosts going on herself—she’s constantly talking to herself. And they’re just two extremely interesting people. They grow their own food, and he’s got all these cats. I guess it’s like the Grey Gardens of New Zealand. It’s really beautifully shot and there’s little talking in it. Just these beautiful images.”
2. Heavenly Creatures (Peter Jackson)
It’s Peter Jackson’s best film. It’s an incredible story, great performances, great filmmaking. He still has a really original voice, but his films have become so gigantic and he’s so ambitious now. But this was like a very cool, small film that was very inventive at the time.
3. Topless Women Talk About Their Lives (Harry Sinclair)
Sinclair’s first film was shot on weekends. He’d just get together with his friends. He’d write scenes, and people would just turn up and get their lines for the day and not know exactly what was going on. He just constructed this cool film about twentysomethings growing up and falling in love and falling out of love. It’s kind of like our Reality Bites.
4. Once Were Warriors (Lee Tamahori)
It still stands up today as a really incredible film. It was the first time that we’d really been exposed to what was going on in areas of New Zealand that were never really talked about before. It was a very raw film and very confronting for a lot of New Zealanders to see. When people watched that, they were like “Whoa, whoa, whoa.” Because New Zealanders have always tried to present ourselves as a beautiful country and show off the scenery— almost like using films as tourism, which is kind of crazy and stupid. And this was like a very real portrait of a very well known New Zealand that no one wanted to acknowledge existed.
5. Kaikohe Demolition (Florien Habicht)
It’s a cool documentary about a really small town in the north of New Zealand, that’s only famous for what they call the Santa attacks. It became popular one year to beat up Santa Claus. Anyone who was dressed as Santa was targeted. People would throw bottles and beat them up, and it was really insane. That was their claim to fame. And every week, they’d have this incredible demolition derby with cars. It was a really poor town, but there were really cool characters. And it’s all about the beauty of destruction—it really captures that.