Francesca Rudkin

Francesca Rudkin

Over the last 15 years Francesca Rudkin has been working in the media as a film and music reviewer (NZ Herald, Breakfast TV), a television presenter and producer, and voice over artist. Recently, Francesca joined Rialto Channel as their resident blogger, allowing her to indulge in her love of world cinema. Her next challenge is to convince her young children that being a “Cinephile” is a legitimate profession.

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MAYA NEWELL for Gayby Baby

Posted on Thursday 8/4/2016 August, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin

Gayby Baby is an Australian documentary that follows the lives of four children raised by same-sex parents. Directed by up and coming filmmaker Maya Newell and made in collaboration with producer Charlotte Mars, Gayby Baby premiered at Hot Docs, Toronto in 2015, and its young stars have continued to charm people around the world with their story. For four years Maya filmed in the homes of kids being raised by gay and lesbian parents, and as Maya explains, it’s a subject close to her heart.

Rialto: You yourself are a child of same-sex parents - was this the motivation behind making Gayby Baby

MN: We all need stories that reflect our lives, but when I was growing up, I didn’t see my family structure on billboards, in magazines, at the movies or on TV. There exists a silence around LGBT families and this was reiterated as the Marriage Equality debate in Australia began to rise in volume about 6 years ago. Politicians seemed to be talking about me, and kids like me as if we were hypothetical. They’d repeat the argument that children would be the collateral damage ‘if’ we allowed gays to marry.

Firstly, marriage is not a prerequisite for children (my mothers wouldn’t get married if you payed them) and actually ‘gaybies’ have existed for generations already. I am 28 (22 at the time the producer Charlotte Mars and I began making Gayby Baby) and my mothers have been together for over 30 years. Our voice appeared to be missing from the debate.

Charlotte and I were fresh out of university and it felt like the right time to stand up and say something…  The last decade has seen an incredible shift in the queer community as for the first time in history, due to the lifting of discriminatory legislation, developments in reproductive technology and the greater queer acceptance, LGBTIQ+ people can realistically expect to have a family. Now, there are hundreds of thousands of gaybies growing up and spreading their wings. We are in a ‘Gayby Boom’ and Charlotte and I wanted to make a film that represented the voice of this new generation of kids.

We are proud to say that Gayby Baby is the first feature documentary that tells the story of same-sex families, from the perspective of the kids.


Rialto: What a wonderful way to explore the issue of same-sex parents by observing those who matter the most - the kids. Was this a story you always envisioned telling without domineering politicians and ‘expert’ talking heads debating the issue? 

MN: The vision for Gayby Baby was always to make an intimate observational style documentary and retreat from the conventional ‘talking head’ style. Besides, experts, psychologists, researchers and politicians have been talking about us and for us for a long time without listening to our opinions. Gayby Baby is a film that offers you a window into the lives of four incredible children – Matt, Ebony, Gus and Graham – as they traverse the usual challenges of growing up, amidst a world that is debating their wellbeing due to their parents sexuality.

Gayby Baby is a film that is not about fighting for LGBT rights, or proving a point, it offers a soft entry for people who have genuine concern for children with same-sex parents because they have never met any. It is a gentle invitation and says ‘come and spend a year with these unique children and see what you think’. It aims to replace the usual polemics surrounding our families by disarming audiences with personal stories. 

Perhaps it is Chris Graham from New Matilda who best captures the spirit of the film:

“GAYBY BABY manages to be possibly the most endearing and entertaining hour and a half of mundane Australian family life ever put to film. It’s frequently hilarious. And if the audience reaction is anything go by, it’s also extremely uplifting…

GAYBY BABY corners the bigotry directed at same-sex couples, and leaves it with absolutely nowhere to go. The argument that opponents to same-sex marriage have clung to with increasing desperation – ‘who will think of the children, won’t somebody please think of the children!’ – evaporates in the face of a film that reveals it’s the children doing the thinking for themselves.”

Rialto: I believe the documentary caused quite a stir in Australia. Did that surprise you, and how did you handle it? 

MN: Yes it did!

The story begins when we were selected to participate in Good Pitch Australia 2014. This is a new highly competitive event that allows documentary filmmakers to build coalitions of partners across philanthropy, community organisations, corporate Australia etc… and use documentary storytelling for social change. Here, we gained the resources and partnerships to construct a campaign to put the experiences of children in same-sex families front and centre to the Marriage Equality debate and build acceptance for queer family structures in Australian education system.

As the Gayby Baby is about kids, we thought we would offer preview screenings of the film to Australia’s youth first at a national youth-led initiative called Wear It Purple Day, a week prior to the cinema release…

Then, a few days before the 80 screenings were to take place in school halls across the country, one of Australia’s major newspapers, The Daily Telegraph, ran a cover story citing a 'Gay Class Uproar’; commentators were outraged schools would show a film that 'promoted a homosexual lifestyle’. Government ministers responded by preventing screenings across the entire state during school hours, media went into overdrive, it was trending on Twitter, a big protest was held and a State vs. State battle erupted, as another State Premier declared the film welcome in his state’s schools...

While the support for the film was truly incredible, we were shocked at how even the idea of same-sex families could cause such vicious debate amongst people who had not seen the film.

While there were a few weeks where our film landed in the crossfire, what was incredible was the utter groundswell of support that followed. What may in fact be the true litmus test – we were trending on Twitter for two full days.

How did we handle it? We are incredibly proud of the teenage stars of the film, who stood strong that week and actually were the ones that offered Charlotte and I the courage to take on the media and continue to send positive messages out into the community.

Rialto: One thing that struck me about this film is how the kids remind us that families are made up of people - all different kids of people - not sexuality, and all people deserve equality and respect. That’s a powerful message, and one I imagine partly crafted in the editing suite. How easy was the editing process? 

MN: We spent about a year editing and completing post-production on Gayby Baby. The editor, Roschelle Oshlack wove a beautiful narrative from the 150 hours or so of rushes. Also, I’d like to mention the crucial input of the executive producer, Billy Marshall Stoneking who always asked the hard questions and whose understanding of story and character brought this film to life. This core team, Charlotte, Rochelle and Billy were all necessarily honest and able to be utterly brutal in the edit room, never pandering to any individuals’ creative ego but putting the story first.

Rialto: The film itself isn’t political and yet there are some very hot political issues in the background – same-sex marriage for example. How are you Aussies going on that? 

MN: While over 70% of Australians support marriage equality, we have some very conservative voices at the top of our power system that will not budge. We have just confirmed that the result of last week's election is that we have a conservative, right wing Turnbull Government once more. This means that it is likely that we will be having a plebiscite on Marriage Equality before the end of the year. For LGBTIQ+ people and families, this is terrible news. It means we will have a government-endorsed hate campaign that will most likely use children and families as political footballs in an attempt block progress. It will be a step backwards and will be utterly devastating for the thousands of LGBT people, in particular LGBT youth and children growing up with same-sex attracted parents. I want to move to New Zealand!

We didn’t want to sit on the sidelines and watch… so over the past year, we have formed ‘The Gayby Project’ which is the social outreach arm of Gayby Baby. With support garnered from Good Pitch Australia (mentioned above), we have spent the last year screening the film to politicians, public figures and leaders and have hosted screenings of the film in Federal and State Parliament house/s all around the country.

Over 250 MPs, Senators and their staffers have seen the film and made personal and moving speeches on parliament house floors, following the screening and panel event in Federal Parliament House, one MP, Adam Giles beautifully articulates the impact of the film on him.

“It is one thing for someone to support a matter of principle, another to directly understand how such a principle directly impacts on people's lives. These people told powerful stories about the need to have equality in marriage and equality more broadly, about the need to recognise that what unites happy families is love, not the form of the family. I would like to send a message to them and all other children of same-sex families that I will stand up in this place and in my community for them to be treated with respect and equally.”

Rialto: This is your debut feature film - typically a massive learning experience. What are a few of the most important things you learnt throughout making Gayby Baby?

  • Always trust your instinct and do not sway in the face of older, white men questioning you because you are young, naïveand female.
  • Work with good-hearted people you admire.
  • Put the needs of your documentary subjects first.
  • Take risks and have the courage to do things differently . "What you risk, reveals what you value"  –  Jeanette Winterson)

Rialto: The kids are the stars of this film - can you tell us briefly how they’re all doing now? 


MN: Gus – is 15 and while, to our dismay, he sold his wrestler figurines on eBay. He just got his first job as an Akido (Martial Arts) instructor!

Ebony – is 17 and is studying to be a journalist or book publisher. She is in the gifted and talented stream at Northmead High. She still loves singing… She has a new baby brother ‘Makaya’ who just turned 1 and I am his godparent!

Matt – is 17 and saving for a big trip around Europe when he finishes school. He is still obsessed with AFL footy and still doesn’t go to church.

Graham – is 15 and still lives in Fiji. He is very tall and read me a whole chapter of his book on Skype the other day!

Rialto: Congratulations on the success of the film, what’s next?

MN: Charlotte and I are both in the midst of writing and creating new films! We are both very excited about the prospect of new stories into the future.

Gayby Baby premieres on Rialto Channel on Thursday 4th August at 8.30pm

Francesca’s Picks for the Week

Posted on Monday 8/1/2016 August, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin

The Nightingale Premieres Monday 1st August, 8.30pm 

This charming family dramedy is the second ever film collaboration between France and China, and it sees French director Philippe Muyl adapt his 2002 film The Butterfly (Le Papillon) to a Chinese setting. As well as moving countries, The Nightingale also changes around the characters. It’s still a story of a young girl and her grandfather bonding on a journey together, but this time around the grandfather is a pleasant, kind and caring gentleman, and his granddaughter a rude, spoilt brat.

The setup is simple and plays out in a stereotypical manner. Renxing (newcomer Yang Xinyi) is the daughter of two very successful professionals (clearly heading for divorce) living in Beijing. Addicted to her iPad and headphones and often left in the care of the housekeeper, she is mortified to learn she must go with her estranged grandfather on a journey to his village in Yangshuo.

Instead of flying, they travel by train, bus, bike and then foot to Zhu Zhigen’s (Li Baotian) village in the southwestern Chinese province of Guangxi. It’s a journey filled with wonder for Renxing as she discovers the natural world around her and makes friends with locals for what seems like the first time in her life.

The most stunning aspect of this film though is Sun Ming's lush cinematography. Beijing is presented to us as cold and industrial, but when we get into the countryside, the colours are bright and vibrant and the views and villages are stunning. Veteran actor Li Baotian is a delight to watch, and even though the family dynamics unfold in the way you expect, The Nightingale is visually a lovely way to start the week.

Gayby Baby Premieres Thursday 4th August, 8.30pm


Gayby Baby is an Australian documentary that follows the lives of four children raised by same-sex parents. The film is directed by up and coming Australian filmmaker Maya Newell who was inspired by her own upbringing as a gayby, to make the film in collaboration with producer Charlotte Mars. As the Marriage Equality debate began to take off in Australia around 6 years ago, Newell and Mars found there were a lot of people talking on behalf of gabies, but no one listening to them, and it was time to gently present their side of the story.

Newell filmed Matt, Ebony, Gus and Graham for four years and the result is a warm and moving observational film that enables people with no experience of same-sex relationships to see that gaybies are just like other kids. OK, so maybe they’re a bit more thoughtful and switched on than most! The kids are the stars of the show here, and it’s impossible not to get caught up in their stories, and shed a tear or two.

 Holding the Man Premieres Saturday 6th August, 8.30pm


Tim Conigrave was an Australian actor, writer and activist who contracted AIDS and tragically died at the young age of 34. His final piece of work was an autobiography called Holding the Man (1995), now regarded as an Aussie classic, that chronicles Conigrave’s 15 year love affair with John Caleo, who he meet at high school in the late 70s.

The book was originally adapted into a multi-award-winning play by Tommy Murphy, who also wrote the screenplay for this film. Directed by Neil Armfield, one of Australia’s most respected theatre and film directors, the film does a wonderful job of presenting us with a beautiful love story, as much as it captures this devastating period of time when so many young lives were cut short by AIDS. Ryan Corr (Tim) and Craig Stott (John) are both excellent and their chemistry is spot on, even if it is hard trying playing a character that spans three decades convincingly. Holding the Man will make you laugh and cry – it truly is a great love story.

Francesca’s Picks for the Week

Posted on Monday 7/25/2016 July, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin

Rock the Casbah Premiering Monday 25th July, 8.30pm

Laila Marrackchi’s dramedy about a family gathering to mourn its Patriarch is a warm, enjoyable and visually scrumptious affair, even if the premise is familiar. 

The film starts off in a slightly offbeat manner as a wealthy upper-class Patriarch, played by Omar Sharif, informs us of his death. It’s a delightful cameo appearance from Sharif, who pops back briefly now and then, as his family, friends and mistress gather to mourn his passing.

A film about family dynamics with plenty of melodrama unfolds over numerous mouth-watering meals. An estranged daughter Sofia (Morjana Alaoui) returns from America for the funeral along with her young son, a missing daughter is grieved over, and a mistress and her moody son struggle to find their place amongst proceedings. Lebanese filmmaker and actress Nadine Labaki (Caramel) does a fabulous job of lightening the mood as a sister trying to catch the attention of her distracted husband through her plastic surgery.

It’s pretty obvious to see where Marrackchi’s script will take us next, and the American vs. Middle Eastern theme is predictable, but the film moves along at a steady pace and the interiors and garden provide an exquisite setting for this funeral to take place. If nothing else, you’ll be transfixed by the culture and food on display here.

A Royal Night Out  Premiering Saturday 30th July, 8.30pm


Who knows what happened on May 8th, 1945 when Princess Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon), the future Queen, and sister Princess Margaret (Bel Powley) went onto the streets on London to celebrate VE day, but in director Julian Jarrold’s interpretation of events, they had a jolly old time!

This is a light-hearted and charming film that captures the Princesses’ brief moment of freedom as they swirl champagne, chase each other around London and mix with ordinary folk. Humour, as well as class, are pillars of the story with Elizabeth in particular interested in observing how the ordinary citizens view the Royal Family – a scene captured nicely when Elizabeth stands outside the gate of Buckingham Palace watching her parents wave to the crowd.

Princess Margaret, played delightfully by Bel Powley, gets to have all the fun and provide most of the laughs as she skips around London oblivious to the fact her older sister is frantically trying to find her. Princess Elisabeth played by Canadian actress Sarah Gadon (A Dangerous Method) recruits Jack (Jack Reynor), a young Republican airman to help her get her way around London, and the two flit from the Ritz to Trafalgar Square, Soho to the Chelsea Barracks as London’s citizens celebrate the same thing, but in different ways and with different expectations of the future.

The film is based on true events and yet it’s clear from Jarrold’s romantic comedy approach plenty of creative license has gone into crafting this story. Most importantly, he does a great job of capturing the genuine feel of the dawning of a new era, and this makes A Royal Night Out a pleasure to watch.

No More Heroes  Premiering Wednesday 27th July, 8.30pm


As a child of the 70s, my childhood was spent teetering at the top of our neighbour’s steep driveway on a skateboard, plucking up the courage to push off. If you made it down the steep incline in one piece, you had a glorious ride all the way to their front door – a good 70 meters or so. This, like many other Kiwi kids, was how we passed the time after school and in the weekends and thanks to Andrew Moore’s documentary No More Heroes, you too will find yourself reminiscing about those glorious Pokémon Go free days.

No More Heroes captures the rise and fall of New Zealand’s skateboard scene in the 1970s along with the story of one of New Zealand's biggest skateboarding manufacturers, Edwards Skateboards that turned over $10 million between 1975 and 1980.

The film features plenty of interviews, a Flying Nun soundtrack and photos, but it wouldn’t be a legitimate skateboarding video without home movie footage. Moore has also unearthed plenty of previously unseen footage of New Zealand’s skateboard scene, so sit back and enjoy this nostalgic ride.

Francesca’s Picks for the Week

Posted on Monday 7/18/2016 July, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin

From Noam Chomsky to New Zealand actor Jemaine Clement, there’s something for everyone this week on Rialto Channel. 

Tehran Taxi  Premiering Monday 18th July, 8.30pm

There’s something utterly charming about the latest film from Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi; it’s a joyful, witty and warm film that also manages to be full of social commentary and a quiet sense of defiance.

Since 2010 Panahi has been under house arrest and banned from filmmaking for 20 years on the grounds of political dissent. The Iranian filmmaker has over the last 6 years managed to redefine his role as filmmaker under these trying circumstances, appearing in but not directing films such as This Is Not a Film in 2011 and Closed Curtain in 2013. In his latest film Tehran Taxi he gets around his restrictions by filming in a car, and is never seen holding a camera – think of it as one long selfie.

Panahi’s return to form Tehran Taxi (also know just as Taxi) won the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival in 2015. In Tehran Taxi, Panahi rigs a taxi with three hidden video cameras he claims are for security. He drives around Tehran picking up customers, often several at times, who discuss the day-to-day issues Iranians face.

Even though the film feels genuine, there are obvious hints that these customers are staged actors. One hilarious customer sells illegal DVD’s (and most likely Panahi’s work), and other customers are real people such as his young niece, and human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh.

The premise might sound like a reality TV show, and it certainly has the naturalness and spontaneity of one, but it’s far too cleverly staged and thoughtful to be one. This really is one taxi ride you should jump on board for.

Requiem For the American Dream  Premiering Thursday 21st July, 8.30pm


Noam Chomsky is widely regarded as the most influential intellect of our time. Directed by Kelly Nyks, Peter Hutchison and Jared P. Scott and filmed over four years, these long-form documentary interviews break down Chomsky’s 10 principles of wealth and power.

If you’re trying to make sense of the current US Presidential election, the increasing gap between the worlds’ rich and poor, the Panama Papers scandal or the decline of the middle class in America, then Requiem For the American Dream offers a clear and concise perspective on these issues.

Chomsky has published around 35 books on politics or linguistics (he is the professor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and has contributed his thoughts to over 100 documentaries, and in Requiem For the American Dream he calmly talks us through why the American dream no longer exists.

To do so, he calls upon Aristotle and Scottish philosopher Adam Smith, and examines the American Constitution to explain intentional, fundamental flaws in America’s political system that detract from democracy. Chomsky’s long view of history is fascinating as he looks at the transition from a manufacturing rich economy to the current situation whereby financial institutions hold America’s wealth and power. The documentary is classy, and presented with thoughtful visuals and archive footage, and yet what keeps your attention is Chomsky’s discourse.

For those familiar with Chomsky’s perspective on the growth of inequality in the world, much of this will be familiar. If, like me, you never quite get around to reading Chomsky, this is a timely and fascinating look at just how America got itself into the mess it’s in today.

People, Places, Things  Premiering Saturday 23rd July, 8.30pm


This understated and delightful New York-based comedy from director James C. Strouse (Grace is Gone) is lighter than his previous works, but still deals with people in crisis. A Sundance Grand-Jury-Prize-nominated film, People, Places, Things follows New York-based graphic artist and teacher Will (Jemaine Clement) as he struggles to deal with life as a solo father after his partner Charlie (Stephanie Allynne) decides she doesn’t ‘love her life’, and leaves Will for his best friend.

Clement’s low-key style works well in bringing the smart, witty lines to life and not only is he funny, but he brings a sadness and truth to the character as well. Keeping his New Zealand identity and accent also helps round off his state of mind as a bit of a lost, lonely outsider. Don’t get depressed though, as Will tells us “I’m just having a bad life, it’ll be over eventually.”

Much like real life, not a huge amount happens in People, Places, Things – daily activities like getting kids to school on time, work, and the awkwardness of dating convey the emotional chaos in everyone’s lives. Cleverly drawn illustrations add humour, and move the story along as Will grapples with the idea of whether we can be happy all the time.

An offbeat and charming comedy, most people will find something to resonate with here – regardless of your relationship status.

Francesca’s Picks for the Week

Posted on Monday 7/11/2016 July, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin

Plenty of quality British entertainment awaits you this week on Rialto Channel, especially for those with a fondness for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Mr. Holmes, a moving feature starring Sir Ian McKellen, and Arthur & George, a three part mini-series about the creator of Sherlock Homes, are quite different and yet both tackle their subjects from interesting, original angles.

Mr. Holmes Premiering Saturday 16th July, 8.30pm

Sir Ian McKellen is absolutely fabulous in this original, new twist on Sherlock Holmes, the world’s most famous detective. 93-years-old, long retired to the country and grappling with dementia, Holmes, assisted by his housekeeper’s young son Roger (Milo Parker), is determined to recall and record his final case that forced him into retirement in order to make sense of his life. The film is based on the 2005 novel A Slight Trick of the Mind, by the American writer Mitch Cullin, and has been adapted into a film by screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher (Stage Beauty, The Duchess). The aim of the story is to strip away Dr. Watson’s impression of Sherlock Holmes as presented to the world in his books to reveal the ‘real’ Sherlock Holmes, one who spends most of his days tending to his beloved bees and struggling to remember the past. The film reunites McKellen with his Gods and Monster’s director Bill Condon, and also stars Laura Linney as Sherlock’s dour housekeeper Mrs. Munro. Mr. Holmes doesn’t feature the normal Baker St suspense; instead, it’s a tender, intelligent film about an elderly man’s realisation that there’s more to life than logic.

Arthur & George Part 1 Premiering Sunday 17th July, 8.30pm

Based on the novel by Julian Barnes, this three part British crime mini-series tells of the real-life case that inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Martin Clunes), creator of Sherlock Holmes, to put down his pen and become detective himself. Listless from grief following the death of his first wife, Doyle finds himself enlivened after a miscarriage of justice is brought to his attention by George Edalji (Arsher Ali), a young British-Indian solicitor convicted of brutally attacking farm animals, who asks Doyle to clear his name. With Doyle’s secretary Alfred Wood (Charles Edwards) along for the ride, plenty of wispy fog and strange occurrences, this handsome period piece plays out like just like a Sherlock Holmes adventure – and no doubt that’s the idea.

Guantanamo’s Child  Premiering Thursday 14th July, 8.30pm


In directors Patrick Reed and Michelle Shephard’s documentary Guantanamo’s Child, they ask the question, is Omar Khadr a child soldier or an unrepentant terrorist? The filmmaking duo get both sides of the story on camera, and yet their sympathies tend towards this young man, who at the age of 15 was captured by US troops in Afghanistan and taken to Guantanamo Bay. Khadr was born in Canada, but moved with his family to Jalalabad in Afghanistan in 1996, and the US government alleges that Khadr’s father had regular encounters with Bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders. Khadr is the first person since WWII to be prosecuted in a war crimes tribunal for acts committed as a juvenile. He spent 13 years in custody, in conditions described by Khadr and fellow detainees as harrowing and deeply distressing, and was released from prison on bail in 2015. This is his story in his own words.

Interview with Karyn Hay

Posted on Friday 7/8/2016 July, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin

The series Rialto Presenters continues on Wednesday evenings throughout July, and this month broadcaster and award-winning author Karyn Hay returns to our television screens introducing a diverse collection of New Zealand documentaries.

Ever the Land is a moving documentary by German born editor turned feature film director Sarah Grohnert. An extraordinary piece of work that takes you into the heart of day to day life in the forest region of Te Urewera, Ever the Land documents the creation of New Zealand’s first ever sustainable ‘living building’ Te Uru Taumatua.

Following on from Ever the Land  is Into the Void, an amusing, honest and compelling documentary about Christchurch underground band – Into the Void - directed by Margaret Gordon. Art school students Jason Greig, Paul Sutherland, Ronnie van Hout and Mark Whyte formed the band in the late 80s and they still occasionally play together today. What makes this film a winner is its subjects – a group of talented individuals whose self-depreciating assessment of their musical skills is refreshing.

The series then moves on to something different as we follow New Zealand traveller Sven Pannell’s return to Rwanda to find and thank a crippled homeless man who helped him escape the region a decade ago in Act of Kindness.

Wrapping up the series is No More Heroes, a nostalgia hit from the 70s charting the birth of skateboarding in New Zealand and the rise and fall during its 1970s explosion. A totally feel good way to end the month!

Rialto: What kind of films do you enjoy watching?

KH: My tastes are very eclectic in that regard, although I don’t like horror. I don’t like extreme violence either.  Life can be disturbing enough at times without adding to it. 

Rialto: What makes a good documentary?

KH: Tough question in the ‘how long is a piece of string’ category. Sometimes the subject lifts a documentary from the ordinary - even if the execution is formulaic. With others the cake is over-iced because the subject was dull to begin with.

Rialto: You’re introducing four quite diverse New Zealand documentaries - can you tell us briefly what appealed to you about each film.

KH: All exceptional in their own way. With ‘Ever The Land’ it was the challenge of Tuhoe creating a ‘Living Building’, the sheer bloody-mindedness of the band ‘Into the Void’, the soundtrack and everything about ‘No More Heroes’ (it’s a brilliant slice of cultural history centred on those who lived and breathed skateboarding in the mid to late 70’s), and ‘Act of Kindness’ is unique in its premise. A man goes looking for another man half way around the world to say ‘thanks’.


Rialto: I enjoyed Into The Void for its music, personalities, and story of friendship. Did you ever come across the band during your music television days?

KH: I didn’t, no. I believe they started in the late 80’s and by then I was living in London.


Rialto: If there was one New Zealand musician or band whose story you would love to see made into a film, who would it be and why? 

KH: The story is often more about what happens off-stage than on-stage so I would have my pick of any number of bands!

Rialto: Have you written for film or television, and if so did you enjoy it?

KH: I am currently working on a screenplay and I have had the odd foray into writing for TV and film. Writing for film is exhilarating.

Rialto: Do you think we’re good at telling our own stories in New Zealand, and would you like to see more of them on screen?

KH: Yes and yes. As long as the filmmaker knows their stuff, or is so passionate about a subject it doesn’t matter. I’m not keen on making stories just for the sake of it, i.e in order to dip into the available funding.

Rialto: Did any of these documentaries inspire you in any way? Taken up skateboarding yet?

KH: Haha, yeah. Looking for my spare set of urethane wheels as we speak.

Catch NZ STORIES Presented by Karyn Hay on Wednesday evenings at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel.

Francesca’s Picks for the Week

Posted on Monday 7/4/2016 July, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin

July - the heart of winter and the perfect time to get serious about watching some quality television. By now French espionage thriller The Bureau, and European crime thriller The Last Panthers should be appointment viewing. Both television series have been making waves in Europe, and are highly addictive. On Wednesday evenings throughout July, Karyn Hay introduces a series of New Zealand documentaries. It’s great to see our stories, and the legendary broadcaster and award-winning author back on screen. The series kicks off this week with Ever the Land.

 Ever the Land  Premieres Wednesday 6th July, 8.30pm

This transfixing documentary follows the creation of New Zealand’s first ever sustainable ‘living building’ Te Uru Taumatua. The building was commissioned by Ngāi Tūhoe and is built entirely out of materials sourced from the Tūhoe land. The documentary, directed by German born editor Sarah Grohnert, began as a film about architecture, but develops into so much more. An extraordinary piece of work that takes you in to the heart of day to day life in the forest region of Te Urewera, Ever the Land documents Ngāi Tūhoe negotiations with the New Zealand government to resolve their long standing grievances, and gives revealing insight into their culture and deep connection to the land. This is a compelling, moving and optimistic portrayal of a tribe looking to its future, without losing sight of its past. It really is a must see. 

Madame Bovary  Premieres Saturday 9th July, 8.30pm


I’m sure there’s a University course somewhere in the world that studies the on screen adaptations of Gustave Flaubert's novel Madame Bovary. It was only a month or two ago Rialto Channel played a modern take on the film - Gemma Bovery. Those who prefer a more faithful approach might like to try director Sophie Barthes’ version of events – if only to compare it to the many others on offer. Sophie Barthes likes literary connections, her first film Cold Souls tells the story of an actor (played by Paul Giamatti) who feels bogged down by his participation in a production of Chekov's play, Vanya. Giamatti turns up in Madame Bovary – albeit briefly, adding to the diverse accents on offer in this period piece set in Normandy, France. Mia Wasikowska takes on the role of Madame Bovary, a young woman who finds married life to a small rural village doctor stifling, and pursues her dreams of passion and excitement outside of her marriage. It’s a pleasant enough rendition, with some interesting casting and timeless themes, but is let down by its simplicity, and suddenness by which the main character goes from good wife to ambitious adulterer. 

 Going Clear: Scientology and The Prison of Belief  Premieres Thursday 7th July, 8.30pm

There are two reasons you should watch this documentary examining Scientology, the religion invented by the science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard, 50 years ago. Firstly, it’s the work of one of the most relevant and prolific documentarians working today, Oscar award winning Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks), and secondly, it’s absolutely fascinating. We’ve all heard the wacky tales about Scientology, a religion that refrains from sharing with its congregation its origins or philosophy until they have moved through many different stages of enlightenment, which takes years and thousands of dollars.

The religion (or cult as it is often referred to in the film) draws people in with the promise of making their lives better through sessions of therapeutic interviews, or auditing. Auditing involves being rigged up to a heart-monitor-type machine (one third of a lie detector test), which theoretically detects thought waves caused by painful memories from current and past lives. The more sessions you have, the more you move up the ‘bridge’ to enlightenment cleansing your body's earthly pain. Next time a scientologist tells you they are ‘clear’, pat them on the back. It’s a big thing.

This however, is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the incredibly secretive and litigious group. Things only get more wacky and worrisome from here on in. Scientology is a religion that requires it’s members to buy their way to happiness, work for free to run the organization, encourages them to cut ties with non-scientologists, endure physical abuse from its leaders, and believe in a nonsensical philosophy that involves prison planets and Xenu the galactic overlord.

Gibney’s documentary, based on the book by former Scientologist Larry Wright called Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief, looks at what makes seeming rational, intelligent people get involved with this controversial religion. The film follows a group of well-known former Scientologists such as film director Paul Haggis (who wrote and produced Million Dollar Baby and directed Crash) and actor Jason Beghe. Gibney also talks to a group of former senior members of the leadership group, and ordinary people as they explain how they came to be part of this religion, and the moment they realised how incredibly dangerous and harmful it is.

It makes for very compelling viewing and it’s easy to see why the church tried to stop the film been screened in various countries around the world. Basically, if you’re at all curious as to what goes on within the church, and in its basement, you don’t want to miss this revealing documentary.


Posted on Wednesday 6/29/2016 June, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin

For a country mad about rugby, very few films have ever been made about it. The Ground We Won is a visually beautiful, moving, funny and confronting documentary that captures a year in the life of the Reporoa rugby team.

It’s the work of director Christopher Pryor and producer Miriam Smith, an award-winning husband and wife filmmaking team, who have this innate ability to capture who we are as New Zealanders on screen. Their films are authentic and allow the subjects to speak for themselves, have a cinematic aesthetic, and say so much more about life in New Zealand than you first realise. The Ground We Won might be a film based around a rugby team, but it’s just as much a film about life on the land, friendship, growing up and male identity.

The Ground We Won premiered in April 2015 during the NZ International Film Festival’s autumn series, and was described as "visually ravishing" (The Herald's Peter Calder), "strikingly beautiful" (Metro) and "pure social-commentary gold" (The Listener).

It truly is a must see.

Director Christopher Pryor kindly took the time to have a chat about the film.  

Rialto: What drew you to Reporoa, and why did you choose a rural setting to explore the culture of rugby?

CP: The project began as an attempt, by us ‘rugby outsiders’, to understand why rugby plays such an important part in New Zealand culture - and more specifically, what part it plays in defining masculinity in our culture. We (’we’ being my filmmaking partner and wife Miriam Smith), felt that is was important to explore this in the rural setting, as opposed to the city, as it’s here that so much of the mythology that surrounds rugby originated. Many of the values and expectations of Rugby (can I say rugby with a capital R?) are linked to those values and expectations of the pioneering farming communities from which the game developed. Being a stark contrast to today’s commercialism of sport, we were very interested to see what, if any, of the mythology could be found alive today.

We happened to be driving through the dairy farming heartland of Reporoa as we were completing our last film (How Far is Heaven), when we saw the Reporoa rugby club from the road. We decided we had to go back and meet the team - which we did. And we weren't disappointed!

Rialto: Three main characters emerge – Peanut, Kelvin and Broomy – when did you know they would be the teammates you’d focus on?

CP: Kelvin and Peanut were among the first of the team members we meet during our research trips, and we knew immediately that these two would be central to the film we wanted to make. One of my first memories of meeting Kelvin was hearing him say, “I always thought someone should make a film about us”. Broomy hadn’t been playing that year, so it wasn’t until we’d began shooting the film that we met him. Of course the whole team were stars in their own right, but we settled on these three largely because, for us, they represented three different ‘stages of manhood’ in our study of masculinity. Peanut being the youngest, has the challenge of proving himself amongst the other men - while Broomy, the ‘life-of-the-party’, is also at the time in his life where he’s taking on more responsibility for the family farm - and Kelvin, one of the most senior players in the team, seeks to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of players.

Rialto: You filmed in Reporoa for a year, how much footage did you shoot and how easy was it crafting it into The Ground We Won?

CP: We ended up with around 200 hours of footage. The general shape of the film came together quickly, but it took ages to refine it (about a year), as the smallest changes could have large consequences to tone, mood and general coherence. The hardest part was, as always, having to exclude all the amazing moments that you’ve captured but don’t belong it the film - heartbreaking stuff!

Rialto: Why did you decide to shoot in black and white?

We decided to shoot the film in black & white for a number of reasons. First of all, it was about evoking a sense of timelessness. What you see unfold in the film, both on the rugby field and on the farm, happens not only in the present moment, but could well have happened decades ago. It’s an allusion to the historical, and also the mythological. Another important reason for filming in black & white was that we wanted to distinguish the film from the flood of rugby related images we all receive on a daily basis in the media. We wanted to look at this subject in a different light, we wanted to communicate to the audience our wishes that they too look at this overly familiar subject from a different perspective. I simply do not think we could have ever made this film in colour.

Rialto: You self-distributed How Far is Heaven – did you tackle that job again with The Ground We Won? What’s the appeal of self-distribution?

CP: Yes, we self-distributed The Ground We Won in cinemas across New Zealand. You have a tremendous sense of agency by taking this approach, but it’s not for the faint hearted - it involves a huge amount of work and risk, and it all comes just when you’re at your most exhausted (having just completed the film). We honed some skills and gained a lot of experience through self-distributing How Far is Heaven, but it really was thanks to our outstanding publicists at Trigger Marketing & Publicity that the film’s release was the success that is was.

Rialto: What was the response like in Reporoa to the film?

We first screened the film off a little projector to the guys at the Reporoa Rugby Club just before we completed the editing. We were nervous, they were nervous - but the response was wonderful! Which, after all that filming, and all that editing, was a tremendous relief. We just wish we’d recorded that first response, as it would have made for a hilariously entertaining DVD commentary track. We were so pleased that the guys felt we represented them and their world accurately, authentically. That said, there were a few requests for a more X-rated version…

Rialto: Do you and Miriam still regard yourselves as ‘rugby outsiders’, or have you developed a fondness for the game and all it entails?

We are now, of course, huge Reporoa supporters, and can appreciate the game itself much more - particular at the grass-roots level. Personally I have a deeper understanding of what positive contribution the game offers an individual or community - and at the same time seeing where there might be room for some changes.

Rialto: And finally, what fabulous new project are you currently working on?

Though we’re certainly not giving up on documentary, we’re very excited to be working on some scripted-drama projects. We hope to retain something of that bottled-lightning feeling that comes with documentary making, and at the same time knowing what the ending is going to be before we start filming...

The best indie films and documentaries on TV this week.

Posted on Monday 6/27/2016 June, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin

Until midnight Wednesday, Rialto Channel remains unlocked for all SKY Basic Subscribers so you can catch the first episode of the international crime thriller The Last Panthers. The series stars Oscar nominees John Hurt and Samantha Morton, French actor Tahar Rahim (A Prophet) and Croatian actor Goran Bogdan. Recently I had the pleasure of talking to Morton about working on this groundbreaking series and the impact it’s had. You can read that interview here.

And, here are a few picks for the week...

The Last Panthers: Episode 1… Tuesday 28th June, 8.30pm

The Last Panthers is a six part television crime series written by Jack Thorne (This is England) and directed by Johan Renck (Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead).

It tells the real life story of a Serbian criminal gang known as the Pink Panthers, who at the beginning of the millennium terrorized European jewellers with daring daylight robberies, until they mysteriously disappeared a decade later. The series picks up their story in present day Marseilles, when a diamond heist goes terribly wrong, and a 6 year-old girl is killed by a stray bullet in the getaway. It’s a simple but horrifying scene, and warns you of Renck’s approach to portraying the horror of life in the criminal underworld as unflinchingly real, violent and dangerous.

The heist introduces us to a fascinating and diverse group of characters who are all intent on finding the stolen diamonds or solving the murder case. Within each episode, however, subplots reveal the often-tragic personal stories that define the core characters.

There’s Naomi (Morton), a British insurance loss adjuster who previously worked for the UN during the Bosnian war, and her nefarious boss Tom (Hurt) who launch their own investigation into the theft of the diamonds.

In Marseille, French-Algerian cop Khalil, played by Tahar Rahim, in his first television role, attempts to find whoever killed the girl by tracing the murder weapon. It’s an investigation that sees Khalil go head to head with local gun and drug smugglers, including his brother Mokhtar (Kamel Labroudi). 

And at the heart of the story is Serbian gang member Milan (Goran Bogdan), whose actions are driven by a brother in desperate need of expensive surgery.

The series is sophisticated and excellently written, and cleverly navigates various plotlines that take us on a grim journey across Europe. With Renck at the helm, The Last Panthers has a moody, cinematic atmosphere and the acting is superb all round. On a slightly quirkier note, one of my colleagues commented The Last Panthers has the best collection of noses ever gathered in a television series. Watch, and you’ll see she’s right on the money.

The Ground We Won  … Wednesday 29th June, 8.30pm

For a country mad about rugby, very few films have ever been made about it. The Ground We Won is a visually beautiful, moving, funny and confronting documentary that captures a year in the life of the Reporoa rugby team. It’s a film about life on the land, friendship, growing up and male identity, and is the work of award-winning husband and wife filmmaking duo Christopher Pryor and Miriam Smith (How Far Is Heaven). The Ground We Won was released last year, and was described as "visually ravishing" (The Herald's Peter Calder), "strikingly beautiful" (Metro) and "pure social-commentary gold" (The Listener). It’s a must see.

Boulevard  … Saturday 2nd July, 8.30pm

This is Robin Williams final screen role and it’s an interesting affair. Written by Douglas Soesbe and directed by Dito Montiel (A Guide to Recognising Your Saints), Boulevard tells the story of Nolan Mack (Williams), a married closeted 60 year old bank clerk who befriends a young street hustler called Leo (Roberto Aguire), and decides its time to come out of the closet. Williams is quiet and almost dour as Nolan, even as his life is being turned upside down, and it’s up to his wife Joy (Kathy Baker) to add some emotion to proceedings as she vents her frustration and anger at what’s unfolding.

There are some nice moments, such as Nolan telling his dying, homophobic father about the moment he realised he was gay as a 12 year old, and some nice ideas, such as you’re never too old to be yourself and find happiness, and yet a sense of sadness prevails, and it’s hard not to be thinking about what might have been going through Williams head during this shoot.

This is a dignified performance from the comedian, and a reminder that he wasn’t just “Robert Ne Niro for nine year olds” who did kids movies, but a versatile actor who could make us feel as much as he could make us laugh.

SAMANTHA MORTON for The Last Panthers

Posted on Friday 6/24/2016 June, 2016 by Francesca Rudkin

Academy award winning actress Samantha Morton stars in The Last Panthers, a raw and gripping six part television series based on the research by French journalist Jérôme Pierrat into the legendary Eastern European gang of diamond thieves known as the Pink Panthers.  

The series written by Jack Thorne (This is England) and directed by Johan Renck (Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead), also stars John Hurt, French actor Tahar Rahim and Croatian actor Goran Bogdan.

Multiple storylines take us across Europe, and travel back and forth in time from the days of the 1995 Balkan conflict to the present, revealing to us a new world of organized crime where traffickers, drug dealers, bankers and war criminals do business together.

The writing and acting is top notch, and it’s a project Samantha Morton is proud to be part of. In the middle of eating her dinner and on the eve of moving house, Morton was more than happy to have a chat with Rialto Channel about The Last Panthers, and the effect the series has had on her.

Rialto: What were your first thoughts when you read the script?

SM: I didn’t read the script, first I met Johan Renck, Peter Carlton [Producer], and Jack Thorne and they kind of talked me through it, because when you read it, imagine there are so many characters and so many different countries and so many plotlines it’s hard work. So it was a matter of understanding it all and seeing if I was Naomi, and kind of how we were all on the same page, and that was just amazing. So, when they sent me the scripts I was absolutely gripped because I’d already had a meeting.

Rialto: It’s such a remarkable and unnerving story based on real events, what’s the reaction been like to the series in Europe?

SM: I think people have been blown away the rawness, and the realness of such a brave story, because ultimately people don’t want to say this stuff. They want Game of Thrones, they want to be in La La Land, they want fantasy – l mean look at all the superhero movies out there. This is as real as it gets.

When you look at the refugee crisis in Europe, when you look at everything to do with what the British military have done all over the world, when you look at British royal colonization and all of that, this is everything come back to haunt them.

I think that everything in the Balkans, the United Nations did nothing, really. I mean what does that stand for now? I’m embarrassed and humiliated when I think a lot of actors are very kind of proud and they want to be on the UN peace keeping mission or whatever for women or this that and the next thing, but ultimately … it is a shambles. An utterly impartial bollocks – it drives me crackers.

At the moment the refugee crisis that we’re having here and the fact people don’t want to let them in and look after them and help them, these are problems we’re created in past that are coming back to bite us in the bum. I think that we need to be there for people, support people and help people, and we’re not.

Rialto: The Last Panthers does feel like a wake up call, which is one of the reasons the series is so chilling.  

SM: It is entertainment, but also Jack Throne is an incredibly clever writer in the fact that he’s saying ‘yes this is real’ but look at what we’re doing everywhere else and look at the consequences of our actions. For me playing Naomi, and playing someone over a 20-year period and a woman also whose  past isn’t ruled by being a wife or a girlfriend or a mother or a sister, I’m just me. I’m literally this character that exists because she has a right to be there because of who she is, not who she is to someone else… She’s interesting in the fact that she is the kind of protagonist, the kind of part that is normally given to men.  

Rialto: You play an insurance loss adjuster – did you know what they did before this role?

SM: Yes I did… but I didn’t realise the lengths that they went to and I didn’t realise that they operated in their own bubble and their own world, and I found that fascinating.

Rialto: We meet Naomi at various ages and stages of her life – which stage did you find the most challenging?

SM: The present. Naomi lives in the past, but in the present. So I found that really hard playing someone who is almost like a ghost, some who has suffered post traumatic stress really because what happened to her in the 90s that she didn’t have any therapy or help for, and that pushed her towards alcoholism and coldness and living in a world that ultimately she has to control because of past events.

Rialto: Films and TV series aren’t shot in order – was it tricky keeping track of where Naomi was at, what information has already been revealed and what was still to be implied?

SM: What we did shoot that was incredible, was we shot in location sequence, so that helped me massively. So the London stuff was all when she was older and we shot that mostly in sequence. So actually, [thanks to] Johan Renck and Peter Carlton, I was very privileged and lucky that I went in that sequence, and my past that we shot in Serbia and Montenegro, we shot in sequence pretty much so I was blessed. It was like a dream job. You hear of some actors in some jobs and on the first day you’re doing that last scene of the film and there was none of that. Johan was as much as humanly possible as supportive of the actors as he could be, because it was all about keeping it real... there’s a lot of authenticity there.

Rialto: There’s a sense that authenticity was the priority for everyone involved in this project.

SM: We didn’t make this thinking we wanted to please anybody, we made it with an agenda of truth and we don’t apologise for that. We made it with the best integrity in terms of this is what this is about, and not everybody is going to love it and not everybody is going to like it and it’s not going to answer questions for everybody, but what it is, is a piece of morality and take it or leave it, and I feel very proud of everyone for that.

Rialto: Often TV series have several directors at the helm but with such a complex story such as this, you can see the impact of having Johan at the helm throughout.

SM: Yes, it’s rare. Before this I hadn’t done television for over 20 years. I’ve done television I’m very proud of, but again I had loads of different directors. This is Johan’s voice, this is his message – it’s also not just that, it’s his look - he has a very definitely Johan Renck look going on and that’s his identity as a filmmaker and that was a privilege to be a part of. 

Rialto: Do you think there’s a chance we might see Naomi again?

SM: I don’t know, I don’t think so, but I don’t know. I know they’re not writing any more at the moment or doing anymore at the moment but I could be wrong. I think this story is what it is and it’s an individual story but if they decided Naomi had other things to do I would play her again in a heartbeat. But I don’t see that on the table right now. Sometimes in life things are what they are, and you have to say goodbye.

Rialto: How much fun was it working with John Hurt who plays your boss Tom?

SM: Gosh he’s a hero of mine and I was a mixture of excited and nervous. He is a gentleman, he was kind, he was passionate, and he was tough on the writer and the director to get it right. Gosh he was a revelation. He’s been around a very long time and I love watching him work, I will remember it forever.

Rialto: The series features a very international cast, what was it like working with Goran Bogdan.

SM: He’s a sweetie. I found it really humbling actually to work with people who aren’t full of bollocks. Movie stars – I can’t bear that kind of that movie star vibe and the politics on set. Look I’m from Nottingham in England and we’re very real if you like, and I hate the crap that’s in the industry that’s about ego and power and games that people play, and it was so refreshing. I loved every minute of it because it was all about the work and not about who you are. Goran is amazingly talented but humble in listening to Johan and taking direction – he was amazing.

I didn’t have much to do with Tahar, but again when I had a scene with him I was, gosh this is just insane. He’s all about the work and all about the truth. He’s a huge star in France and I was so nervous that he might be a diva or a movie star and he wasn’t. He’s just incredibly talented and kind and ready to experiment, and it was refreshing having spent ten years in Hollywood.

Rialto: David Bowie wrote the amazing title track to the series – did you ever meet him?

SM: I didn’t, but I went to a concert in Madison Square Garden. When he was doing the music obviously we didn’t know he was sick, and he’d seen The Last Panthers and the fact that he’d given it his blessing - even thinking about it makes me emotional - he must have seen something in this film that we saw in it, and it’s like getting a seal of approval.

The Last Panthers kicks off on Tuesday 28th June, 8.30pm on Rialto Channel.








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