NZFC funds family film directed by Cliff Curtis and two other features

Cliff Curtis.

After appearing in more than 50 films and TV series Cliff Curtis will make his directing debut on a family film based on the true story of a boy whose dog is lost overboard, feared dead.

Produced by William McKegg and Belle Avery, Herbert is one of three films funded by the New Zealand Film Commission.

The others are Mothers of the Revolution, which will chronicle the lasting impact of the Women’s Peace Camp at the UK’s Greenham Common, and Cousins, a drama about three disconnected cousins who spend a lifetime in search of each other.

Amanda Beatson and McKegg wrote the screenplay for Herbert, adapted from the book Herbert the Brave Sea Dog by Robyn Belton.

The book recounts the day 10-year-old Tim Snadden’s dog Herbert fell off a boat into the treacherous waters of French Pass in the Marlborough Sounds. Those on the boat believed Herbert to be lost but Tim was adamant he was alive. Thirty hours later, Herbert was found paddling, exhausted but still alive.

Interviewed recently by IF, Curtis indicated he was tentatively attached to direct a family feature film aimed at international audiences, stating: “I wasn’t chasing to direct but it was an offer that walked in the door.”

The Fear the Waking Dead star will next be seen in Universal’s Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw and in all four of James Cameron’s Avatar epics.

His production credits include Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen, an intimate portrait of pioneer Maori filmmaker and activist Merata Mita by her son Heperi, Taika Waititi’s Boy and James Napier Robertson’s The Dark Horse.

Briar March will direct the feature documentary Mothers of the Revolution for producers Matthew Metcalfe and Leela Menon. The film will relate how Welsh group Women for Life on Earth set up a peace camp on Greenham Common, Berkshire, in 1981 in protest at the decision to install 96 Cruise nuclear missiles at the nearby airbase.

Within six months the camp became known as the Women’s Peace Camp and gained recognition nationally and internationally. The protest movement lasted for 19 years.

March released her first feature doc, 2004’s Allie Eagle and Me — about artist Allie Eagle — the same year she got a Bachelor in Fine Arts from Auckland University’s Elam School of Fine Arts.

Her global warming film There Once Was an Island (2010) was invited to more than 50 festivals and won numerous awards. Her recent credits include social housing documentary A Place to Call Home and the musical short The Coffin Club.

Ainsley Gardiner and Briar Grace-Smith will co-direct Cousins, their second collaboration after Waru, an omnibus film consisting of eight shorts written and directed by nine women.

Grace-Smith wrote the screenplay adapted from the novel by Patricia Grace, which follows three cousins: Mata, who was raised by a cruel guardian who keeps her from her family; Makareta, the reluctant princess of her tribe; and Missy, who is overlooked but in the end is the glue that holds them together.

As recipients of the 2019 Sundance Institute Merata Mita Fellowship announced at the Sundance Film Festival in January, Gardiner and Grace-Smith received cash grants and a year-long program of support from the Sundance Institute including mentorships and attending the festival.

“Merata Mita originally planned to make this film over a span of about 15 years; it should’ve happened, but it didn’t,” Briar tells IF. “So Ainsley and I – she was a mentor to us both – decided to pick it up. This is a new adaptation. I loved the book and it was a joy to work on the script and to be supported in that by Patricia Grace.”

Georgina Conder and Gardiner will produce for Miss Conception Films, with Rialto distributing in NZ. Casting is underway.