The late Roger Mirams helped launch leading independent film company Pacific Films, and in 1952 co-directed Broken Barrier with John O'Shea — the only local feature made that decade. In 1956 Mirams set up a Pacific Films branch in Melbourne. Over the next four decades he won a reputation in Australia thanks to his many TV shows made for children. Mirams was still working into his 80s; he passed away in 2004. Read the full biography
Though he only had one 20 foot-load 35mm news camera, Roger didn’t hesitate a minute and we started on Broken Barrier. John O'Shea on working with Roger Mirams on Broken Barrier
This edition of the long-running National Film Unit series documents the curriculum at Manutahi Native District School in Ruatōria in 1947. The roll of 300 primarily Māori students, travel to the rural school on bus, foot and horse to learn everything from the alphabet to preparing preserves. Set in the post-war baby boom period, the male students learn to build a cottage while the girls learn ‘home economics’ (cooking and running a household). The first principle of the schooling is “learning by doing” and for the rural kids “the whole land is a classroom.”
This 1948 documentary follows 24 hours of work on the railways. It was directed for the National Film Unit by New Zealand’s first female film director, Margaret Thomson. It shows the engines and commuter trains preparing to leave Wellington, and the overnight train arriving from Auckland. Workers toil on the railway lines above the remote Waimakariri Gorge, and the town of Otira gets ready for a dance. The final shots are of an engine coming through the dawn and back to the city.
This NFU film looks at the challenges of delivering health services to the large, sparsely populated Hokianga district after World War II. The Weekly Review doesn’t flinch from facing the poverty and poor housing of the mostly Māori population. District nurses carry much of the burden, and doctors and nurses from Rawene Hospital travel by car, foot, boat and horseback to attend clinics and emergencies; including the legendary Dr George McCall Smith — responsible for setting up the Hokianga Special Medical Area. The film’s score was composed by Douglas Lilburn.
This 1946 film surveys New Zealand housing: from settler huts to Ernest Plischke’s modernist flats. Architect William Page bemoans sun-spurning Victorian slums with their unneeded “elaboration”. But more fretful than fretwork is a housing crisis that sees 26,000 families needing homes, with owning or renting out of reach of many. Michael Savage’s pioneering (but war-stalled) state housing scheme and newly-planned suburbs offer hope. Fed by wood and cement, NZ can build again with brio: “For a home is the basis of the simple things that make victory worthwhile.”
By World War II locally-made movies were largely missing in action: Broken Barrier marked the first NZ dramatic feature since 1940. Its production saw makers John O'Shea and Roger Mirams crowd into a Vauxhall with a rickety dolly and two silent cameras, one picked up "from a dead German in the Western Desert". Ditching dialogue for 'spoken thoughts', the pioneering film examines cultural complications in a romance between a Pākehā journalist and a Māori nurse. According to O'Shea, some viewers considered it "a dirty movie" for spurring mixed race relationships.
This Pacific Films short provides a vivid snapshot of Australasian motor racing’s coming of age, before brand sponsorship or even crowd safety was on the agenda (look ma, no barriers!) Opening with the ’56 Australian Grand Prix on the streets of Melbourne — where producer Roger Mirams was shooting official newsreels for the Olympics — Stirling Moss scoops another international title, before we head to Auckland where the tragic death of Ken Wharton and a ‘see-sawing duel’ between Reg Parnell and Peter Whitehead makes for a dramatic day at Ardmore.
This 1950 documentary about early primary school education was made by pioneering female director Margaret Thomson, who rated it her favourite NZ work. The survey of contemporary educational theory examines the new order in 'infant schooling' (though some things never change, like tadpoles and tidy up time). It is broken into sections: ‘Play in the Infant School’, ‘Doing and Learning’, ‘Learning to Read’, ‘Number Work’ and ‘Living and Learning’. The National Film Unit doco was made for the Department of Education. Douglas Lilburn composed the score.
Rush-released, this Weekly Review special shows efforts to battle a Taupō forest fire which got out of control in February 1946. Scenes include an RNZAF plane flying the NFU cameraman over the flames, and a family readying to evacuate: “Where it is strongest, little can be done. Only rain can end it.” A drought and strong winds saw the fire spread across 250,000 acres, leap the Waikato River and threaten Taupō. Seen as a national disaster, the fire destroyed 30,000 acres of pine forest as NZ was rebuilding post World War II; it led to the Forest and Rural Fires Act 1947.
John O'Shea was godfather to generations of Kiwi filmmakers; he was an inspirational force committed to bringing new perspectives to the screen. "Had he been a Māori, he would have been a kaumatua years ago" - Wi Kuki Kaa. This documentary backgrounds O'Shea and his pioneering indie production company Pacific Films, ranging from his efforts to put Māori on screen, to banned 60s ads. The cast provides proof positive of O'Shea's influence - amongst the ex-Pacific staff interviewed are Barry Barclay, Tony Williams, Gaylene Preston, and Michael Seresin.
This National Film Unit documentary provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the various stages of 40s film production at the relatively nascent unit, from shoot to post production. It was made to be screened continuously (thus the ‘loop’ title) at exhibition theatrettes. There’s genial interaction among the cast and crew, who include many key figures at the unit. Directed by pioneer woman director Kathleen O’Brien, the filming took place at the unit’s Darlington Road studios in Wellington, close to where Weta Workshop and Park Road Post now operate in Miramar.
This jaunty early National Film Unit film promotes the alpine scenery of Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park and its recreational opportunities. It includes slalom at the 1946 New Zealand ski champs, ice-skating at Lake Tekapo, comic pratfalls in the snow, a mass snow-fight and ... landscape painting. Dancing at the Hermitage Hotel is "a good way to loosen the muscles after skiing". As well as human interest, the film features the expected majestic mountains, glaciers, and avalanches, as well as curious kea at Ball Hut, and amusing dogs in snow-glasses.
This post-war Weekly Review boards a RNZAF Dakota flying “the longest air route in the world”: a weekly 17,000 mile ‘hop’ taking mail to Jayforce, the Kiwi occupation force in Japan. Auckland to Iwakuni via Norfolk Island, Australia (including a pub pit-stop in the outback), Indonesia, the slums of Singapore, Saigon, Hong Kong; then Okinawa, Manilla and home. Director Cecil Holmes’ pithy comments on postcolonial friction and rich and poor avoided censorship, but won a warning not to rock the boat. The next year he was controversially sacked from the National Film Unit.
Made by feature film pioneer Roger Mirams (Broken Barrier), this 1951 film promotes New Zealand outdoor recreation. Coming decades before bungy jumps and hobbits, this was an early effort to brand NZ as an adventure sport playground, taking in snow sports, deer-stalking, pig hunting, fishing and yachting. Regular filmgoers may have found Miram's footage familiar; most of it came from items he'd shot for Sydney-based company Movietone News. Some shots dated from as early as 1948, when he left the NFU to found company the Pacific Film Unit.
The National Film Unit was set up in 1941 to publicise New Zealand’s war effort. The unit’s output soon evolved into the Weekly Review (beginning in October 1942, confusingly with issue No.60!), a weekly reel for screening in cinemas. It was the principal NZ film series produced in the 1940s. The series ended in August 1950 with the 459th issue. The reviews were a mix of newsreel and general interest stories and occasionally, full-reel documentaries. Some were later re-issued (without the Weekly Review title) for screening in educational and overseas markets.