Screened as part of NZIFF 2014

The Dark Horse 2014

Directed by James Napier Robertson Big Nights

Be the first in the world to acclaim a moving new New Zealand film. Cliff Curtis is superb as the late Genesis Potini, the speed chess champion who passed on his gift to countless East Coast children.

Jul 17
Sold Out

The Civic

124 minutes CinemaScope / DCP

Director, Screenplay


Tom Hern


Jim Marbrook


Denson Baker


Peter Roberts

Production designer

Kim Sinclair

Costume designer

Kristin Seth


Dana Lund


Cliff Curtis (Genesis)
James Rolleston (Mana)
Kirk Torance (Noble)
Xavier Horan (Jedi)
Miriama McDowell (Sandy)
Baz Te Hira (Mutt)
Wayne Hapi


World Premiere

NZIFF 2014 opens in the best way possible: with the World Premiere of a film surely guaranteed to secure the lasting affection of New Zealand audiences. Directed with assurance and sensitivity by James Napier Roberston, The Dark Horse stars Cliff Curtis in a performance of extraordinary tenderness and strength.

He plays Genesis Potini, the late Gisborne speed chess champion who was widely admired for promoting the educational benefits of chess in poor communities. Battling bipolar disorder, Potini was also an advocate for Mental Health awareness, a cause this film advances by gentle implication. Bulked up for the role, Curtis never showboats. He draws us in close to a man grappling with his ungainliness and yearning to do right.

Napier Robertson’s script crystallises Potini’s struggles in a fictitious drama involving a conflicted teenage nephew, Mana (James Rolleston, barely recognisable from Boy), who’s about to be patched into his father’s gang. To Genesis there’s a compelling alternative for Mana: the local chess club, where he coaches an unruly assortment of Gisborne kids (who frequently come close to stealing the film).

A tournament in Auckland becomes a testing ground for Genesis’ aspirations for his pupils, for Mana and for his own usefulness in the world. The suspense of competition runs strong in the film, but Napier Robertson’s sense of where true winnings might be found runs stronger. The modesty and grace with which his film celebrates its uncertain hero is more potently celebratory in its understatement than a stadium of air-punches.