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.
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.
Made by Roger Donaldson for TV, this classic curio chronicles the dawning of the Age of Aquarius in Aotearoa. The film interviews young people who've swapped walk shorts for wigwams, to "start again". There's rebellion against all things "straight" and rejection of the city in favour of getting back to nature. Folk songs are the soundtrack to bearded leaping hippies, outdoor bathing, "group touching", the Blerta bus, and DIY dome housing. Counter-culture aplenty is counterpointed by 1984-style scenes of masked marchers as the "silent majority".
Gliding On meets Borat, as a man pretending to be a fisherman from a fictional town heads to Wellington to find out if any government agency will take action about fish he says are dying in his river. Clad in jacket and tie and walk shorts and walk socks, he traipses the corridors of power which are artfully shot to look like a hell from which he will never escape. His attempts to find someone who can take action yield only a succession of impotent bureaucrats who participate happily but only to explain, often at length, why they can’t actually do anything.
Directed by Tony Williams, this documentary is a terrific example of how a fresh interpretation of a brief that might easily have been overly earnest, could make for engaging TV. Nominally “a history of service clubs in New Zealand”, the foot-loose film explores a rich variety of organisations created to bring people together: from accordion players and air hostesses to flying saucer believers and Rotarians, it celebrates a fundamental human need to ‘get together’. Poet Denis Glover provides sardonic commentary. It won the best programme of year Feltex Award.
Tony Williams recognised that passion makes for compelling human interest whatever the subject and came up with the idea of a “pub battle” where three people from very different fields, but united by a common dedication to their respective callings, would be brought together to debate their obsessions. The subjects — choirmaster Maxwell Fernie, astronomer Peter (Night Sky) Read, and sports journalist Terry ‘TP’ McLean — are also filmed separately at work; shots of Fernie working with his choir are particularly notable in the scrum of sport, art and science.
“A film developed from the imagination of New Zealand children” is how director Tony Williams describes this remarkable, sprawling mix of drama and documentary. It features a fictitious teacher (writer Michael Heath) working with a class of 11-year-olds from Petone to explore what freedom means to them. At times their notions might seem naive but the film remains firmly non-judgmental. The free-wheeling approach, most memorable in the Paekakariki beach fantasy scenes, makes for a “wonderfully idiosyncratic” (film historian Roger Horrocks) hymn to juvenile freedom.
Opening with an image of Orpheus floating on the water, this inspired doco climaxes with a contender for NZ's most eyeopening montage yet. Loaded with examples of the infinite ways the human voice can make music, the film sees host Julian Waring introducing choirs, opera, balladeers and protest singers. Along the way Michael Heath recreates a performance by Florence Foster Jenkins, a worryingly close cousin of Asian-New Zealand songbird Wing. The mash-up finale uses 2000 photographs to summarise two decades of music, in a scene that must have blown minds in the suburbs.
The Dominant Species is a loopy look at the relationship between people and cars in 1975 Aotearoa ... from an alien's eye view. Nifty animations and FX intersperse the alien automotive anthropological survey of Mark IIs, VWs, anti-car activism and driveway car-washing. There's a ladykilling Jesus Christ atop-a-motorcar dream sequence; and Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries scores a rugby match traffic jam (predating Apocalypse Now's choppers). Screenspotters will note the tripped out assembly is flush with formative industry talents (see Derek Morton’s guide below).