Caro in 2017
Nikola Jean Caro
1967 (age 51–52)
Wellington, New Zealand
|Alma mater||University of Auckland|
Swinburne University of Technology
|Occupation||Film director, screenwriter|
The Zookeeper's Wife
Nikola Jean "Niki" Caro MNZM (born 1967) is a New Zealand film director and screenwriter. Her 2002 film Whale Rider was critically praised and won a number of awards at international film festivals. She was hired to direct the 2020 live-action version of Disney's Mulan, making her the second female and the second New Zealand director hired by Disney to direct a film budgeted at over $100 million.
Caro was born in Wellington, New Zealand. She attended Kadimah College, Auckland, then Diocesan School for Girls, where she received an alumni award. Caro graduated with a BFA from the Elam School of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland in 1988 and received a Postgraduate Diploma in Film from the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
Caro first found interest in working with metal sculptures, but later changed in it to film. Caro was self-taught in film through only reading narrative film books. She started out with writing and once she was done writing a script, her mother typed it up for her at work.
Her first experience with a professional production company was when she wrote and directed for the television series, Another Country. She did not have any experience in directing, but it felt it was instinctual once she started working with the actors.
Memory and Desire
Caro's first feature film, Memory and Desire, was meant to be a showcase of New Zealand's culture and lifestyle (aligning with the start of the 100% Pure New Zealand tourism campaign by the New Zealand tourism section of the government), but it fell short; seeing disappointing results at the box office and mixed international reviews. This was especially true in Japan, where the film was deemed to have not captured the essence of Japanese culture, despite its attempts to evoke money and consult from possible Japanese investors. The film is meant to use landscapes to juxtapose the characters and their origins. The calm and relaxed outdoor setting of New Zealand is meant to oppose the hustle and bustle of the big, busy city of Tokyo. It works twofold because the contrast also works for the comparison of the "civilized" parts of New Zealand against the wild outdoors, showing off the two different sections of the country in an effort to advertise to multiple groups of people considering visiting the country. The tourism board looked to use landscapes as the most enticing factor in a tourist's eyes, along with people, adventure and culture. The film shows evidence of this by implying that Keiji and Sayo are unable to consummate their marriage anywhere but in the outdoors due to Keiji being unable to achieve an erection in an urban setting, emphasizing the "natural" state of humanism of being connected to the surrounding landscapes. Along the couple's trip they encounter different New Zealand tourist hotspots such as; the Museum of Technology and Rotorua's spa pools on the West Coast Beach. It is also in contrast of the bland hotel rooms that the couple stay in; as if to say that the only time they are truly free is when they are outside in nature, specifically New Zealand's nature.
It was chosen for the New Zealand Prestigious Critics week in 1998. In 1999 the movie was voted best new film at the New Zealand Film Awards.
Caro went on to write and direct Whale Rider, which is about a Māori girl that has to stand up against the other men and her grandfather in the tribe to show she can be as much of a leader as the boys who were being trained to be leaders. Caro argues that Whale Rider is more about leadership than sexism because the Māori are also profoundly matriarchal. Caro says there is a Māori saying that "women lead from behind," even though in their culture, knowledge and lineage are passed down through the males and not the women. She directed thirteen-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes to a performance nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress. The film had a budget of 2 million, which is considered small for a major film, but it was still considered to be a good interpretation of the indigenous story that it was trying to interpret and demonstrate. Whale Rider would also go on to become New Zealand's most financially successful film and either the film, or Caro herself, would win or be nominated for over 50 different awards by different, international film festivals.
With the success of Whale Rider under her belt, Caro was chosen to direct her first Hollywood film, North Country (2005), starring Charlize Theron. It was later nominated for Best Actress for lead and supporting role at the Oscars, and also was nominated for a Golden Globe.
After doing North Country, Caro went back to New Zealand to write and direct the feature film The Vintner's Luck (2009) otherwise known as A Heavenly Vintage, which is about a peasant winemaker who sets out to make the perfect vintage wine. The film reunited her with her Whale Rider star Keisha Castle-Hughes.
In 2013, Caro planned to direct the film adaptation of The Zookeeper's Wife, based on Diane Ackerman's non-fiction book. It was released in 2017 and garnered a 61% critical consensus on Rotten Tomatoes.
In February 2017, it was announced Caro will direct Disney's live action remake of Mulan. She will be the second woman at the studio to direct a movie budgeted at over $100 million, after Ava DuVernay.
Caro is married to architect Andrew Lister, and they have two daughters, Tui and Pearl. Their first daughter was born shortly after the success of Whale Rider. Because Caro was pregnant, she was unable to attend any of the premieres for the film. Caro said she was sad, but at the same time thought it may not be such a bad thing because success in America is so radical.
Film and Television
|2001-2002||Mercy Peak||Yes||Yes||No||Television series: 5 episodes|
|2002||Whale Rider||Yes||Yes||No||Based on the novel by Witi Ihimaera|
|2005||North Country||Yes||No||No||Inspired by a book by Clara Bingham and Laura Leedy Gansler|
|2009||The Vintner's Luck||Yes||Yes||Yes||Based on the novel by Elizabeth Knox|
|2017||The Zookeeper's Wife||Yes||No||No||Based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Diane Ackerman|
|Anne||Yes||No||No||Television series: 1 episode|
|2020||Mulan||Yes||No||No||Remake of the 1998 animated film which in turn was based on the Chinese legend|
Awards and recognition
- Caro was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the film industry in the 2004 New Year Honours.
- Caro was one of the honorees for Ms. Magazine's 10 women of the year in 2003
- Whale Rider received Best Feature Film for British Academy Children's Awards
- Caro's short film Memory and Desire was nominated for Best Film and Best Screenplay Adaptation at the Nokia New Zealand Film Awards,1999.
- Her film, Memory and Desire won a Special Jury Prize at the New Zealand Film and Television Awards
- The television series Jackson's Wharf received the Best Drama Script award for at the TV Guide Television Awards, 1999.
- Caro's short film Memory and Desire was selected for Critics' Week at the Cannes Film Festival, 1998
- Caro's television documentary Footage was selected for the Venice Film Festival, 1996
- Caro's short for Sure to Rise was nominated for the Palme d'Or Award at the Cannes Film Festival, 1994
- Caro was nominated for Best Director and Best Writer at the NZ Film and Television Awards (1994) for The Summer the Queen Came
- Won Best Video at NZ Music Awards (1990) for Bad Note for a Heart
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