The 2024 films we’re looking forward to from Aotearoa New Zealand

Dominic Corry looks ahead at some of the most exciting films from Aotearoa New Zealand in 2024.

Amidst a tenuous time for cinema the world over, the New Zealand film industry reliably trucks along, helping to provide an on-screen cultural underpinning for how we see ourselves.

There’s been a bunch of impressive NZ films over the last few years (my personal faves: Mister Organ, Cousins and Baby Done), but we haven’t really had a breakout international hit since Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople in 2016.

2024 will see the release of a couple of New Zealand films that would seem—at first glance, at least—to exist in Wilderpeople‘s wake somewhat.

Elizabeth Atkinson, Reuben Francis, and Terence Daniel in The Mountain

There’s Rachel House’s The Mountain, which is out on March 24th, and Ant Timpson’s Bookworm, set for release later this year.

The Mountain, which counts Taika as an EP, sees a trio of youngsters set out to conquer Taranaki Mounga as a means of claiming their cultural identity and pushing back against cancer. House, whose presence in many of Taika’s film has seen her rise to international notoriety as an actor, looks to be channelling something resembling the comedic sensibility of her longtime collaborator in her directorial debut, if the charming trailer is anything to go by:

Timpson’s entry in the gently expanding “plucky Kiwi kids in the bush” canon sees him reteam with Elijah Wood, the star of his 2019 directorial debut, Come to Daddy, who has some experience prancing about in the New Zealand wilderness.

Wood plays the splendidly named Strawn Wise, a stage magician who comes to New Zealand to spend time with his estranged 12-year-old daughter Mildred (Nell Fisher, Evil Dead Rise). Together they head into rough country on a quest to find the mythic Canterbury Panther.

Elijah Wood and Nell Fisher in Bookworm

Although undoubtedly not as dark as Come to Daddy (which was shot in Canada), Bookworm appears to be promising slightly more grown-up entertainment than the family-targeted The Mountain.

But before either of those movies comes out, a New Zealand documentary with large breakout potential is premiering at Sundance later this month.

Margaret Moth in Never Look Away

Never Look Away marks Lucy Lawless’ directorial debut, and tells the incredible and relatively overlooked story of Margaret Moth, a trailblazing New Zealand camerawoman who was shot in the face by sniper in Sarajevo in 1992 while working for CNN.

There’s a whole heap more to the story of this one-of-a-kind Kiwi, and New Zealanders will lap it up when they get a chance to see it later this year. (Full disclosure: I wrote the press kit for Never Look Away).

Also premiering at Sundance is Good One, the debut feature from India Donaldson, the US-based daughter of Kiwi filmmaking legend Roger (Sleeping Dogs, Dante’s Peak, The World’s Fastest Indian).

Loren Taylor, whom many will remember as the co-lead in Taika Waititi’s 2007 debut feature Eagle vs Shark, and who has put in memorable supporting performances recently in movies like Baby Done and This Town, makes her feature writing/directing debut with The Moon is Upside Down (releasing in March), in which she also stars as one of three disparate woman contending with matters of the heart who are thrown together by fate.

Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day, Along Came a Spider) is one of our most internationally successful filmmakers, and The Convert (releasing in April) marks his first film since Mahana. That 2016 effort was notable in part for being the first feature Tamahori had shot in New Zealand since breakout smash Once Were Warriors in 1994.

Tamahori has long spoken of his desire to adapt Maurice Shadbolt’s New Zealand Wars saga Season of the Jew, and he’s no doubt channelled some of his passion for that period into The Convert, which sees a preacher (Guy Pearce) swept up into Māori tribal conflict in 1830s New Zealand.

Temuera Morrison in Ka Whawhai Tonu

The New Zealand Wars of the 19th century are at the centre of Ka Whawhai Tonu (“Struggle Without End”), a historical action drama featuring Temuera Morrison, Cliff Curtis and English actor Jason Flemyng (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels), which is told from the Māori perspective in Te Reo Māori.

Emerging from the Sundance Native Lab, which assists in the development of Indigenous stories, the film is directed by Mike Jonathan and written by Tim Worrall, who contributed a segment to the Indigenous anthology film We Are Still Here.

That is due for release in 2024’s second quarter, along with Fiftyone, a feature documentary about a young Afghan-New Zealand couple who make the risky journey to Afghanistan to instigate 51 micro-business projects in remembrance of the 51 people murdered in the Christchurch mosque attacks.

Erana James, Nathalie Morris and Manaia Hall in We Were Dangerous

Plus there’s Whina co-director James Napier Robertson’s Bolshoi ballet true story Joika, and Josephine Stewart-Te Whiu’s We Were Dangerous. The latter, which follows three delinquent teenagers undergoing behaviour modification therapy on a small island, has the distinction of celebrating its world premiere in Austin, Texas at South by Southwest (SXSW) in March.

Ed Oxenbould in Head South

Looking further ahead to the second half of the year, we’ve got Jonathan Ogilvie’s post-punk coming-of-age drama Head South (set in 1979 Christchurch), Sasha Rainbow’s female-led body horror Grafted and a documentary about kick-ass Te Reo metal band Alien Weaponry called… Alien Weaponry.