Michael BennettScreenwriter | Director | Author

Michael Bennett (Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Whakaue) is a screenwriter, director and author. He is the 2020 recipient of the Te Aupounamu Māori Screen Excellence Award, awarded by the NZ Film Commission to honour excellence in Māori filmmaking. Michael’s short films and feature films have screened and won awards internationally, including Cannes, Toronto, Berlin, Locarno, New York, London, ImagiNative and Dreamspeakers.

Michael devoted many years of his recent career to the fight for justice for Teina Pora, a young Māori man wrongly imprisoned for 21 years. Michael made the documentary The Confessions of Prisoner T (2013), which lead to the discovery of evidence pivotal to Teina’s exoneration. Michael directed and co-wrote the feature film In Dark Places (2019) about Teina’s case, which was finalist for a record 11 awards in the NZ Television Awards including Best Screenplay, and winning Best Film and Best Director. Michael wrote the book In Dark Places (2016), winner of the Ngaio Marsh Award for best non-fiction book.

Michael has been head writer or showrunner for many dozens of hours of prime-time television drama including The Gone (NZ / Ireland crime thriller), Mataku (the Māori Twilight Zone), Vegas (crime thriller), Te Kohu (supernatural drama) The Lost Children (period family drama), Kaitangata Twitch (family drama), PET Detectives (family sci-fi), The Factory (comedy web series). Michael won Best TV Drama Screenplay for Cover Story (adult drama).

Michael’s debut novel Better The Blood, a crime thriller, was published in 2022 in the UK, United States, Australia and NZ, with nine international translations. Better The Blood was a finalist for the fiction prize at the 2023 New Zealand literary awards (The Ockhams), the first time a crime novel has  been shortlisted for the premiere NZ literary award. Michael is currently adapting his novel for television, and writing the second book in the series, Return To Blood.

Michael teaches screenwriting and filmmaking at a number of tertiary institutions. Michael runs workshops and supports emerging Māori and Pasifika writers for the NZ Film Commission, and is active in communities, working with locals to tell their stories, the stories of their whānau (families) and their area. Michael was Co-Curator Māori with daughter Matariki (poet and filmmaker) for the 2023 Auckland Writers Festival.

Michael has a number of film, television and fiction projects in development in Australia, New Zealand and the UK.


  • He confessed to a crime he didn’t commit and spent 21 years in jail. How did it happen?
  • Teina Pora, a 17-year-old car thief, was wrongly convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Susan Burdett, who had been beaten to death with the softball bat she kept next to her bed for her own protection.
  • Tim McKinnel, en ex-cop turned private investigator, discovered the long forgotten case 18 years later, saw an injustice had been done and set out to win Teina’s freedom.
  • Reaching from the mean streets of South Auckland to the highest court in the Commonwealth, this is the story not just of Tim’s quest, but also of how an innocent man who was left rotting in a prison cell for two decades found the inner strength to rise above the dark places to which he had been condemned.
  • “Amazing. Almost novel-like in its writing… Deeply affecting… Beautifully pulls together all the elements of the case in one very cleverly crafted history… The book made me laugh and cry… Comprehensive and impressive.” Paula Penfold
  • “Pacy, accessible and important. A bracing read.” Russell Brown
  • “A compelling true crime story. In Dark Places puts our justice system under the microscope… Enough intrigue to rival any of the top rating true crime drama series…” Aroha Awarau – Mana Magazine
  • Published by Paul Little Books [To purchase, go to Publisher]

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