Leanne Pooley ONZM was born and raised in Winnipeg, Canada. She immigrated to New Zealand in the mid-1980s at which time she started working in the New Zealand television industry. In 1990 she began directing on the TVNZ documentary series, First Hand. She moved to England in 1992 where she made documentaries for Britain's major broadcasters including BBC1, BBC2, ITV, Channel 4 as well as PBS in America.
In 1997 Leanne returned to New Zealand and established the independent production company Spacific Films based in Auckland. Her first Spacific Films production, Relative Guilt won "Best Documentary" at the 1999 Qantas Media Awards.
Her first feature length documentary Haunting Douglas, described by Variety Magazine as an ""Expertly crafted portrait of modern dancer/choreographer Douglas Wright" received accolades at film festivals around the world and earned Leanne the "Best Director" Award at the 2005 New Zealand Screen Awards.
Leanne made The Promise a documentary about the trial of euthanasia advocate, Leslie Martin, winning the "Best Documentary" award at the 2006 New Zealand Screen Awards. Also in 2006 Her documentary Try Revolution, which explored how rugby was used to help end apartheid in South Africa, screened in New Zealand and across the African continent. In 2007 Being Billy Apple, another feature length documentary, documented the controversial career of the New Zealand artist who became a living work of art.
In 2009 Leanne's Topp Twins-Untouchable Girls, was released theatrically in New Zealand. The film tells the story of lesbian, singing, twin sister comedy duo, the Topp Twins. It has won 21 International Awards including Audience Awards at the Toronto International Film Festival, the Melbourne International Film Festival, and the Gothenburg International Film Festival among others. As well as jury awards at the Seattle Film Festival, New Doc New York, The Nashville Film Festival and the Florida Film Festival among others. It also won Best Feature (budget under $1 million) at the NZ Film & TV Awards, and reached nearly $2 million at the New Zealand box office making it the most successful New Zealand documentary of all time.
Leanne has served as a judge for The International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences; EMMY Awards. She has taught documentary at the University of Auckland, and has guest lectured at numerous film schools around the world. Leanne lives in Auckland with her husband and two children.
Leanne directed Shackleton's Captain, a documentary about Frank Worsley, captain of Shackleton's Endurance, and produced the documentary Finding Mercy a film about Mugabe's Zimbabwe. She directed the documentary Beyond the Edge, about Sir Edmund Hilary, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival where it was 2nd runner up for the coveted people's choice award for documentary. It also broke the record for documentary opening weekend at the box-office.
Leanne received an Arts Foundation Laureate Award in 2011.
Leanne’s most recent work is the animated feature 25 April . This innovative documentary uses animation to tell the story of the ill fated WWI Gallipoli campaign. 25 April premiered at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival and was one of just nine films in competition at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival (the world’s premiere animation festival). 25 April is the first New Zealand animated feature to qualify for Academy Award consideration and was on the 2017 Oscar’s long-list. In 2017 she was made an “Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit” for services to documentary.
In 2017, she was invited to become a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Known to many in New Zealand for her track record in making excellent documentaries, Leanne was invited for her work on 25 April, Beyond the Edge and The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls. Leanne is the first NZ Documentary Filmmaker to accept this honour.