New Garth Maxwell Prize on offer to creative talents

A new prize open to University of Auckland Faculty of Arts’ students hopes to help great ideas find commercial success.

Hero Parade Marching Boy ‘AJ’ appears in Naughty Little Peeptoe
Hero Parade marching boy ‘AJ’ appears in Garth Maxwell and Peter Wells' film 'Naughty Little Peeptoe' .

Established this year by New Zealand filmmaker and University of Auckland alumnus, Garth Maxwell, the Garth Maxwell Creative Project Prize recognises exceptional and innovative work in the areas of drama, screen production and creative writing, and helps with completion and promotion to market.

The prize is open to University of Auckland masters or PhD students and will offer a first prize of $5,000 and a second of $2,200.

Maxwell himself received the John Tinline Prize for best aggregate marks as a Bachelor of Arts student in the early 1980s.

“To me, that prize emphasised the value of studying not just literature and history, but the links between the arts,” he says.

“My arts degree really helped me. For me, the University was an ideas laboratory; I crashed subjects I wasn’t even enrolled in like film studies and electronic music composition, a cross-fertilisation that helped me find my own voice and imagine my own projects, enhancing skills I was picking up studying literature - understanding story, character and style.”

Maxwell hopes this prize can help someone finish a film, get a professional reading of a play or travel somewhere significant.

“It has an entrepreneurial aspect. I want to celebrate risk-takers, presenting new ideas and expressions that the commercial world doesn’t naturally generate. If I can help platform those talents so the wider community can take stock of what’s new, I’ll be so happy.”

Faculty of Arts alumnus Garth Maxwell: If I can help platform those talents so the wider community can take stock of what’s new, I’ll be so happy.”
Faculty of Arts alumnus Garth Maxwell: "If I can help platform those talents so the wider community can take stock of what’s new, I’ll be so happy.” Photo: Kara Dodson

Maxwell’s own career has been two-pronged, on the one hand directing 60-odd hours of commercial television drama for the Australasian and American markets, and on the other, managing a regular output of his own projects in various formats, two of which have come to the attention of the prestigious Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.

MoMA has just acquired, for the film department’s permanent collection, his supernatural feature Jack Be Nimble from 1993, as well as experimental documentary Naughty Little Peeptoe, co-directed with the late filmmaker and author Peter Wells in 2000.

Jack Be Nimble starred Alexis Arquette and New Zealand actor Sarah Smuts-Kennedy, as well as Kiwi icon Bruno Lawrence, and was selected by MoMA’s Ron Magliozzi for the museum’s 2022 retrospective Horror: Messaging the Monstrous, which explored how the genre is underpinned by fears connected to social, cultural and political change. The New York Times called the film, “the find of the festival”.

Maxwell believes the resurgence of interest in this 30-year-old title demonstrates the new distribution reality of search engines, combined with streaming, in the resurrection of previously overlooked films.

Alexis Arquette and Sarah Smuts-Kennedy star in 'Jack Be Nimble'. Photo: Pierre Vinet
Alexis Arquette and Sarah Smuts-Kennedy star in 'Jack Be Nimble'. Photo: Pierre Vinet

“After all this time, the film is generating revenue, finding new fans” he says.

Naughty Little Peeptoe had a similarly perilous journey, Maxwell says, from a “scandalously entertaining” dictaphone interview with shoe designer and fetishist Doug George three months before he died, through a six-year gestation, as Maxwell considered how to approach this “entertaining, candid, emotionally laden material”.

Then the two filmmaking friends, Maxwell and Wells, devised a novel way of working that honoured the originality and humour of the subject without being able to show him.

“MoMA’s incredible act of faith, bringing these two films into their collection, gives me the confidence to continue making exuberant one-offs, handmade films and projects, and to feel that my voice is cutting through,” he says.

“Any creative artist faces the scrutiny of the market and it can be cruel, but when you do feel heard and understood, there is a massive sense of validation, so I'd encourage anyone thinking of applying for this prize to back themselves and just go for it!

“In fact, I can now say that this resurgence of interest in Jack Be Nimble is germinating a new seed, a sequel to that film, which I’m underway writing for the original actor, the spectacular Sarah Smuts-Kennedy.”

'Naughty Little Peeptoe's' Doug George as a budding shoe salesman.
Naughty Little Peeptoe's Doug George as a budding shoe salesman.

Coinciding with this is another coup; screening Naughty Little Peeptoe as part of a public programme connected to the forthcoming Derek Jarman: Delphinium Days exhibition, co-developed by the University of Auckland’s Gus Fisher Gallery and City Gallery Wellington and opening later this year.

The English artist, filmmaker, and gay rights activist is a hero of Maxwell’s and he is extremely pleased to have his film on view again, with such acclaimed company.

“Jarman is the quintessential front-runner in the realm of politicised film art, and an unstoppable activist when the world refused to acknowledge the devastation of HIV-AIDS,” he says.

“The fact that Doug George, the subject of my film, died of AIDS just months after Debra Daley and I recorded him, chimes so deeply for me. It’s a very special thing to have our film, and Doug’s voice, given this meaningful context; inclusion alongside this giant’s enduring works.”

Arts Laureate Taiaroa Royal appears in 'Naughty Little Peeptoe'.
Arts Laureate, dancer and choreographer Taiaroa Royal, appears in 'Naughty Little Peeptoe'.

The Garth Maxwell Creative Project Prize will be open for applications in mid-October 2024 and winners will be announced by Christmas 2024.

It is awarded by recommendation and formats can include film, video, screenplays or teleplays, manuscripts for novels, a collection of short stories or a poetry collection.

Applicants in drama can submit video of their own performance or of something that features their writing or stage a professional reading of a play.

A selection committee assesses the applications and the award is made by the University of Auckland Council on the recommendation of the committee, which includes Garth Maxwell.

Find out more about the regulations for the prize here.


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