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Kiwi Shorts: New Zealand Filmmakers Conquer Sundance, Take Aim at Berlin

Kiwi Shorts: New Zealand Filmmakers Conquer Sundance, Take Aim at Berlin

Could 2010 be the year that New Zealand short filmmakers take over the world? The year began promisingly as Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland’s “The Six Dollar Fifty Man” took the jury prize in international short filmmaking at January’s Sundance Film Festival. And now at Berlin, Katie Wolfe’s “Redemption” and Leo Woodhead’s “Zero” world premiere in the Berlinale Shorts and the Generation 14plus category, respectively. With so many talented Kiwis making noise on the festival circuit, here’s a look at some of the most promising directors working in Peter Jackson’s home country.

Wellingtonians Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland directed the brash yet assured 15-minute short “The Six Dollar Fifty Man.” Starring Oscar Vandy-Connor, a blonde boy who resembles a kiddie Philip Seymour Hoffman, the schoolyard confrontation story has strong narrative drive and packs real visual punch. The short world premiered at Cannes last year, where it walked away with a special distinction honor. It also racked up awards at Sundance and FlickerFest, in addition to playing Clermont-Ferrand and the Generation Kplus competition category this year at Berlin.

“This is cool,” proclaimed Sutherland when he and Albiston picked up their jury prize at the Sundance award ceremony last month. “We’re fortunate enough in New Zealand to have a crew that pretty much walk off Peter Jackson’s sets and then jump on ours, and they work for two or three weeks for a day rate. You know, that’s the Kiwi kind of attitude, and we’re proud of that!”

“The Six Dollar Fifty Man” is the second collaboration between Albiston and Sutherland. Back in 2007, Sutherland wrote and acted in the short “Run,” which Albiston directed. That short, about a Samoan brother and sister, was also honored at Cannes with a special jury mention.

The duo are currently working on a feature project entitled “Shopping,” about a 15-year-old runaway who gets involved with a shoplifting gang.

Katie Wolfe is going to Berlin with her second short, the 17-minute drama “Redemption,” based on a short story by Phil Kawana. The storyline centers on two Maori kids trying to find their way through personal hells. In an official statement for New Zealand Film Commission, Wolfe proclaimed, “This is my first Maori film and the connection I have to the material has been with me many years.”

A former actress, Wolfe previously played the international festival circuit with her 2008 short, “This is Her,” which took home prizes at Palm Springs Shortfest, Aspen Shortsfest, the Hamptons International Film Festival, and the Prague International Short Film Festival.

The third New Zealand short at Berlin comes from writer/director Leo Woodhead. The 15-minute “Zero” centers around a volatile teenager struggling to detach himself from his imprisoned father’s influence. The UK-born, New Zealand-educated, and Killer Films-associated Woodhead previously directed the short “Cargo,” a partially self-financed short which was filmed in the Czech Republic as part of an international film school exchange. That short premiered at the 2007 Venice Film Festival and then went on to screen in competition at the Tribeca, Telluride, Melbourne, and London Film Festivals.

Five other New Zealand short filmmakers to watch:

Tearepa Kahi, who wrote and directed “Taua – War Party,” based on a Maori proverb, which played in competition at Clermont-Ferrand and was an official selection at Rotterdam in 2008. The 15-minute saga of two boys, a bound prisoner, and a war canoe being towed through the lush forest, culminating in an intense confrontation between tribes, has remarkable acting, sound design, and camera work. Kahi, who dreamed of being a rugby star but has made a living as an actor, also helmed a 2005 short called “The Speaker.”

Roseanne Liang, who wrote and directed the 12-minute “Take 3,” a stylish and very funny split-screen triptych about a trio of auditioning Asian actresses forced to proclaim in pigeon English how horny they are. “Take 3” had its world premiere at Berlin-Generation in 2008, where the short received an honorable mention. Liang previously directed the personal documentary feature, “Banana in a Nutshell” (2005).

Michelle Savill, who wrote/directed/produced the 14-minute “Betty Banned Sweets,” a purposely awkward and yet very charming story of a young man trying to break free of his family obligations. Savill’s short was in competition in the 2009 Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival and played Edinburgh, Aspen Shortsfest, Rotterdam, and Melbourne.

Jane Shearer, who directed the 11-minute, no-dialogue, supernatural thriller, “Nature’s Way” which was in competition at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival. Shearer comes from an advertising background and knows how to tell a taunt story with compelling vision. Shearer’s other directing credits include “Bird,” which she directed and co-wrote with Greg King and Steve Ayson.

Jason Stutter, who creates stomach-clenching anticipation in the 2-minute comedy “Careful with that Axe,” as his rambunctious barefoot little boy hero recklessly attempts wood chopping. The 2008 short played AFI Fest, Edinburgh, and Melbourne. Not surprisingly, Stutter has made another short entitled “Careful with that Power Tool.” Stutter has “Flight of the Concords” connections, having directed Jemaine Clement in several films including the features “Tongan Ninja” and “Predicament.”

With any luck, most of the above filmmakers will turn out to be as successful as current New Zealand poster boy, Taika Waititi, who gained international acclaim when his 2003 short “Two Cars, One Night” was nominated for an Academy Award. Waititi has gone on to make the cult classic feature “Eagle Vs. Shark,” directed several episodes of “Flight of the Conchords,” and most recently wrote, directed and starred in “Boy.” “Boy” played Sundance this year and is also screening in Berlin.

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