In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section New Zealand Cinema

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Edited Volumes and Essay Collections
  • Early Film
  • Indigenous Cinema and Issues of Race
  • Representations of Gender
  • Stars
  • Film Genres
  • Documentary Films and Filmmakers
  • Experimental Films and Filmmakers
  • The Filmmaking Industry
  • Cinema Institutions and Policy

Cinema and Media Studies New Zealand Cinema
Alistair Fox
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0227


New Zealand cinema, despite the relatively small number of feature films produced, has received much international attention, acquiring a reputation as often punching above its weight. Since A Cinema of Unease: A Personal Journey by Sam Neill (directed by Sam Neill and Judy Rymer, 1995), it has frequently been viewed as distinguished by dark undertones; the representation of perturbed states of mind; the depiction of familial, social, and political dysfunction; and the privileging of a Gothic mode, and genres such as the psychodrama, crime film, and horror that undermine the myth of New Zealand as “God’s own country.” In this article, “New Zealand films” are defined as those made primarily by New Zealanders, in New Zealand, and on New Zealand subjects, rather than the runaway productions, funded from the United States but shot in New Zealand, that have become increasingly prominent in the film industry’s landscape since 2000, with the encouragement of the New Zealand government. While documentary filmmaking has been strongly represented since 1898, fiction films began to be made in significant numbers only after the late 1970s, in what has become known as the New Zealand New Wave, which saw the emergence of filmmakers such as Roger Donaldson, Geoff Murphy, and Vincent Ward, who would go on to have successful international careers. It also witnessed the appearance of a cycle of films about and for women, and of female filmmakers such as Alison Maclean and Gaylene Preston. This initial flowering was followed in the 1990s by a Second Wave, in which directors came to prominence who are now considered major filmmakers in the international stage: not only Peter Jackson, who, while remaining based in New Zealand, has brought Hollywood to “Wellywood” with The Lord of the Rings and subsequent films, but also Jane Campion, regarded as one of the world’s most significant woman filmmakers. The rise of fiction filmmaking also saw the emergence of Maori filmmakers such as Barry Barclay and Merata Mita, whose work constituted some of the earliest features anywhere to be made by members of an indigenous minority, from an indigenous perspective. Since the turn of the twenty-first century, New Zealand filmmaking has witnessed an expansion to address the presence of other significant ethnic minorities, reflecting New Zealand’s increasingly multicultural social composition. Critical writing on New Zealand cinema is still in its infancy, with many films and filmmakers having received, so far, little or no scholarly attention.

General Overviews

The indispensable guide to all aspects of New Zealand cinema is Pivac, et al. 2011, the encyclopedia published by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, while the most convenient and fully detailed listing of individual films is the pioneering Martin and Edwards 1997, although this stops at 1996. NZ on Screen, a free online site, provides the fullest information on people connected with the film and television industries. Babington 2007 gives an extensive critical analysis of feature films, and Dunleavy 2005 provides a comprehensive account of TV drama features and series. Introductory overviews of a number of prominent New Wave and Second Wave filmmakers can be found in the pioneering collection of essays in Conrich and Murray 2007, while Petrie 2007 gives an appraisal of some key New Zealand cinematographers, and Petrie and Stuart 2008 provides some preliminary observations about the reception of New Zealand films.

  • Babington, Bruce. A History of the New Zealand Fiction Feature Film. New York: Manchester University Press, 2007.

    The most comprehensive introduction to fiction features made in New Zealand, offering critical interpretations of the major fiction films and filmmakers from the silent period to the present.

  • Conrich, Ian, and Stuart Murray, eds. New Zealand Filmmakers. Contemporary Approaches to Film and Television. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2007.

    A series of introductory essays, with filmographies, on the most-significant New Zealand filmmakers from Rudall Hayward in the 1920s to the end of the twentieth century, emphasizing directors in the New Zealand New Wave of the 1970s and 1980s. Includes useful chapters on less well-known directors.

  • Dunleavy, Trisha. Ourselves in Primetime: A History of New Zealand Television Drama. Auckland, NZ: Auckland University Press, 2005.

    Analyzes over forty years of New Zealand–made television drama programs, and the institutional and policy contexts in which they were created, together with detailed considerations of such notable series as The Governor, Pioneer Women, Hanlon, An Angel at My Table (Jane Campion), and Bread and Roses (Gaylene Preston).

  • Martin, Helen, and Sam Edwards. New Zealand Film, 1912–1996. Auckland, NZ: Oxford University Press, 1997.

    Provides a chronological listing of New Zealand feature films from 1913 through 1996, with illustrations, along with production information and cast lists. Still very useful for its detailed plot summaries, interpretive suggestions, and accounts of the initial reception of each film.

  • NZ on Screen.

    An online site fully funded by NZ on Air (the state media funding agency) and launched in 2008, which is governed by an independent charitable trust. An indispensable resource that provides comprehensive, authoritative information about directors, producers, and actors, as well as a videoblog with interviews with people from the television and film industry, and copious visual material.

  • Petrie, Duncan. Shot in New Zealand: The Art and Craft of the Kiwi Cinematographer. Auckland, NZ: Random House, 2007.

    Gives an overview of the evolution of cinematography in New Zealand and analyzes the creative career and aesthetic practices of twelve cinematographers, including such leading figures as Alun Bollinger, Stuart Dryburgh, and Leon Narbey.

  • Petrie, Duncan, and Duncan Stuart. A Coming of Age: Thirty Years of New Zealand Film. Auckland, NZ: Random House, 2008.

    Contains six essays and an illustrated filmography that cumulatively provide a useful appraisal of the flowering of New Zealand filmmaking, covering such topics as viewing practices and the international response to, and reputation of, New Zealand films at Cannes and elsewhere. Useful for information derived from audience surveys concerning reception.

  • Pivac, Diane, Frank Stark, and Lawrence McDonald, eds. New Zealand Film: An Illustrated History. Wellington, NZ: Te Papa, 2011.

    Currently the most comprehensive and detailed history of New Zealand film, containing a painstaking description, decade by decade, both of fiction films and nonfiction films, illustrated extensively with visual and printed material from the New Zealand Film Archive. Also provides sustained attention to the industrial circumstances surrounding issues such as funding, production, and the influence of state policies.

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