The long career of Stan Wemyss ranged from South Pacific skirmishes to gleaming refrigerators and Māori legends. Winner of an MBE after getting caught up in combat in Bougainville as a National Film Unit cameraman, Wemyss later spent many years with commercials company Peach Wemyss. He also produced pioneering te reo TV drama Uenuku. Read the full biography
Wemyss closely documented combat action showing the gore and tragic reality of war, to the extent of being compelled to participate in the action. He was subsequently made an MBE for bravery. Geraldene Peters, in the book New Zealand Film - An Illustrated History
This intense newsreel reports from the war in the Pacific in Easter 1944, as American, Fijian, and New Zealand soldiers battle the Japanese in the Bougainville jungle. Cameraman Stan Wemyss found himself isolated with a Fijian patrol, amidst casualties and under fire from 'Japs'. He later recounted being so close to the action he could hear troops talking in two languages he couldn't understand; at one point he lays down his camera to pitch a grenade. Wemyss was awarded an MBE for his services as a war correspondent. He is the grandfather of actor Russell Crowe.
Geoff Murphy (Goodbye Pork Pie, Utu) directs this freewheeling adaptation of the Māori legend of Uenuku and his affair with the mist maiden Hinepūkohurangi. The story of love, betrayal, and rainbow redemption was the first Māori myth adapted for TV, and the first TV drama to be entirely performed in te reo (The Listener softened viewers by providing a translation prior to screening). Filmed at the Waimarama base of Murphy and cinematographer Alun Bollinger, Uenuku was produced by Peach Wemyss Astor for the NZBC — a then-rare independently produced drama.
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.”
This wartime propaganda film from the NFU celebrates the role of women in the Air Force. Established in 1941 to free up men for other duties, more than 4,700 women served in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force during WWII. The film is also a recruitment vehicle. It shows WAAF members in traditional (for the time) roles such as sewing and typing. But more male-dominated jobs are being taken on as women are trained as metal workers, mechanics and drivers. And when they’re not working, the women relax by "knitting, drinking a cup of tea and talking."
The war is Europe is over and New Zealanders take to the streets to celebrate in this NFU newsreel. The relief and excitement at the end of hostilities against Germany is clearly visible on the faces of the thousands who flood into New Zealand's towns and cities. But Deputy Prime Minister Walter Nash reminds the crowd the war is not over: Japan has yet to surrender. That doesn't stop wild celebrations following the National Declaration of Peace. Civilians and servicemen alike enjoy the party, many looking the worse for wear "in advanced stages of celebration".
This 1945 newsreel reports on the repatriation of New Zealand prisoners held in Japanese camps during the war in the Pacific. Cameraman Stan Wemyss (grandfather of Russell Crowe) ranges across Asia with the RNZAF — from Changi in Singapore, to camps in Java (Indonesia), and Siam (Thailand). The narration notes grimly that “the movie camera does not record the stench of death”; and returned PoW, Dr Johns of Auckland, implores for the sake of the children: “that the experiences that we have gone through at the hands of the Japanese shall never, never again be possible.”
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.
The end of World War II is in sight in the 10th episode of the this NZ 20th Centrury history series. But there's still fighting to be done by New Zealand troops and their allies as they battle tenacious Japanese forces in the Pacific. Future Prime Minister Jack Marshall addresses his men in the jungle, and war correspondent Stan Wemyss recalls being under fire with Fijian troops in a interview (while his footage of the action plays). When the war finally ends Prime Minister Peter Fraser delivers his victory speech and there’s dancing in the streets.
This NFU documentary showcases the hydroelectric power-generating might of the Waikato River. The ‘man harnesses nature’ narrative — shown via concrete, steel and earthmoving for dam building — highlights the path of the power: to drive farms, factories and Wellington’s electric trains. Director Cecil Holmes later wrote that post-war NZ was "a desperately poor country"; the film aimed to highlight Government efforts to overcome power shortages. After the 'satchel snatch' smear campaign of 1948, Holmes left for a highly regarded screen career in Australia.
In the one channel days of the early 70s, the Survey slot was the place to find local documentaries. Topics ranged across the board, from social issues (alcoholism, runaway children) to the potentially humdrum (an AGM meeting) to the surprisingly experimental (an awardwinning doco about service clubs). After extended campaigning by John O’Shea, a number of emerging independent filmmakers, including Tony Williams and Roger Donaldson, joined the party, bringing fresh creativity and new techniques to the traditional narration-heavy, gently-paced doco format.