Two Cars Image

Short road to success

There’s no question that Kiwi short film makers punch above their weight on the global stage. We’re plucky, resourceful and have a strong tradition of oral story telling that goes back generations. This month we asked acclaimed Canadian-New Zealand documentary filmmaker Leanne Pooley for her take on our short films, and to pick some of her favourites. Here they are for your enjoyment.

With the success of Hunt for the Wilderpeople Taika Waititi has cemented his position as one of this country’s best filmmakers.  This is no small feat as for a small nation we’ve produced some extraordinary directors, several of whom started their careers with standout short films.   

It’s no coincidence that Taika Waititi, Niki Caro and Jane Campion all have stellar careers.  They burst onto the world stage with short films that demanded attention.  Confident works that took risks, explored genre, and ultimately trumpeted the advent of an artist. These filmmakers made short films that despite the decades between them have much in common, not least the obvious, undeniable, unstoppable talent on show.

PEEL (1982)


In 1986 Jane Campion won the Palme d’Or for her short film Peel.  An extraordinary piece that makes the experimental oddly familiar and the ordinary seem epic.  No parent, child or family can watch Peel and not experience the frustration of characters.  The specific comes to represent the general as the layers of the story are dissected like the orange being peeled. The first woman and only New Zealander to win the Palme d’Or Peel was not Campion’s only triumph at Cannes… she was just getting started.

SURE TO RISE  (1993)

In 1994 Niki Caro’s Sure to Rise was also selected in competition at Cannes. Sure to Rise has much in common with Campion’s work.  Both use sound design and sparse dialogue to create an ominous tone.  Caro deftly plays with genre and at times the film borders on horror while remaining rooted in the real.  Like Campion, Niki’s film illustrated a self-assurance that could not be ignored, her later success seemed pre-ordained.


Taika’s Two Cars, One Night was nominated for an Oscar in 2005, the first New Zealand short to attain this recognition.  Like Campion and Caro, Waititi embraced the small details of the everyday to tell a story that transcends the environment it inhabits. Two Cars, One Night is a truthful and authentic love story both tragic and hopeful the film finds light in the darkness.  From the beautiful black and white cinematography, to the wonderful performances its execution is near perfect and its author clearly on the ascendance.  


All three of these films illustrate their maker’s understanding of the form. They do not beg to be longer or part of a bigger whole.  They are short films and they stand-alone.   Most importantly they feel, sound and look like cinema with a capital C. No one can watch them and think anything but ‘this filmmaker is the real deal’, and of course that’s because they are.