It seems a fascination with going fast is built into human DNA. Covering distance in the shortest amount of time has long captured our imagination. From muscle-powered freaks of nature (thoroughbred horses, falcons, Peter Snell) to motorhead mayhem, from Formula 1 legends to front-running design innovation, this collection celebrates the particularly Kiwi 'need for speed'.
This documentary uses archive footage and interviews to tell the story of motor-racing legends Bruce McLaren, Denny Hulme, and Chris Amon. The trio topped podiums in the sport's 'golden age' — one of those eras when unlikely Kiwi talent managed to dominate a truly global sport. The Team McLaren racing team that four times Grand Prix winner Bruce McLaren founded in 1966, has been the most successful in Formula One. That same year McLaren and Amon teamed up to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and in 1967 Hulme was Formula One world champion.
This NFU classic tells Peter Snell's story up to just prior to his triumph at the Tokyo Olympics (he had already won 800m gold in Rome and held the world record for the mile). Snell's commentary — focused, candid — plays over footage of training and racing. "It always gives a feeling of exhilaration to run in the New Zealand all black singlet." He offers insight into the methods of coach Arthur Lydiard (15 miles a day, 100 miles a week). Includes priceless footage of Snell running in the Waiatarua hills, through bush and leaping farm fences.
The far out meets the Far North in director Florian Habicht's tribute to a community of characters drawn together by a desire to demolition derby. Behind the bangs, prangs, and blow-ups, the heart and soul of a small town — Kaikohe — is laid bare. “Having work as generous and high-spirited as Kaikohe Demolition on the programme makes my job so easy it's embarrassing!”, Bill Gosden, Director of International NZ Film Festivals, 2004. Note: the second clip is a subtitled version of the mud-splattered motorhead-delighting film.
Stunt driver Judd (US Oscar winner Cliff Robertson) and his mechanic Casey (ex child star Leif Garrett) are in NZ racing 'Shaker' — their pink and black Trans-Am — when they're enlisted by scientist Dr Christine Ruben on a fast and furious dash from Dunedin. Unknown to the Yanks, Ruben (Lisa Harrow) has stolen a deadly virus that she's aiming to smuggle to the CIA, and away from the NZ military — who plan to use it for bio warfare! Touted as "fantasy car violence", the chase and stunt-laden Run was one of dozens of films sped out under an 80s tax break scheme.
This film showcases legendary running coach Arthur Lydiard's training methods through the example of his acolytes, including reigning Olympic 1,500m champ John Walker. 'Arthur's boys' (Snell, Halberg, Magee) scored attention by winning unheralded medals (two golds and a bronze) at the 1960 Rome Olympics. Lydiard later led the 'flying Finns' to similar success. His method revolves around building stamina to complement speed, and was influential in popularising jogging globally. Beautifully filmed, a doco highlight is Jack Foster's exhilarating scree slope descent.
During the late 1980s, Kiwi inventor John Britten developed and built a revolutionary racing motorcycle. He pursued his dream all the way to Daytona International Speedway, where, in 1992, as an unlikely underdog, he proceeded to beat the biggest and richest manufacturers in the world. Britten: Backyard Visionary documents the maverick motorcycle designer that Guggenheim curator Ultan Guilfoyle described as "the New Zealander who stood the world of racing-motorcycle design on its head."
Geoff Murphy's second feature was a low-budget smash, definitively proving that New Zealanders could make blockbusters too. Young rascal Gerry steals a yellow Mini from a Kaitaia rental company. Heading south, he meets John, who wants his wife back; and a hitchhiker named Shirl. Soon they are driving to Invercargill to find her, with the cops in hot pursuit. Eluding the police with hair-raising driving, verve and trickery, it's not long before the "Blondini gang" are hailed as folk heroes, onscreen and off.
Off the Edge is director Michael Firth's ode to the exhilaration of adventuring on the spine of NZ's Southern Alps. Something of a snowy Endless Summer, Firth follows an American and a Canadian as they ski, hang-glide, walk, climb and delve beneath glaciers, over nine months in the Aoraki-Mt Cook area. Thrilling footage amidst requisite spectacular scenery was shot over 45 days, where extreme weather and geography meant few chances for second takes. The film was nominated for an Oscar (Best Documentary, 1977); the LA Times called it, "beautiful and awesome".
This documentary is about champion speedway driver Ivan Mauger. Mauger powered and slid his motorbike around oval tracks to a record six individual world speedway titles from 1968-79. Interviews with Mauger and his family cover his long career, from his boy racer beginnings - he muses that in Spain the heroes are bullfighters, but in Christchurch they were speedway riders - to his Western Springs farewell and a tribute from David Lange. His focus on winning comes through, "if you show me a good loser you show me someone who consistently loses".
The incredible true story of how Burt Munro, an ageing oddball from Invercargill, took his home-engineered motorbike to America and won a land speed record. Director Roger Donaldson's passion project marked his first locally made film in two decades. Variety described it as "like a geriatric Rocky on wheels”, while Roger Ebert praised Anthony Hopkins' performance as one of the most endearing of his career. The result sold to 126 countries, spent five weeks in the Australian top six, and became NZ's highest-grossing local film — until Boy in 2010.
On the eve of the 1976 Olympics, this Keith Quinn-scripted NZBC profile traces the career of champion athlete John Walker from a training averse teenager at the Manurewa Harrier Club to his world mile record triumph in Göteborg, Sweden. Walker still smarts from his second place to Filbert Bayi in the 1500m at the 1974 Commonwealth Games, but what are euphemistically referred to as "political implications" (NZ sporting ties with South Africa) have prevented further match-ups — and will ultimately remove the Tanzanian from the race so keenly anticipated here.
Michael Firth's follow-up to his 1977 Oscar-nominated ski documentary Off the Edge, but this time with a plot and scripted dialogue. Canadian Matt hitches from Auckland to meet a bunch of Kiwi extreme thrill-seekers at a southern ski field. They throw themselves off volcanoes, glaciers, mountains and into an Iron Man with "get more go" abandon. Cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh's first feature shoot — "I was relatively cheap and I could ski" — is notable for its action sequences (set to an 80s pop soundtrack) and Billy T James as a mad pilot.
Open Door is series where community projects team up with Morningside Productions and TV3 to tell their stories. This episode looks at Rotorua's Wingspan, where the art of falconry is being used to train, breed and rehabilitate kārearea and other birds of prey. The $20 note icon can fly at speeds of up to 200kph, as spectacularly demonstrated in a public show when a falcon hunts down a finch. But habitat loss, vulnerable nests and being shot at, means there are less than 4,000 falcons left — a threatened status that the Wingspan project is working at changing.
This National Film Unit documentary looks at thoroughbred racehorse breeding in NZ, an industry appraised as producing "the world's finest racing thoroughbreds" (eg. 1966 Melbourne Cup winner Galilee). Made when racing could be described as our "national sport" the film visits leading stud farms (such as Trelawney) to follow the life of a foal, from its birth through yearling sales and training, to Wellington Cup race day when roads are gridlocked with "a congregation whose bible is a racing almanac". Footage includes a 'good citizenship' school for jockeys.
In September 2000 New Zealand's greatest athlete was surprised with the 'Big Red Book'. Paul Holmes reunites Snell with figures in his life, from the Rome 800m silver and bronze medallists, to Opunake locals, and influential coach Arthur Lydiard. The tribute to his peerless career includes footage of Olympic triumphs and world records, and revelation of a performance enhancing drug: Fanta. Snell expresses pride in his academic achievement, where — despite a faltering start at Mt Albert Grammar — he is now director of the Human Performance Lab, University of Texas.
This motors'n'mullets doco focuses on a group of men, women and their families who are obsessed by stock car racing. Shot by Stuart Dryburgh, it follows a group of drivers and their crews as they ready for Saturday night racing in the mud at Waikaraka Park Speedway, Onehunga. Hours are spent preparing, and repairing the one-and-a-half tonne cars that can travel at speeds of up to 112 kmph in one of the few full contact motor sports. Passion, ego and native cunning fuel the drama, and injuries and personal sacrifices are the price for the part-time petrol heads.
In the 1950s, driven by a desire to power around the shallows of the Mackenzie Country's braided rivers, inventor and "South Island sheep man" Bill Hamilton went against the flow and developed a revolutionary method of jet-boat propulsion. This NFU film explains the concept and Hamilton demonstrates the "turbo craft": cruising Lake Manapouri, waterskiing Lyttelton Harbour, and up the Whanganui. Then it's spin outs and shooting rapids (and deer) with Commander Porter from the icebreaker USS Glacier ... who clearly loves the smell of the Waimakariri in the morning.
“For three days, Wellington, New Zealand will become the Monte Carlo of the South Pacific”. Monaco Monza Macao Wellington follows a champion saloon car team (BMW Schnitzer M3) racing in 1989's Nissan Mobil 500 Wellington street race. From their arrival from Macao, to crashes, dramatic victory and a Coromandel wind-down, the documentary goes behind the scenes of a race team on the international circuit. Features interviews with team manager Charlie Lamm, drivers (Emanuele Pirro, Roberto Ravaglia), and a young Jude Dobson as interviewer.
A stylish title sequence sets the tone for this NFU short on motor racing in the early 60s. Shot during the golden age of the sport, it begins with amateurs competing in Dunedin's 'round the town' race (won by future Formula One champ Denis Hulme), then shifts north to Auckland for the New Zealand International Grand Prix. 60,000 spectators watch world champ Jack Brabham and local hero Bruce McLaren battle for the title. Also included are classic summer shots of the world's top drivers relaxing on the beach, and Australian racer Arnold Glass teaching McLaren to waterski.
Smash Palace is a Kiwi cinema classic and launched Roger Donaldson's American career. Al Shaw (a brilliant, brooding Bruno Lawrence) is a racing car driver who now runs a wrecker's yard in the shadow of Mount Ruapehu. His French wife Jacqui is unhappy there and leaves him, taking up with Al's best mate. When she restricts Al's access to his young daughter, his frustration explodes and he goes bush with the girl, desperate not to lose her too. "There's no road back" runs the tagline. New Yorker critic Pauline Kael called the film "amazingly accomplished".
This notorious film looks at '70s bikie culture, focusing on Auckland's Hells Angels (the first Angels chapter outside of California). These not-so-easy riders — with sideburns and swastikas and fuelled by pies and beer — rev up the Triumphs, defend the creed, beat up students, cruise on the Interislander, provoke civic censure, and attend the Hastings Blossom Festival. After a funeral, Aotearoa's sons of anarchy head back on the highway ... Bikies was banned by the NZBC, perhaps piqued by the public urination, chauvinism and PETA-unfriendly pig's head activity.
Director Sam Peacocke’s tale of love and motor-racing was the first official music video to be made for The Checks. Set in the 1960s, it contrasts a young Japanese driver at the track with his apprehensive girlfriend who waits forlornly at home. Tapping into his own love of motor-sport and memories of being at a racetrack as a child, Peacocke made this stylish, streamlined clip for a budget of $30,000 at Hobsonville Air Base near Auckland; the meticulous attention to period detail includes authentic Lotus racing cars.
Lana Coc-Kroft and her all female Extreme Team swing, fall and paddle their way through this episode from their primetime, extreme sports TV series. There's a guest appearance from actor Kevin Smith who enthusiastically investigates bridge swinging with Jayne Mitchell (near Masterton). Lana forgets her fear of heights for long enough to take a tandem sky dive and check out the sport of sky surfing — and Emma Barry and Katrina Misa keep their feet much closer to the ground, but get them wet, on a canoe safari down the Whanganui River.
Chris Stapp and Matt Heath's adept manipulation of miniatures combined with the band's nihilistic performances make for one of NZ's most hilarious (albeit puerile) music clips. Depictions of drug inhalation and drinking while driving, along with violent confrontations with the law, only add to the tongue-in-cheek Back of the Y establishment-baiting that a generation of bogans, students and boy racers has come to know and love.