A flurry of new production activity is happening across the Tasman with cameras rolling last week on The Weight of Elephants, adapted from a book by Australian author Sonya Hartnett, this week on Mt Zion, starring Temuera Morrison (pictured) from Once Were Warriors and, from Monday, on Medicine Woman.
In addition, filming will begin next month on Shopping, directed by Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland, and the second film from production company Warp Films Australia.
Daniel Joseph Borgman is writing and directing The Weight of Water, which went into production on March 7 in Invercargill and the surrounding Southland region on the southern tip of New Zealand.
The script is an adaptation of Harnett's book Of a Boy, which has won several significant awards including the Commonwealth Writers Prize for best book in the South East Asia and South Pacific Region in 2003. It focuses on a sensitive nine-year-old who has struggled with anxiety since three children disappeared from his small town. The drama heats up when a girl moves in next door with her sister and brother.
Borgman was born in New Zealand but has spent many years working in the Danish film industry; indeed, this first feature is an unofficial co-production between the two countries. New Zealand producer Leanne Saunders of Severe Features is working with Danish producer Katja Adomeit under the banner of Zentropa, the company set up in 1992 by director Lars Von Trier and producer Peter Aalbæk Jensen. Adomeit produced all six of Borgman's short films including Lars and Peter (2009), which screened at the Cannes Film Festival, and Berik (2010) which was awarded the Grand Prix at Critics' Week in Cannes.
Filming started on Mt Zion on March 12 in the Pukekohe area near Auckland at the other end of the country. The family-oriented drama is written and directed by Tearepa Kahi, produced by Quniton Hita and stars singer/songwriter Stan Walker, winner of Australian Idol in 2009.
Walker plays Turei, a talented young musician desperately trying, with his band, to be the support act for Bob Marley during his 1979 tour of Auckland, but in conflict with the traditional values of his family as a result. Morrison plays Turei's father.
Cameras roll this Monday on the North Island on Medicine Woman, based on a novella by prominent Maori writer Witi Ihimaera. It is the first New Zealand film by Mexican-born writer/director Dana Rotberg, who moved countries in 2004.
The film is being produced under the banner of South Pacific Pictures, one of the most successful film and television production companies in the country. Chief executive John Barnett, one of the producers on Whale Rider, is producing with Chris Hampson.
Shopping is being filmed in Wellington and on the nearby Kapiti Coast from April. Willie, a 16-year-old, must choose whether to be loyal to his own family or a family of shoplifters after being seduced by a charismatic career criminal. Australian actor Jacek Koman is among the cast and the producers are Australians Anna McLeish and Sarah Shaw, who made Snowtown.