You are here:

Kiwi Ingenuity

Curated by the NZ On Screen team
8th December 2011

 Kiwi Ingenuity

Kiwi Ingenuity

 NZ On Screen team

Curated by the NZ On Screen team


No 8 wire spirit on screen

'No 8 wire' Kiwi ingenuity is defined by problem solving from few resources (No 8 wire is fencing wire that can be adapted to many uses, an ability that was particularly handy for isolated NZ settlers). Embodied in heroes from Richard Pearse to PJ, Kiwi ingenuity is a quality dear to our national sense of self. It has been memorably celebrated, and sometimes satirised, on screen.


The Kiwi Ingenuity Collection

 Good Taste Made Bad Taste

This doco shows some of the tricks of the trade used by Peter Jackson in the making of his first feature, Bad Taste. It offers fascinating insight into Jackson's ingenuity: from a DIY Steadicam, to simulating a head-cleaving machete attack, to dissecting the sheep-obliterating rocket launcher scene.

 Country Calendar - Spoofs Special

"The spoofs" were satirical Country Calendar episodes that screened unannounced and showcased hitherto uncelebrated Kiwi ingenuity. Created by Tony Trotter and Burton Silver, famous episodes included rural music and radio-controlled dogs; more malarkey is collected in this 'best of' show.

 Britten: Backyard Visionary

This doco follows the maverick motorcycle designer — the late John Britten — from literal No 8 wire beginnings to 1992 triumph at Daytona Speedway. Guggenheim curator Ultan Guilfoyle described Britten as "the New Zealander who stood the world of racing-motorcycle design on its head."

 Richard Pearse

Around 31st March 1903, farmer Richard Pearse climbed into a self-built monoplane and flew for 140 metres before crashing into a gorse bush. This TV film dramatises the life of the eccentric young inventor and his flying machine; Martyn Sanderson plays "Mad Dick" in a Feltex-winning performance.

 The Adventure World of Sir Edmund Hillary - The Kaipo Wall (Part One)

Director Roger Donaldson follows Sir Ed and an A-Team of mates on a mission into the wild: they tackle Hollyford's then-unrafted rapids, extreme mountaineering up the unclimbed Kaipo Wall, dense bush and whiteout blizzards, as well as building a DIY yacht with a tent fly (Bear Grylls take note).

 This is Your Life - AJ Hackett

Paul Henry toasts bungy jumping entrepreneur Alan John Hackett. The many guests include childhood go-kart friends, bungying celebs and police boat chief Lloyd McIntosh (witness to Hackett's pioneering leap off Auckland Harbour Bridge). He later famously stole up, and leapt off, the Eiffel Tower.

 Forgotten Silver

An epic documentary chronicling the extraordinary, unbelievable life of pioneer Kiwi filmmaker Colin McKenzie. Or is it? The TV screening of Forgotten Silver memorably stirred up NZ audiences, and it screened at film festivals such as Cannes and Venice, where it won a special critics' prize.

 Landmarks - A Land Apart

In Landmarks Kenneth Cumberland looked at NZ history via its landscape. In this episode NZ's “last, lonely, remote” geography is framed as a stimulus for ingenuity, and in the third clip, a ‘triumph over the elements’ narrative finds its flagbearer in the story of jetboat inventor Bill Hamilton.

 The World's Fastest Indian

The incredible true story of how an aging oddball from Invercargill took his home engineered hot rod motorbike to America and won a land speed record. Variety called Roger Donaldson's homecoming film, “a geriatric Rocky on wheels”, which about sums it up! Anthony Hopkins stars as Burt Munro.

 Peter Snell - Athlete

This NFU classic tells Peter Snell's story up to just prior to his double gold triumph at the Tokyo Olympics. Snell's commentary — focused, candid — plays over training and racing footage and offers insight into the revolutionary methods of coach Arthur Lydiard (15 miles a day, 100 miles a week).

 Rutherford of Nelson

This NFU film looks at the life and work of Nobel Prize-winning scientist Ernest Rutherford. Described by Einstein as "a second Newton", the atom splitter is renowned as one of the founders of modern atomic physics. He famously said of Kiwi ingenuity, "we don't have the money, so we have to think".

 Let's Get Inventin'

Created by Neil Stichbury and Luke Nola this madcap, double Qantas Award-winning TV2 children's show gives young inventors the opportunity to realise their ideas. In these episodes punters team up with experts and ‘build buddies’ to try to realise rocket-powered skates and a pimped-up chair.

 Kaikohe Demolition

The far out meets the Far North in director Florian Habicht's tribute to a community drawn together by a desire to demolition derby. Behind the bangs, prangs, and blow-ups, the heart and soul of a small town is laid bare. It would be hard to find a more genial celebration of "giving it a bash".

 Seven Black Robins

By 1976 there were seven Chatham Islands' black robins left — it was the world’s rarest bird. This desperate relocation of the birds was the start of front-running conservation efforts (led by Don Merton and a NZ Wildlife Service team) that revolutionised the rescue of endangered species worldwide.

 Flip & Two Twisters

Motion maestro Len Lye's international reputation rests on his work as a filmmaker and kinetic sculptor and his contributions to the London and New York avant-garde. This doco explores Lye's career and work, with the help of priceless footage of Lye, in typically exuberant form outlining his ideas.

 Fast Forward

This popular TVNZ show put science in primetime in the 1980s (on Friday nights before Coronation Street). In these extracts Jim Hopkins looks at a new way of weighing sheep, and visits an Auckland boatyard where one of the world's biggest single-masted yachts is being built (jacuzzi and all).

 Pioneer Women - Ettie Rout

This dramatisation tells the story of Ettie Rout. In World War I she found venereal disease rife among Kiwi soldiers in Egypt, and campaigned for safe sex education. While to the establishment her pioneering ideas were radical, the RSA and some doctors considered her a “guardian angel”.

 Cowboys of Culture

This is Geoff Steven's perspective on the Kiwi cinema renaissance of the 1970s. The films — raw and inspired by 'she'll be right' energy — represented a vital new cultural force. It features interviews with the major players and clips from the films (Wild Man, Sleeping Dogs, Smash Palace).

 Three New Zealanders: Sylvia Ashton-Warner

Visionary educationalist and novelist Sylvia Ashton-Warner talks about her life and work with Jack Shallcrass; it is the only interview she ever made for TV. The film explores her "organic teaching" educational philosophies as she plays piano and interacts with children at her Tauranga home.

 Architect Athfield

This film examines the philosophy, early achievements and frustrations of one of NZ's most innovative architects, Ian Athfield. Athfield won an international competition in 1975 to design housing for 140,000 squatters in Manila, Philippines. Directed by Sam Neill, before he was famous as an actor.

 Deer Wars

Deer WarsTop Gun in choppers over the beech forest — revisits the heady 'gold rush' days where heli-cowboys calculated (often fatal) pay-offs between risk and reward while hunting deer in the southern alps. Features interviews and fearsome footage of men hanging from strops and leaping onto deer.

 Inventions from the Shed

Jim Hopkins presents this doco about backyard inventors. Amphibious planes and hovercraft feature prominently (with one basement boasting a wind tunnel); while a rural bent extends to fence brackets, gate openers, shearing tables, possum pluckers and a serious rat trap (designed by a poet).

 Shearing Technique

Sheep shearers Godfrey and Ivan Bowen developed the 'Bowen Technique', an innovative method involving rhythmical sweeps of the handpiece. The Guardian described Godfrey as having arms that "flow with the grace of a Nureyev shaping up to an arabesque". Here he runs through the 'blows' (strokes).

 Bigger, Better, Faster, Stronger

With a large dollop of Kiwi ingenuity and a hint of James May, broadcaster James Coleman and director Greg Page host this popular science series where they attempt to supercharge everyday objects (toasters, BBQs, juicers, lawnmowers) ... aided by people who actually know what they're doing.

 Allan Wilson: Evolutionary

Allan Wilson was the Pukekoe-raised, UC Berkeley-based scientist who revolutionised the study of evolutionary biology, via molecular approaches. He raised the theory that humans evolved from one 'Eve' in Africa 200,000 years ago. He is the only Kiwi to win a prestigious US MacArthur "genius" Award.

 Flight of Fancy

This whimsical film starring artist Michael Smither, animal wrangler Caroline Girdlestone, and cartoonist and inventor Burton Silver, documents Smither's quest to learn to fly. Made by Tony Hiles, edited by Jamie Selkirk, and gorgeously shot on location at Farewell Spit and Wharariki Beach.

 Behind the Bull

Costa Botes, who originated Forgotten Silver, later made this doco, looking at the construction of subject Colin McKenzie's epic, tragic, yet increasingly ridiculous story. This excerpt looks at the film's controversial reception and includes an interview with Botes' partner in crime, Peter Jackson.

 Jack Brown Genius

Jack Brown Genius is the story of an obsessive flight of fancy. The spirit of a 1000-year-old monk inhabits the mind of a contemporary Kiwi inventor (Tim Balme), who is inspired to turn the idea of human-powered flight into reality; much trouble ensues in director Tony Hiles' feature film.

 The New Adventures of Black Beauty - The Birdman

A continuation of the 70s UK TV series cherished by herds of horse-loving girls, the New Adventures shifts Beauty to the antipodes. Here Manfred attempts to fly on Karekare Beach in a Richard Pearse-like contraption. When plans go awry, Vicky charges to the rescue on the famous black horse.

Meerkats, flying Kiwis, and remote-controlled dogs

Meerkats, flying Kiwis, and remote-controlled dogs

Ian Pryor introduces the collection and chats to Country Calendar trickster and inventor Burton Silver about ingenuity and play. Read More ›

The ‘No 8 Wire’ tradition

The ‘No 8 Wire’ tradition

Te Ara entry on overcoming the tyranny of distance: “New Zealanders have always had to invent things they could not easily obtain.” Read More ›