Toi Whakaari Shorts
Toi Whakaari was New Zealand’s first drama school and remains Aotearoa’s leading performing arts school. Many of our most well-known actors are Toi graduates – Cliff Curtis, Robyn Malcolm, Tim Balme, Miranda Harcourt, and David Fane to name just a few.
The ‘Toi Film’ strand of Toi Whakaari is devoted to training students for a career in the screen industry. To do this, they make short films. Each film features the class of third-year acting students in front of the camera and a combination of professional crew and students from the school’s other disciplines (Design, Management, Costume and Set & Props) behind it. Here we feature some of the best recent Toi Film shorts. Be on the lookout for familiar faces! There are a lot of stage and screen stars already on the rise.
I didn’t know that competitive marching was a sport! Let alone one that requires such an incredible amount of skill and discipline. It’s fascinating to see a short film about people who are so dedicated to their craft. And to learn something about the marching community. The subject may sound dull but two minutes into Marching will find you hooked.
The simple plot offered here (by writer/directors James Ashcroft and Haley Sproull) provides a great example of efficient short film story telling that is enhanced by lighting, costumes, cinematography and choreography. All have a clean and precise look – matching the art of marching they are trying to capture. The performances are equally on-point. Grace Bentley as the struggling yet determined marcher is genuinely endearing. Former director of Toi Whakaari, Annie Ruth, channels some serious J.K. Simons vibes as the tough love Coach. While the incredibly talented Ana Scotney steals every scene she’s in. It’s not hard to see how she quickly became the break-out star of The Breaker Upperers.
In Saturn Sheets by Jonathan King, a washed-up musician returns to her home-town and tries to re-connect with her former bandmates. The film has a fun vintage (Glam Rock, New Wave?) aesthetic thanks to production designer Hami Wiremu and costume designer Simone Wiseman who have done a great job. This fits the slightly hysterical and silly tone of the film.
The lead actors all have great voices. The standout being Joe Witkowski’s performance as the band’s lead singer now turned solo artist. He manages to embrace the overdramatic nature of a psychedelic musician while also displaying genuine emotion. There’s even a super catchy original tune!
The Mavens is a really fun film to watch. It’s a meta story about a group of young actors at an audition, played by a group of drama school actors. The Mavens adeptly captures the awkward, bizarre and cold nature of many audition processes. The waiting. How impersonal it all is. The way actors who are just starting out are completely at the mercy someone else to get work. They make themselves incredibly vulnerable.
The film is co-written by Vaughan Slinn and James Ashcroft, who also directs. The costumes (Roman gladiator style) work really well as both a comedic prop, while also being a clever nod to New Zealand’s long history with this type of fantasy film genre. Great performances from the entire cast here. There are many small moments where each actor has the chance to shine. You get a real sense of the variety of performers that come to open call auditions. The ingenue, the nice guy, the theatre nerd, the arrogant veterans and the insufferable twerp assistant. Kalyani Nagarajan’s gleeful performance as a cruel supervillain-style casting agent is especially impressive.