David Bordwell's website on cinema   click for CV




Perplexing Plots: Popular Storytelling and the Poetics of Murder

On the History of Film Style pdf online

Reinventing Hollywood: How 1940s Filmmakers Changed Movie Storytelling

Film Art: An Introduction

Christopher Nolan: A Labyrinth of Linkages pdf online

Pandora’s Digital Box: Films, Files, and the Future of Movies pdf online

Planet Hong Kong, second edition pdf online

The Way Hollywood Tells It pdf online

Poetics of Cinema pdf online

Figures Traced In Light

Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema pdf online

Exporting Entertainment: America in the World Film Market 1907–1934 pdf online


Hou Hsiao-hsien: A new video lecture!

CinemaScope: The Modern Miracle You See Without Glasses

How Motion Pictures Became the Movies

Constructive editing in Pickpocket: A video essay


Rex Stout: Logomachizing

Lessons with Bazin: Six Paths to a Poetics

A Celestial Cinémathèque? or, Film Archives and Me: A Semi-Personal History

Shklovsky and His “Monument to a Scientific Error”

Murder Culture: Adventures in 1940s Suspense

The Viewer’s Share: Models of Mind in Explaining Film

Common Sense + Film Theory = Common-Sense Film Theory?

Mad Detective: Doubling Down

The Classical Hollywood Cinema Twenty-Five Years Along

Nordisk and the Tableau Aesthetic

William Cameron Menzies: One Forceful, Impressive Idea

Another Shaw Production: Anamorphic Adventures in Hong Kong

Paolo Gioli’s Vertical Cinema

(Re)Discovering Charles Dekeukeleire

Doing Film History

The Hook: Scene Transitions in Classical Cinema

Anatomy of the Action Picture

Hearing Voices

Preface, Croatian edition, On the History of Film Style

Slavoj Žižek: Say Anything

Film and the Historical Return

Studying Cinema


Book Reports

Observations on film art

Crazed Killer Sheep from New Zealand

Saturday | November 4, 2006   open printable version open printable version

Kristin here—

Variety today announces the splendid news that Black Sheep has been picked up for distribution in the U.S. by The Weinstein Company.  At last!

It’s not the latest masterpiece from Iran or a new Oscar-bait documentary.  It’s a comic horror film from New Zealand.  I have no idea whether it’s any good, but it’s got a great tagline:  “There are 40 million sheep in New Zealand … and they’re pissed off!”  Naturally Black Sheep revolves around one of those genetic experiments that go terribly wrong.  It’s the first feature by writer/director Jonathan King.

I’ve known about Black Sheep for quite some time, since one part of The Frodo Franchise deals with the impact that The Lord of the Rings had on the Kiwi film industry.  Of course Rings helped draw other blockbuster productions to New Zealand, but for a while there was a fear that the small-budget local films would suffer—costs driven up, competition for talent, and so on.  Fortunately, Rings turned out to be good for New Zealand’s own filmmakers.

Before Rings, it was rare for Kiwi films to draw international attention, and they tended not to do well at home, either.  For a while Whale Rider (2002) looked like it might just be one of those occasional exceptions.  Most directors were working abroad. The main support for most domestic films was, and is, the New Zealand Film Commission.  I had the pleasure of interviewing the Commission’s head, Dr. Ruth Harley, twice during my research.  The first time was in October, 2003, when it was not yet clear whether Rings would swamp local filmmaking and be a one-time bonanza for New Zealand.  The second time was at the American Film Market about a year ago, when filmmaking in the country was bustling and Harley declared that the industry was having its best year ever.  The momentum seems to be holding steady, if not increasing.

Naturally I’ve tried to see the new Kiwi films as they appeared.  I enjoyed watching In My Father’s Den (2004) in the Empire Theatre in Wellington (where The Return of the King had had its world premiere the year before).  I very much liked The World’s Fastest Indian (2005), with an engaging performance by Anthony Hopkins, but unfortunately it was not well publicized during its American release.  Even River Queen (2005), with all the tales of its troubled production, turned out to be an impressive epic.  It’s a pity that the charming comedy about gay adolescents in rural New Zealand, 50 Ways of Saying Fabulous (2005), has not gotten wider distribution.

More films are on the way, and several expat directors have returned home to work.  Variety reviewed Sionne’s Wedding (retitled Samoan Wedding for distribution abroad) at the Montreal World Film Festival last month, declaring it “an instantly exportable comedy that will play gangbusters in all situations.”  It was a huge hit in New Zealand, where audiences have become interested in the local product in the wake of Rings.  More recently Variety praised Out of the Blue, a thriller starring Karl Urban  It’s only the second feature directed by Robert Sarkies, whose Scarfies (1999) was critically and popularly well-received.  These and others in the pipeline suggest that Kiwi filmmaking is on a healthy footing.

Black Sheep has been intriguing to me for a more specific reason.  It’s the first small New Zealand film to have its special effects done by Weta Workshop, which had previously stuck to epics like Rings, Master and Commander, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  Peter Jackson and his partners in the various filmmaking facilities in “Wellywood” provide services to other films than their own, and they particularly want to encourage local filmmaking.  Black Sheep is a step in that direction.  Early publicity for the film quoted Weta head Richard Taylor as saying, “We’re looking forward to turning some beautiful little sheep into crazed killers.”  The publicity photo from Variety certainly gives that lamb a slightly Gollumesque look.

King is already at work on his second feature, The Tattooist, and the NZ Film Commission’s slate of projects makes it look as though the beautiful little country will continue the small but steady production that had long been its filmmakers’ goal.

Comments are closed.

David Bordwell
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