Alongside her experience as a journalism tutor and media advisor, Allison Webber has worked on many television documentaries investigating social issues — including as driving force behind then controversial series Expressions of Sexuality.
… only five feet but, for energy and commitment, taller than the entire Harlem Globetrotters. Her skills, excellent judgment, wit and perception would keep us going – and on the right track – over five demanding weeks in strange places and situations. Ian Johnstone, on working with Webber in apartheid-era South Africa, in his book Stand and Deliver
Naturalist Ramari Stewart never tires of the view from a subantarctic hut. "This is the only place I know where I can see a whale out my window and it’s never let me down." The documentary follows Stewart as she spends a summer and winter monitoring wildlife at remote Northwest Bay in Campbell Island. Southern right whales, Hooker's sea lions and elephant seals all feature. Stewart, who later became a whale expert, displays a jaw-dropping bond with the animals. At the end of the programme, the whales cause a stir when they play perilously close to Stewart's boat.
Allison Webber's series Expressions of Sexuality looks at New Zealand society in the wake of the sexual revolution, as entrenched notions of Mum, Dad and the quarter-acre paradise are slowly replaced by an array of lifestyles and values. Its candid approach to taboo subjects was controversial — Webber fought for two years to have the programme screened after TVNZ deemed it too provocative. She would be vindicated when the series was nominated for Best Documentary Programme at the 1987 Gofta Awards.
Expressions of Sexuality examined the impact of the sexual revolution on New Zealand society in the late 1980s. In this episode, the trade-offs between married and single life (and the areas in between) are recounted through candid interviews with seven 'unattached' men and women, including a solo mother of five children and a celibate Catholic priest. Filmed in 1984, it took director Allison Webber two years to convince TVNZ that local audiences were 'ready' for what were still seen as taboo subjects.
This documentary on legendary Kiwi playwright Bruce Mason premiered soon after his death. The result is a portrait of a man who become an artist despite, as much as because of, his fellow Kiwis. There are shots of Mason performing solo classic The End of the Golden Weather on his beloved Takapuna Beach, and insights from a cast of Kiwi theatrical heavyweights. In an extended interview with The Listener's Helen Paske, Mason ranges from his works looking at Māori-Pākehā relations, to over the top reaction to controversial tele-play The Evening Paper.
This People Like Us episode profiles Apirana Mahuika, before he became leader of Ngāti Porou. Having left lecturing at Massey University to return to his East Coast hometown of Tikitiki, Mahuika talks at his farm 'laboratory' about tamarillos, gangs, and coming home. He hopes his progressive farming (trialling kiwifruit and wine) will encourage young Ngāti Porou to remain and find jobs. A key figure in many Treaty of Waitangi claims and lead negotiator of Ngāti Porou's claim, Mahuika died in February 2015; Tau Henare said "his passing will cut a swathe through the forest".
Screening in primetime at 6pm, People Like Us was built around exploring the spiritual and emotional aspects of people’s lives. Subjects ranged from interviews with leaders — religious and otherwise — to live events and the Red Cross. Mini seasons within the series were devoted to everything from menopause and breaking up, to cultural diversity (the latter fuelling a book as well). Producer Allison Webber managed to win funding from outside of state TV for some of these specials, and the show shared resources on occasion with RNZ’s former Continuing Education Unit.
In this fifth episode from his personal examination of New Zealand at the end of the 70s, Ian Johnstone explores the then new suburb of Massey in West Auckland — the latest instalment in what seemed, at the time, like an unending march of urban sprawl (which had already produced seemingly far-flung suburbs like Otara and Porirua). For Johnstone, Massey is an "infestation of houses", bafflingly lacking in community amenities. By turns wry, considered and accusatory, this masterful performance would have made him few friends in town planning circles.
English-born broadcaster Ian Johnstone had been living in New Zealand for 17 years when TVNZ gave him the opportunity to take the pulse of his adoptive country, in a series of six half-hour documentaries. With a brief to provide his personal perspective on "what's changing, what's worth keeping", Johnstone's Journey saw him touring the country and talking to everyday people (rather than the expected experts) as he examined the Kiwi DIY ethic, Māori and Pākehā attitudes to the land, the family, rural community, the spread of the cities, and the New Zealand identity.
In the third episode of Johnstone’s Journey, broadcaster Ian Johnstone meets three generations of the Wendelken family. The episode is framed around an interview with matriarch Elsie, 85, then living in Timaru — her daughter Rae and grandson Ivan farm nearby. Son John is a public servant in Wellington; granddaughter Anne is a mother in suburban Wellington. Topics span from world wars, depression, farming and inflation, to shifting values. Says Elsie: “There are two things that have been left completely out of today’s young people: one is obedience, and the other is discipline.”
In 1976 Ian Johnstone became the first NZ TV journalist to visit apartheid South Africa. For this Feltex Award-winning report (one of three for Seven Days) he and a small crew strove — under the regime's close eye — to show apartheid's impact on blacks. Shots of Soweto, human rights meetings, and interviews (Bishop Tutu, students, campaigner Hector Ncokazi), undercut PM Johannes Vorster's case for separatism. Seeing Johnstone being denied service at a burger bar (he was with a black) unsettled Kiwi viewers, weeks before the All Blacks left for South Africa in mid-1976.
For this lauded Seven Days assignment Ian Johnstone was the first NZ television reporter to travel to apartheid-era South Africa. In this episode (one of three) he finds a white minority clinging to power in the face of mounting violence and a sense of looming change. The limbo-like status of the mixed-race Coloureds stresses how untenable the regime’s policies have become; and demand for equality from black students is palpable. Interviewees include a defiant Prime Minister Vorster, author Alan Paton (Cry, the Beloved Country), journalist Donald Woods and activist Helen Suzman.
Seven Days was designed by producer Des Monaghan to bridge the current affairs gap between the NZBC and TV One. As well as putting the heat on local politicians, it turned its attention to major international events. Major stories included Ian Fraser’s trip to Vietnam to cover the last days before the fall of Saigon and Ian Johnstone’s three-part look at apartheid-era South Africa ahead of the 1976 All Back tour. For its third and final year, the focus changed to observational documentaries and laid the groundwork for TVNZ’s in-house documentary unit.
This edition of the 70s current affairs show sees reporter Joe Coté investigating women in politics. A potted history of the trailblazers — from suffragist Kate Sheppard to Māori MP Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan (first to have a baby while in office) — leads to wide-ranging conversations with contemporary women in politics. Future Christchurch mayor Vicky Buck (here a 19-year-old council candidate) and others from across the spectrum, talk about ongoing struggles for equality: education, empowerment, abortion, childcare support, and the ‘old boys’ network.
In 1973 the focus of NZBC’s current affairs programming was under pressure to be reshaped (from the new Labour Government). Long-running show Gallery was to provide follow-up and explanation of current events, and Inquiry was to be a weekly film programme that provided more in-depth treatment of topical issues. Inquiry programmes had a three week turnaround for research, editing and broadcasting; Geoff Walker, Alan Brady and Joe Coté were the initial reporters. Topics covered included a wide-ranging 1974 survey of women in politics: ‘Nothing Venture, Nothing Gain’.