Screened as part of NZIFF 2001

Series 7: The Contenders 2000

Directed by Daniel Minahan

USA In English
87 minutes 35mm

Director, Screenplay

Production Co

Blow-up Pictures
Killer Films


Jason Kliot
Joana Vicente
Christine Vachon
Katie Roumel


Randy Drummond


Malcolm Jamieson

Production Designer

Gideon Ponte

Costume Designer

Christine Beiselin


Lewis Goldstein


Girls Against Boys


Brooke Smith (Dawn)
Glenn Fitzgerald (Jeff)
Michael Kaycheck (Tony)
Marylouise Burke (Connie)
Merrit Weaver (Lindsay)
Richard Venture (Franklin)
Donna Hanover (Sheila)


The script for Daniel Minahan’s Series 7, a dead-on shot to the heart of reality TV, predated Survivor by several years; in fact, it grew out of Minahan’s day job producing tabloid TV at Fox during the early 90s. Another inspiration is Shirley Jackson’s grim, gothic short story ‘The Lottery’. The most adroit use of video since The Celebration, Series 7 was shot in DV and blown up to 35mm for theatrical release. In its entirety, the film is a three-episode marathon from the seventh season of a reality-based series called The Contenders. The show’s premise is unadorned Darwinism: kill or be killed. The production team and the reigning champion descend upon an average American town where five fresh contestants are chosen at random. They’re given guns, and it’s up to each of them to kill the others. The last one left alive is the winner; the only prize is life itself.

In an extra twist, Dawn (Brooke Smith), the eight-months-pregnant champion and survivor of 10 kills, is returning to her home town – one of the contestants she must do away with to survive is her high school soul mate, Jeff (Glenn Fitzgerald), now married and dying of testicular cancer. ‘Will Dawn kill the only man she ever loved for the sake of her baby? Can Jeff change from an ex-gay pacifist to a contender?’ intones the narrator (Will Arnett). Minahan has a pitch-perfect ear for the dominant syntax and tone of network TV – not only of reality shows, but of the soaps, news programs, commercials, and nighttime dramas that led to them. It’s a language that’s hyperbolic, but also depressingly clichéd (to call it pulp is to give it credit for exactly the color and surprise it lacks), so pervasive it can’t help but filter into your unconscious and play through your dreams…

Series 7 has the quality of a dream – the kind of smothering nightmare that picks up where it left off every time you fall back to sleep. Minahan combines hyperrealism with a topsy-turvy absurdism… Still, Series 7 could have turned out as ugly as the second season of Survivor, were it not for the pleasure Minahan takes in melodrama, particularly in the scenes between Dawn and Jeff, which are nearly as delirious as Almodóvar…

Leading an ensemble cast that’s precisely attuned to the material, Smith, typed too long as a character ingenue, proves here that she has the presence and range to carry a film. — Amy Taubin, Village Voice, 26/2/01