The Aotearoa short films playing at this year’s NZIFF 2021

Get to know the fresh crop of short films from Kiwi filmmakers selected to play at this year’s Whānau Mārama: New Zealand International Film Festival.

(Pictured above: When We Were Kids)

There’s already been an eye-bulging number of mighty feature films announced for this year’s Whānau Mārama: New Zealand International Film Festival. However, we’re not ones to overlook one of the festival’s most important mainstays for cinema Aotearoa—the short film showcases.

Here, we highlight the New Zealand short films selected to play at NZIFF 2021 and give an overview of the three collections that house them.


New Zealand’s Best 2021

Each year, a guest curator handpicks six short films to play in this section. Veteran actor and filmmaker Kerry Fox does the honours this year, selecting these finalists from a shortlist of 12 (from an initial 117 submissions).

“Naturally I’m going to lean towards films that deliver courageous, rich, original and truthful performances,” Fox explained, “but these are the criteria I believe are essential to the whole creation of cinematic drama. The films I felt most succeeded in their specific intentions were those that tackled their chosen dramas with courage, being prepared to face something that frightens, and wit, so displaying inventive thought and delivery.”

Here are the films Fox selected (and scroll down further to read more on her own film playing in a different section).


Dir. Kath Akuhata-Brown

Eight-year-old Hine and her father still mourn the passing of her mother, but one day while her father works, Hine devises a plan to wash away her father’s sadness.

Only F**ks Pat Me On The Head

Dir. Steph Miller & Paul Wolffram

Jon Little humorously shares the frustrations of living with cerebral palsy in a world not designed to accommodate those who are different.

Hot Mother

Dir. Lucy Knox

Inspired by a true story, a vacationing mother and daughter bicker and avoid connection at an idyllic hot spring retreat until an unfortunate accident occurs.


Dir. Awa Puna

Tūī and brother Manaia live alone in a remote farm with their distant father still coming to terms with a tragic loss, but something in the forest calls to Tūī.

When We Were Kids

Dir. Josephine Stewart-Te Whiu (Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa)

A lazy summer day at the public pools takes a nasty turn driving a wedge between 13-year-old Jade and her best friend.


Dir. Mark Albiston

Fourteen-year-old Matt takes his dad’s yellow Datsun for one last wild joyride with his best buddy and kid brother in tow.


Ngā Whanaunga Māori Pasifika Shorts

Leo Koziol (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Rakaipaaka), director of the Wairoa Māori Film Festival, and Craig Fasi (Niue), director of the Pollywood Film Festival, return once again to curate another quality round of Māori Pasifika short films. Here are their selections for NZIFF 2021 along with their descriptions of each film.


Dir. Jennifer Te Atamira Ward-Lealand

When a burglary goes wrong, CJ must choose between his whānau and his next fix.

“A whānau bond can’t be broken apart, even if the trespasses made skew to forsaking not forgiving.” – LK


Dir. Chantelle Burgoyne

Isabelle feels left behind as her teenaged older sister Tiana grows up leading to a moment of betrayal that threatens to shatter their relationship forever.

“The unmistaken angst of running before learning to walk. A common and unfortunately incurable dilemma of many uninhibited, invincible youth of all generations. Learning fast is essential.” – CF

fire in the water, fire in the sky

Dir. Mīria George

Sisters Tia and Ina are far from home. Tia is focused on her work, while the free-spirited Ina just wants to dance.

“The film traps you with curiosity to potentially discover the elusive existence of a better life. The sacrifice is real however the resolve is not guaranteed.” – CF


Dir. Maruia Jensen

Hip hop producer Chance hides away from his friends while secretly grieving a massive loss.

“Emotional wounds bleed with no warning and seemingly no medical aid to assist with the spiritual healing required – however, bad can be accompanied by good.” – CF

True Love

Dir. Raymond Edwards

James and Bella are in love, but Bella has a secret which could change their lives.

“True love is tested in this engrossing tale saturated with East Coast light and modern romance angst.” – LK

The Man Downstairs

Additional New Zealand short films

While they may not be part of New Zealand’s Best, the following films are still some of the best shorts you’ll see from local filmmakers this year. It’s a reflection of the high-calibre of submissions made, with the following seven films playing before select features in Auckland and Wellington.

The Girls

Dir. Tabitha Arthur

Teenager Jewelisa sparks a chaotic family cringefest when her preparations for a secret date go awry.

The Man Downstairs

Dir. Grant Lahood

Young couple Jess and Tom move into the perfect new apartment upstairs from their landlord Colin, but then things start getting strange.


Dir. Grant Lahood

Karen’s sudden encounter an icon from her past conjures evocative memories of her late father and his passion for a model Mississippi paddleboat.

The Meek

Dir. Gillian Ashurst

In a twist of chromosomes and fate, young Izzy may also be the key to humanity’s future in a world ravaged by a deadly virus.


Dir. Steven Chow

Rose’s violent plan for revenge against her domineering “tiger parents” spins out of control.


Dir. Fiona McKenzie

Mark is pushed out of his comfort zone while trying to reconnect with his estranged son Toby and deal with his new neighbour Amber who does things differently.

Topping Out

Dir. Kerry Fox

High above London, two Irish scaffolders unwittingly expose their secret selves.