New Zealand is said to have earned its prosperity "off the sheep's back", and our relationship with sheep is a renowned and intimate one (as many a sheep shagger joke attests). The national flock has dropped recently but we still have a hellava lot of them (30 million). This collection features 21 titles celebrating and sometimes making fun of Kiwis and our ovine kin.
This thoughtful but humorous documentary offers a wry tribute to sheep in New Zealand. Interviews with Chris Knox, Dog's Show presenter John Gordon, Dick Frizzell and Michael Parekowhai (among others) pull the wool away from our collective eyes, and examine Aotearoa's much ridiculed relationship with sheep. Artists' images, souvenirs, pets, and shows for tourists all feature, as do songs and plays. The documentary also examines the foundational role of sheep in the country's economy. This was one of the first productions from company Greenstone Pictures.
In the 40s and 50s sheep shearers Godfrey and Ivan Bowen developed the 'Bowen Technique', an innovative method involving rhythmical sweeps of the handpiece. The legendary Godfrey was described in The Guardian as having arms that “flow with the grace of a Nureyev shaping up to an arabesque”. Here he runs through the 'blows' (strokes) designed to achieve "maximum speed, quality work with a minimum of physical effort". Shearing Technique was originally produced in 1956; this shorter cut screened in NZ theatres in 1958 with UK coming of age film High Tide at Noon.
Man. Dog. Sheep. This was an unlikely formula for Kiwi TV gold. A Dog's Show was familiar as a homespun in its long-running Sunday slot. The show featured sheepdog trials from around the country, with commentary provided by a wise, bearded John Gordon. In the final from a 1981 series, four farmers wield sticks and whistles, and put their dogs through their paces to wrangle the "sticky sheep". It's 1981, but the only riots here are ovine. Trivia: the opening tune is a version of the song 'Flowers on the Wall', also used in the film Pulp Fiction.
This best of special culls history and highlights from 40 seasons of the longest running show on NZ television. Farming, forestry and fishing are all on the roster, but this edition is as much about observing people and the land. There is footage of high country musters, helicopter deer capture, floods and blizzards, as well as radio-controlled dogs and mice farmers. Longtime Country Calendar figures like John Gordon and Tony Trotter share their memories, and the show sets out to catch up again with some of the colourful New Zealanders that have featured on screen.
Ovine raconteurs Robert and Sheepy made their short film debut in 2001, thanks to the stop motion magic of Guy Capper. Capper and Jemaine (Flight of the Conchords) Clement's comical duo — one loquacious, one laconic — stood out from the flock amidst 100s of entries in the trans-Tasman Nescafe Short Film Awards, sharing first prize in 2001. Further occasional installments of The Pen were made over the next decade and shown online, and in 2010 Robert and Sheepy’s woolly wisdom was brought to TV audiences as a segment in sketch show Radiradirah.
Ask Country Calendar viewers which shows they remember and inevitably the answer is "the spoofs" — satirical episodes that screened unannounced. Sometimes there was outrage but mostly the public enjoyed having the wool pulled over their eyes. Created by producer Tony Trotter and Bogor cartoonist Burton Silver, the first (in late 1977) was the fencing wire-playing farmer and his "rural music". This special episode collects the best of the spoofs, from the infamous radio-controlled dog, to the gay couple who ran a "stress-free" flock, and more malarkey besides.
Two decades before the animals of Black Sheep run amok, comes this Sunday night horror about a couple trapped in the countryside as the sheep start getting restless. In between encounters with a cheerful butcher and a man of God, we learn that New Zealand has undergone revolution: anyone who farms or harms animals is now branded a criminal. Directed by Costa Botes; scripted by poet and lawyer Piers Davies, who co-wrote Skin Deep (plus cult movie The Cars that Ate Paris, with acclaimed Australian director Peter Weir).
"For the farmers of the high country the snowline is their boundary". So begins the narration to this National Film Unit documentary. Beautifully shot by Brian Brake, the challenges of farming the vast stations on the rugged aprons of the Southern Alps are captured. The centrepiece is the great autumn muster where shepherds and dogs work 16,000 sheep down from "the tops" over 100,000 acres of peaks and glaciers, before the snow and winter blizzards arrive. "It's mutton every meal out here - we chase sheep every day and eat them every meal."
A mutant lamb escapes from the lab after dodgy genetic experiments, and herds of sheep are turned into bloodthirsty predators. Three hapless humans are stranded on the farm as the woolly nightmare develops. They discover a bite from an infected sheep has an alarming effect on those bitten. With his first feature, director Jonathan King (Under the Mountain) provides splatter thrills and attacks a few sacred cows. Black Sheep was invited to 20+ international festivals, where it scored acclaim and multiple awards. The interviews include King, Weta's Richard Taylor, and the cast.
The magpie quardle oodled and the narrator uttered, "Welcome to Woolly Valley", in the intro to this children's TV classic. The low-tech puppet show with its rustic charm was familiar to a generation of kids who grew up in the 80s. It follows the lives of woolly-haired farmer Wally and his long-suffering wife Beattie, who live with talking ewe Eunice. Also featured is hippie Tussock, voiced by Russell (Count Homogenized) Smith. Woolly Valley marked an early piece of screenwriting by children's writer Margaret Mahy. This compilation is the entire first series.
Toss is an 11-year old girl living on a remote hill country farm. While out with her father herding sheep, he falls and is killed. Ethan, a bearded stranger appears, carrying his body, and plants himself on the farm. Toss fears he’s Lucifer and is confused when he and her mother become lovers. It is through Ethan, however, that Toss comes to terms with her father’s death and the first stirrings of womanhood. Vincent Ward’s debut feature was the first NZ film selected for competition at Cannes; LA Times’ critic Kevin Thomas lauded it as “a work of awesome beauty”.
This doco looks at the relationship between dogs and shepherds in Kiwi sheep farming. It covers the history of dog and man, and reveals Dog Show-worthy secrets behind the dogs' training and personalities, from ‘heading dogs' who stare sheep (and geese!) "into submission" to the "loudmouth" ‘huntaways' who drive flocks on vast high country stations. This Swanndri-saturated doco is shot, scored and narrated in an old-fashioned Disney style (shepherds are "the very substance of romance"). As the title states, the canines are the stars.
In 1986 Footrot Flats: The Dog's (Tail) Tale and its theme song ‘Slice of Heaven’ were huge hits in New Zealand and Australia. The adaptation of Murray Ball's beloved Footrot Flats comic strip marked Aotearoa's first animated feature. There were a lot of big questions to answer: Will Wal become an All Black? Will Cooch recover his stolen stag? Will the Dog win your hearts and funny bones? Punters answered at the box office. This John Toon-shot trailer doubled as a promo for the Dave Dobbyn-Herbs song, and smartly leveraged both. Tony Hiles writes about the film's making here.
In this highlights special culled from the first four years of Eating Media Lunch, presenter Jeremy Wells manages to keep a straight face while mercilessly satirising all manner of mainstream media. Leaping channels and barriers of taste, the episode shows the fine line between send-up and target. The 'Worst of EML' tests the patience of talkback radio hosts and goes behind the demise of celebrity merino Shrek; plus terrorist blooper reels, Destiny Church protests, Target hijinks, and our first indigenous porno flick (you have been warned: not suitable for children).
This documentary showcases some of the tricks of the trade used by Peter Jackson in the making of his first feature — the aliens-amok-in-Makara splatter classic, Bad Taste. Compiled following the film's 1988 Cannes market screening, it's framed around an extensive interview with a 25-year-old Jackson at his parents’ Pukerua Bay home. These excerpts offer fascinating insight into his ingenuity: from building a DIY Steadicam, to the making of the infamous sheep-obliterating rocket launcher scene, to PJ musing on the impetus that being an only child provided him.
Publicly screened only a handful of times, AFFCO hasn't met with universal approval. Yet for many, this Stuart Page bombshell is the pièce de résistance of NZ music video art. "It's been written that it was 'animal rights' inspired, which is incorrect. The song was written purely about some guys who 'pack meat' and the video was made in that light. I guess we got carried away wrapping David d'Ath in glad wrap, baby oil and food colouring in an upstairs room at my Freeman's Bay flat." Stuart Page CAUTION: This video contains images which may offend some viewers.
In this short Peter Wells makes a personal "Postcard from New Zealand" for a series for Channel Four (UK). Looking for a "Kiwi Greek god" to showcase their "Gay Lynn" garden they enlist Richard, 3rd place getter in Mr Gay Auckland. While posing Richard tells them about his costume for the Sydney Mardi Gras. "Skirt in the shape of Rangitoto, a hat like Auckland's Harbour Bridge: Dame Edna would've loved it". Richard models the costume which also features budgie smugglers with 'NZ' sequined into them, a Southern Cross singlet, and ugg-glove sheep puppets.
This animated series for kids follows the rural adventures of Massey the farm tractor and his machine mates. In this 10th episode of the first series Massey almost gets taken out by a rogue truck and then discovers a baaaaad problem: the sheep have gone missing from Murray and Heather’s farm. Massey sets off to solve the mystery of the sheep rustling, and a distinctive bleat provides a vital clue on the trail. The series is narrated by broadcaster Jim Mora (Mucking In), who created it with Brent Chambers of Flux Animation.
This 1965 National Film Unit classic follows the working life of a young musterer, on a 145,000 acre South Island merino sheep station. He hands over his swag and gets to work (after he’s been mocked for bringing an electric blanket). He begins in the summer: training dogs and breaking in a horse. In the autumn it’s the muster: wrangling 10,000 sheep from the tops, across rivers and down to the yards before winter snow. Peter Newton’s 1947 musterer memoir, Wayleggo, was a local bestseller, and the film bolsters the book’s Kiwi mountain man mythology.
Champion shearer Godfrey Bowen returns to Akers station at Opiki, Manawatu where he set a world record in 1953 by shearing 456 sheep in nine hours (shown in archive footage). He shows off his biceps (not far from the 23 inches they used to be) and explains the Bowen Technique which revolutionised shearing by reducing the number of blows required to remove a fleece. Bowen talks about how his life changed (travelling the world and an MBE) and there's footage of Agrodome with its trained sheep, which he opened in Rotorua, with his brother Ivan.
Reporter Jim Hopkins nudges Country Calendar territory as he looks at a new way of weighing sheep in TVNZ's 1980s science and technology show, Fast Forward. His subject, the Warp 485, is a labour saving device which will allow one farmer and a "good dog" to weigh and draft 600 sheep an hour, and deliver stock of the desired weight to the works at the right time of the year. Hopkins has a few visual tricks up his sleeve (including some stop frame animation) but largely contents himself with throwing in as many variations of weigh/way as he can muster.