We write
great emails.

If you’d like to stay in the loop with the arts and creativity in Aotearoa, get ‘em in your inbox.

If you’d like to join a movement of people backing the arts and creativity.



Leon Narby

Leon Narbey’s Biography

Last Updated:
17/05/2019, 11:35 am
Cinematographer and Film Director
Arts Foundation Laureate 2010
Leon Narbey has been active as a film maker since the mid-1970s. His work has earned him national and international awards in recognition of the special artistic sensibility he has applied to the cinematography of many definitive New Zealand films.

The definitive films Leon has worked on include:


  • Desperate Remedies (1993) dir Peter Wells & Stewart Main
  • Price of Milk (2000) dir Harry Sinclair
  • Whale Rider (2003,) dir Niki Caro
  • Perfect Creature (2005) dir Glenn Standring
  • No. 2 (2005) dir Toa Fraser
  • Rain of the Children (2008) dir Vincent Ward
  • Dean Spanley (2009) dir Toa Fraser
  • The Orator (2010) dir Tsi Tamasese

Political documentaries:

  • Te Matakite o Aotearoa - (the Maori Land March 1975) dir Geoff Steven
  • Bastion Point: Day 507 (1980) dir Merata Mita, Leon Narbey, Gerd Pohlmann
  • Visible Evidence (1996) dir Leon Narbey
  • Punitive Damage (1999) dir Annie Goldson

Arts documentaries:

  • Pleasures and Dangers (1991) dir Shirley Horrocks
  • Flip and Two Twisters (1995) dir Shirley Horrocks
  • Colin McCahon I Am (2004) dir Paul Swadell
  • Giselle (2013) dir Toa Fraser

Short films:

  • Lounge Bar (1989) dir Harry Sinclair
  • Possum (1997) dir Brad McGann
  • Va Tapuia (2010) dir Tusi Tamasese
  • Winter Boy (2010) dir Rachel House.

Television dramas:

  • Beyond Gravity (1988) dir Garth Maxwell
  • Just me and Mario (1988) dir Greg Stitt
  • Clare (2001) dir Yvonne Mackay
  • Life's a Riot (2009) dir Ian Mune


His feature film Illustrious Energy (1987), which he co wrote with Martin Edmond, won eight national and two international awards for its poetic and visually stunning portrayal of the experience of Chinese goldminers in the 1860s Central Otago landscape.

Brad McGann's Possum (1997) (Honorary Distinction for Best Cinematography at the 1998 Athens Short Film Festival, and Best Craft in a Short Drama at the 1998 NZ Film and TV Awards).

Leon received the Best Cinematography Award at the 2000 Nokia NZ Film Awards for Harry Sinclair's The Price of Milk and in 1994 for Desperate Remedies, which was also selected for ‘Un Certain Regard' at Cannes the previous year. Leon received an Arts Foundation Laureate Award in 2010.

He has also directed television documentaries including Visible Evidence, an arts programme for Television New Zealand on eight social-documentary photographers. He was director of photography on Early Days Yet: Allen Curnow, about the eminent New Zealand poet. He co- directed and helped shoot Bastion Point Day 507, and the award winning film about conservationist Richard St Barb Baker Man of the Trees.

Between 1979 and 2009 Leon has been the lighting cameraman for the following films;

  • Gung Ho: Rewi Alley of China
  • Man Of The Trees (conservationist Richard St Barb Baker)
  • Colin McCahon: I Am
  • Questions for Mr Reynolds (artist John Reynolds)
  • The Man In The Hat (Art Dealer Peter McLeavey)
  • The New Oceania (writer Albert Wendt)
  • Reflections - Gretchen Albrecht
  • Flip and Two Twisters (artist Len Lye)
  • Early Days Yet: Allen Curnow
  • The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls