More than 100,000 New Zealanders served overseas in World War l. Over 18,000 died; at least 40,000 more were wounded. Campaigns involving Kiwis, from Gallipoli to the Western Front, were identity-forming, and the war's effects on society were deep. The World War l Collection is an evolving onscreen remembrance. Military expert Chris Pugsley writes about the collection here.
This documentary tells the stories of the New Zealand soldiers who were part of the identity-defining Gallipoli campaign in World War I. In the ill-fated mission to take a piece of Turkish coastline, 2721 New Zealanders died with 4752 wounded. As part of research, every one of the then-surviving Gallipoli veterans living in New Zealand was interviewed, with 26 finally filmed. Shot at a barren, rocky Gallipoli before the advent of Anzac Day tourism, this important record screened on Easter Sunday 1984, and won a Feltex Award for Best Documentary.
Great War Stories is a series of 35 four-minute documentaries remembering New Zealanders in World War l. The first season debuted in 2014, a century after the war began. Screening during TV3's prime time news, the bite-sized docos chronicle Kiwi experiences in the conflict, from soldiers, pilots, nurses, rugby players and war horses, to tragedies on land and sea. NZ Herald writer Greg Dixon praised the series as "an object lesson in how a tiny part can speak for the whole". Great War Stories was directed and produced by Anna Cottrell (Children of Gallipoli).
In Poppy two Kiwi soldiers discover a baby in a muddy WWI trench. For Paddy it will lead to redemption amidst the hell of war. From a David Coyle script — based on his great-grandfather’s war story — Poppy was another successful computer-animation collaboration between producer Paul Swadel and director James Cunningham (Infection, Delf). CGI evokes a bleak Western Front landscape on which the (motion-captured) human drama unfolds. Cunningham spent over 4500 hours making Poppy; the result was acclaim at Siggraph, and invites to Telluride and SXSW festivals.
This documentary unearths the story of the soldiers in the New Zealand Tunneling Company, whose daring World War I raids involved digging tunnels through chalk rock, laying explosives underneath enemy lines, and countermining German tunneling efforts. The story is told through the eyes of a New Zealand woman who retraces her grandfather’s war story to Arras, France, and sees the Kiwi-tagged cavern 'city' nearly 80 years later. The company played a key role on the Western Front, and was especially recruited in NZ, made up of miners, bushmen and labourers.
This telefeature follows the gruelling journey of Archibald Baxter, a pacifist who defied conscription and chose, on moral grounds, not to fight in World War I. The Otago farmer (father of poet James K), was one of 14 Kiwi 'conchies' who were jailed, disenfranchised and shipped to the war in Europe. There Baxter, played by actor Fraser Brown, was tied to a post in freezing conditions, then forced to the Front. The film continues a run of TV movies from company Lippy Features adapted from true events (Tangiwai, Until Proven Innocent). It screened on TV ONE on 22 April 2014.
Made for television, this 13-part National Film Unit series aimed to showcase "people and events that shaped the New Zealand of today". The Bernard Kearns-presented series is mostly composed of footage taken from NFU stock. Fascinating early film clips are accompanied by interviews with elderly gents and ladies who reminisce about events as they unfold on the screen. This edition focuses on the opening decades of the 20th century; the nostalgia takes a dark turn when bow tie-wearing Kearns discusses World War I and provides alarming statistics of loss of life.
This epic Lee Tamahori-directed promo for the 1990 Auckland Commonwealth Games imagines the stirrings of Games spirit in the mud of the Western Front, 1917. Behind the lines, soldiers from various 'British Empire' nations (Bruno Lawrence, Tony Barry and a young Joel Tobeck) lay bets to see who is the fastest. After racing they pledge to "do this again sometime eh brother" (referring no doubt to the shared joy of competition, as opposed to 1,115,597 Commonwealth war dead). The first Commonwealth Games were held in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada), in 1930.
Children of Gallipoli offered viewers another angle on the Gallipoli story. Produced for TVNZ and Turkish television, the documentary focuses on four young people, two Turks and two New Zealanders. All are descended from men who fought at Gallipoli in 1915. Travelling to Turkey, the Kiwis explore the battle site and meet the other two participants. Together they gain an insight into the grim reality of what their ancestors experienced. Seeing it through their eyes charges the film with a strong emotional resonance. Anna Cottrell writes here about the challenges of directing it.
The first animated feature made and originated in New Zealand, 25 April tells the story of the country's involvement in an ill-fated mission to take a piece of Turkish coastline during World War I. 2700 Kiwis died and ‘ANZAC’ became a symbol of national identity. Director Leanne Pooley mines archive war diaries, and uses graphic novel style recreations from Flux Animation to evoke the the perspective of six participants. 25 April debuted at the 2015 Toronto Film Festival. Alongside the excerpt, a short making of video shows how facial motion capture fed into the film's distinctive look.
This feature dramatises an ill-fated offensive that Kiwi soldiers undertook during World War I’s Gallipoli campaign. On 8 August 1915 the Wellington Battalion briefly seized Chunuk Bair, a pivotal peak overlooking the Dardanelles; they suffered huge losses. The film pitches the attack as a formative New Zealand nationhood moment, with Kiwi guts and resilience countered by inept, careless British generals, as much as their Turkish foes. Filmed on an Avalon set and the Wainuiomata coast, the story was based on Maurice Shadbolt’s classic play Once On Chunuk Bair.
This is a silent film record of the civic reception of returning World War I hero, Lieutenant John Grant. The Hawera builder won a Victoria Cross aged 28 for raiding several German machine-gun 'nests' — by leaping into them — near Bapaume, France on 1 September 1918. Grant's citation noted he "displayed coolness, determination and valour". Grant is wearing the NZ Army's 'lemon squeezer' hat as he plants a tree and poses for portraits in front of the crowds, and receives the supreme award for battlefield bravery given to Commonwealth servicemen.
This miniseries is built around the fortunes of the fictional Smith family during World War l. Directed by Peter Burger (Until Proven Innocent), the first episode is framed around a letter home by nurse Bea Smith (played by Westside's Esther Stephens). This 10 minute opening excerpt jumps from a war hospital in Egypt, back to trysts on the home front: an illicit romance at medical school, high times on Auckland's Grey Street, and a mysterious arrival at the family store. Funded by NZ On Air’s Platinum Fund, When We Go to War debuted on Anzac weekend in 2015.
In the northern French town of Le Quesnoy, the names of local streets and landmarks serve notice of a debt to New Zealand. In the final week of World War I Kiwi soldiers freed Le Quesnoy from its German occupiers — thanks partly to a 'magic' ladder, daringly used to scale the town’s 90-foot-high ramparts. Director David Blyth heads to France for the anniversary of Le Quesnoy’s liberation, following the path of one of the liberators: his late grandfather ‘Curly’ Blyth. The doco also includes an interview with Curly, conducted by historian Christopher Pugsley.
Director Karl Zohrab’s docudrama makes the case for World War I military leader Major General Sir Andrew Russell to be resurrected in Kiwi popular memory alongside the likes of Freyberg. Based on Jock Vennell's biography, the film spans Russell’s life from his Hawke’s Bay childhood to Gallipoli and the Western Front — where the New Zealand Division commander was acknowledged for his tactical nous — to the latent effect of his war experience. It screened on The History Channel for Anzac Day 2014. Colin Moy (In My Father’s Den) plays Russell in battlefield dramatisations.
The trenches of World War I represented warfare on a new scale and produced facial wounds in numbers never seen before. This Top Shelf doco examines the legacy of Sir Harold Gillies and Henry Pickerill — NZ surgeons who founded modern reconstructive plastic surgery while treating these injuries — and of Sir Archibald McIndoe and Rainsford Mowlem who continued this work during World War II. This excerpt focuses on Gillies and Pickerill, and the rediscovery of the remarkable surgical models, and watercolour paintings of their patients, they used as teaching aids.
Invited to compete in short film contest Tropfest NZ in 2015, Foreign Fields trains its eye on a Kiwi soldier in World War I, after he is wounded in no man's land. Shot in moody mud and khaki tones, David Gunson's film is a tribute to all who have fought in foreign lands. The self-funded short — which comes with a twist in the tail — was filmed for $3000, in just one and a half days.
Lawrence 'Curly' Blyth volunteered for World War 1 despite being under age. In 1916 his rifle brigade was sent to the Western Front, where he fought for 23 days amongst the mud of the Somme. In the final weeks of WW1 Blyth helped liberate the strategic French town of Le Quesnoy from German forces, later winning a French Legion of Honour for his efforts. In this documentary his grandson, director David Blyth, uses interviews and stock footage to chronicle the times at war of his bossy yet personable grandad, who died in 2001, aged 105.
Actor Robyn Malcolm visits the towns of Passchendaele and Ypres in Belgium. Both are near the cemetery where her great uncle, Private George Salmond, is buried. Salmond, an ANZAC signaler, was among the 18,500 New Zealand casualties of World War I. He was killed in the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917, a victim of a battle recognised as a tragedy of poor planning and preparation. Local war experts pay tribute to the New Zealand soldiers' mettle, and Malcolm looks at the site and reflects on Uncle George and his sacrifice on foreign whenua.
Made by Turkish director Tolga Örnek, this acclaimed film looks at the 1915 Gallipoli campaign in World War I. A point of difference is that it is narrated by people representing both sides of the catastrophic battle (including Sam Neill and Jeremy Irons for the ANZAC and British forces, and Zafer Ergin for the Turks). Dramatisations, restored film, interviews with experts, and poignant readings from letters and diaries all help to personaliss the experience of the carnage. Urban Cinefile described the international co-production as a "potent and magnificent documentary".
New Zealand is a nation that has been scarred by war: from the horrendous loss of lives at Gallipoli to the decimation of the 28th Māori Battalion, Kiwis have gone to war in their 1000s, and many have not returned. This Our People, Our Century edition explores the experiences of soldiers, and the families who waited at home. It also examines the long tradition of protest against war, from the anti-Vietnam movement to the more recent anti-nuclear protests. The script by Philip Temple, won a best documentary script award at the 2000 NZ TV Guide Television awards.
The Feltex-winning series Pioneer Women dramatised the lives of groundbreaking New Zealand women. This episode looks at the story of controversial safe-sex campaigner Ettie Rout. In World War I she travelled to Egypt to care for Kiwi soldiers; there she found venereal disease was rife, and recommended that prophylactic kits be issued and that brothels be inspected for hygiene. To the establishment her pioneering ideas on health, sex and gender were ‘immoral’ and received with hostility; while the RSA and some doctors considered her a “guardian angel of the ANZACs”.
In this documentary, artist Helen Pollock discusses her sculpture Falls the Shadow. Using clay from the Coromandel and the Passchendaele (Netherlands) battlefield, she created a grove of arms reaching up against a background of trees stripped bare by gunfire in World War I. The work was inspired by her father, a wartime signaller. Pollock discusses her installation and the effect of combat on New Zealand troops in the war (846 Kiwis died in two hours during the 1917 battle of Passchendaele). The work is now on permanent display at Passchendaele Memorial Museum.
An edition of the Pictorial Parade magazine-film series, 'The New Army' provides a short potted history of Kiwis in combat overseas, from World War I to the then-current Malayan Emergency. From the First New Zealand Expeditionary Force being reviewed by King George V in England, through desert warfare and island hopping in World War II, to the New Zealand Regiment's 2nd Battalion training for jungle warfare. The reel finishes with the battalion displaying new weapons and techniques, before parading through Wellington and embarking for Malaya.