The 2017 NZ Film Awards: The Winners, the Surprises & the Unsurprises

The New Zealand Film Awards announced its champions last Saturday night and two big winners emerged. One was Hunt for the Wilderpeople, which took home seven Moas. The other one was Gaylene Preston, who was given a Services to Cinema Award for her years directing, screenwriting, producing, and just being a bloody legend in the NZ film industry.

But who else was crowned for their work over the last two years? Below is the complete list of winners and some commentary from me, Liam Maguren, who is not a director, screenwriter, producer, or bloody legend of any sort.

Rialto Channel Best Film – Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Nominees: Free in Deed, Mahana, Slow West, The Rehearsal

Unless you missed the fact that Hunt for the Wilderpeople was a local box office colossus as well as a critical darling to both Kiwi reviewers and international critics, you shouldn’t be all that surprised by this.

Flying Fish Best Director – Taika Waititi (Hunt for the Wilderpeople)

Nominees: Jake Mahaffy (Free in Deed), Lee Tamahori (Mahana), John Maclean (Slow West), Alison Maclean (The Rehearsal)

Jake Mahaffy said so much with few words in Free in Deed; Lee Tamahori demonstrated a muscular grip on what Māori life in 1960s NZ was like in Mahana; John Maclean made a convincing case that he’s the long lost Coen triplet through his direction of Slow West; and Alison Maclean did what many would have thought impossible by respectfully adapting Eleanor Catton’s The Rehearsal. But what Taika Waititi achieved was a Hollywood-level balance of humour and heart that makes his shift to the Disney directing seat feel so damn natural. That Moa was always going to be his.

Flicks Best Screenplay – Taika Waititi (Hunt for the Wilderpeople)

Nominees: John Collee (Mahana), John Maclean (Slow West), Andrea Bosshard (The Great Maiden’s Blush), Alison Maclean and Emily Perkins (The Rehearsal)

John Maclean and Andrea Bosshard delivered unquestionably original stories while Alison Maclean, Emily Perkins and John Collee managed to condense and format beloved literature into very solid features. Somehow, Taika Waititi did both by condensing Barry Crump’s cherished novel through his own creative means. He also managed to cement the word “magestical” into the New Zealand vocabulary – that alone deserves a trophy.

Man O’ War Vineyards Best Actress – Miriama McDowell (The Great Maiden’s Blush)

Nominees: Rachel House (Hunt for the Wilderpeople), Caren Pistorius (Slow West), Kerry Fox (The Rehearsal), Laurence Leboeuf (Turbo Kid)

Miriama McDowell performed her ass off in The Great Maiden’s Blush. There’s so much going on behind the surface of her character, more than trailers and clips can hint at, and she emits every complexity with conviction. In a category filled with quality performances, McDowell deserved the win.

But there’s also a sad reason why this award is called ‘Best Actress’ and not ‘Best Actress in a Leading Role’ – McDowell was the only nominee who actually had a leading role. That’s because we have a distinct lack of stories about women in Kiwi cinema, as McDowell referenced in her acceptance speech. To echo her words, if we want to see more stories about women, we need to go out and see the ones that are made. And on that note, you can get The Great Maiden’s Blush on DVD here and look forward to both The Inland Road and Beyond the Known World.

Manukau Urban Maori Authority Best Supporting Actress – Rima Te Wiata (Hunt for the Wilderpeople)

Nominees: Onyeka Arapai (Born To Dance), Nova Waretini-Hewison (Chronesthesia), Nancy Brunning (Mahana), Ella Edward (The Rehearsal)

It might be tempting to think “Well all she did was spout a few funnies and then die.” But think of it this way: Rima Te Wiata had only a few scenes to make a loving impression on our lead character while establishing a decades-long relationship with her husband, an impression that needed to hover across the entire film. That’s how you support, and that’s how Te Wiata scored a Moa.

Steinlager Tokyo Dry Best Actor – Julian Dennison (Hunt for the Wilderpeople)

Nominees: Milo Cawthorne (Deathgasm), Temuera Morrison (Mahana), Michael Fassbender (Slow West), James Rolleston (The Rehearsal)

A symbiotic comedy machine like Hunt for the Wilderpeople needs two beating hearts. One of those hearts is Julian Dennison, whose head-down-and-charge energy gives the film its drive…

Te Whanau O Waipareira Best Supporting Actor – Sam Neill (Hunt for the Wilderpeople)

Nominees: Jordan Vaahakolo (Born To Dance), Ben Mitchell (Broken Hallelujah), Kieran Charnock (The Rehearsal), Edwin Wright (Turbo Kid)

…and the second heart is Uncle Sam Neill, who’s the gruff straight-man that elevates every funny moment by contrast. Without him and/or Dennison, the film simply wouldn’t have its mighty heart beating as strongly as it does.

Park Road Post Best Self Funded Film – The Great Maiden’s Blush

Nominees: Broken Hallelujah, Chronesthesia, Stars in Her Eyes, Sunday, Three Wise Cousins

For story reasons, I personally wasn’t that big on The Great Maiden’s Blush, but I’m not surprised it took this one home. If I hadn’t known this was self-funded before I’d watched it, I sure as hell wouldn’t have known after watching it. It makes me wonder what could have been if more money was put behind it. Then again, it works so well within its own constraints that all it may have needed was more funding for marketing.

Imagezone Best Cinematography – Robbie Ryan (Slow West)

Nominees: Simon Raby (Deathgasm), Lachlan Milne (Hunt for the Wilderpeople), Ginny Loane (Mahana), Waka Attewell and Alun Bollinger (The Great Maiden’s Blush)

The other nominees did a great job photographing New Zealand in New Zealand. Robbie Ryan did a phenomenal job photographing America in New Zealand.

Mandy VFX Best Editor – Michael Horton with Jonathan Woodford-Robinson (Mahana)

Nominees: Luke Haigh, Tom Eagles, Yana Gorskaya (Hunt for the Wilderpeople), Roland Gallois, Jon Gregory (Slow West), Jonothan Woodford-Robinson (The Rehearsal), Luke Haigh (Turbo Kid)

You never notice great editing, so all the nominees must have had great editing since I didn’t notice any of it. Mahana had the most unnoticeable editing of them all. (I… I’m really not good at writing about editing.)

New Zealand Film Commission Best Documentary – The Ground We Won

Nominees: 25 April, A Flickering Truth, Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses, Chasing Great, Poi E: The Story Of Our Song, Tickled

This was always a race between The Ground We Won and Tickled. Really, either one could have been crowned and I’m sure no one would have been surprised. Sure enough, the Kiwi grassroots rugby feature – which was the best NZ feature of 2015 – took it home.

Directors & Editors Guild of NZ Best Documentary Director – David Stubbs (Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses)

Nominees: Leanne Pooley (25 April), Pietra Brettkelly (A Flickering Truth), Michelle Walshe & Justin Pemberton (Chasing Great), Tearepa Kahi (Poi E: The Story Of Our Song), Christopher Pryor (The Ground We Won), David Farrier & Dylan Reeve (Tickled)

This was probably the biggest surprise of the night, but I suspect that’s because Belief didn’t have the profile of the other films.

Unlike most of the nominees, David Stubbs mainly directed actors as opposed to real-life events. That meant he had to create a compelling drama, direct an AMAZING ensemble cast, and stick to the truth of the story (unlike ‘based on a true story’ films which are basically allowed to bullshit as much as they like). Given the sensitivity of and complexity around the Janet Moses case, one wrong decision could have destroyed this entire production. But Stubbs did a ballet dance through a minefield with this one – that’s why he earned the win. The film is available to watch online for free via TVNZ On Demand.

PLS Best Documentary Cinematography – Christopher Pryor (The Ground We Won)

Nominees: Jacob Bryant (A Flickering Truth), Mathew Knight (Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses), Jacob Bryant (Chasing Great), Adam Luxton & Summer Agnew (On an Unkown Beach), Dominic Fryer (Tickled)

“Pfft, they just gave it to them because it’s in black and white.” Yes, and it’s goddamn gorgeous.

Lotech Media Best Documentary Editor – Simon Coldrick (Tickled)

Nominees: Tim Woodhouse (25 April), Bradley Warden (Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses), Prisca Bouchet (Ever the Land), Tearepa Kahi and Francis Glenday (Poi E: The Story of our Song)

The competition must’ve been tight for this one, but try to imagine Simon Coldrick’s job for Tickled. He took some footage of some talking heads, phone calls and a bunch of emails and turned them into a nail-biting cyber-thriller out of it. On that virtue alone, he deserved to be crowned.

Other Awards

Letterboxd Best Production Design – Kim Sinclair (Slow West)

Nominees: Shayne Radford (Born To Dance), Neville Stevenson (Hunt for the Wilderpeople), Mark Robins (Mahana), Kirsty Cameron (The Rehearsal)

Bigpop Studios Best Score – Jed Kurzel (Slow West)

Nominees: Lukasz Pawel Buda, Samuel Scott, Conrad Wedde (Hunt for the Wilderpeople), Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper and Tama Waipara (Mahana), Connan Mockasin (The Rehearsal), Le Matos (Turbo Kid)

Bigpop Studios Best Sound – Phil Burton (Chronesthesia)

Nominees: Gareth Van Niekerk, Amy Barber, Chris Sinclair (Deathgasm), Dick Reade, Michael Hedges  (Hunt for the Wilderpeople), Dick Reade, Fred Enholmer, Tim Chaproniere (The Rehearsal), Dick Reade (Turbo Kid)

Images and Sound Best Visual Effects – Curious Film, Weta Digital, Pixel Juice (Hunt for the Wilderpeople)

Nominees: Simeon Duncombe (Chronesthesia), Jason Lei Howden, Sarah Howden, Johnathan Guest, Blur + Sharpen, Halcyon Digital, Park Road Post, Village Video Co (Deathgasm), Peter McCully, Dan Packer (Mahana), Curious, Alchemy 24 (Turbo Kid)

Daniel Le Brun Best Costume Design – Kirsty Cameron (Slow West)

Nominees: Kylie Cooke (Born To Dance), Kristin Seth (Hunt for the Wilderpeople), Liz McGregor (Mahana), Kirsty Cameron and Charlotte Rust (The Rehearsal)

MAC Best Makeup Design – Vanessa Hurley, Roger Murray, Andrew Beattie (Deathgasm)

Nominees: Dannelle Satherley (Hunt for the Wilderpeople), Susie Glass (Mahana), Dannelle Satherley (The Rehearsal)

Little Island Best Short Film – Madam Black

Nominees: Feeder, Linda’s List, Shout at the Ground, WAIT

Halcyon Digital Best Self Funded Short Film – Not Like Her

Nominees: Accidents, Blunders and Calamities, Every Moment, Food For Thought, Tide

Actors Agents Association of New Zealand Best Short Film Actress – Angela Bloomfield (Linda’s List)

Nominees: Jacqueline Joe (Cradle), Bree Peters (Every Moment), Kate Elliott (Not Like Her), Katlyn Wong (WAIT)

Actors Agents Association of New Zealand Best Short Film Actor – Cohen Holloway (Feeder)

Nominees: Josh McKenzie (Bound), Matthew Sunderland (Cradle), Aaron McGregor (Every Moment), Jethro Skinner (Madam Black)

NZOnAir Best Television Feature – Abandoned

Nominees: Bombshell, How to Murder Your Wife, Jean, Venus and Mars