Canadian-born cinematographer and director Bob Lapresle had two careers in New Zealand filmmaking. Firstly, with the Government's National Film Unit as a director; secondly after his 'retirement', as a producer and consultant passing on his experience to the private sector.
Our future is tied up with TV and young people trying to express themselves should aim to adapt themselves to the requirements of TV. Bob Lapresle, in The Dominion, Golden Coast Project, 27 February 1970, Page 7
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.
In the one channel days of the early 1970s, 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 (music film The Unbelievable Glory of the Human Voice). After extended campaigning by producer John O’Shea, emerging independent filmmakers, including Tony Williams and Roger Donaldson, joined the party — bringing fresh creativity and new techniques to the traditional gentle, narration-heavy doco format.
This Landscape doco looks at the muttonbirding culture of the deep south, as Rakiura (Stewart Island) Māori exercise their customary right to harvest the birds for food, oil and feather down. The hunt begins with a rugged trip to the islands where hundreds of thousands of tītī (or sooty shearwater) arrive annually to breed. The kinship of birding is evident as families (and a poodle) set up camp. Soon the salty kai is plucked from burrows and sent by wire downhill to the ‘pluckhole’. This was an early gig for director Bruce Morrison (Heartland, Shaker Run).
Landscape was made by ex-National Film Unit producer Bob Lapresle (six episodes were made in 1968 and six the following year). The focus of each half-hour programme was on people and personalities rather than on scenery, which was then being covered by the NZBC’s popular Looking at New Zealand. Beginning with ‘Friday in a Country Town’, the Landscape series went on to cover such varied topics as a family shearing gang, muttonbirders exercising their customary rights, the day to day life of a policeman, and the growing awareness of New Zealanders towards the arts.
This National Film Unit doco illustrates the early days of the Royal New Zealand Ballet. Performances from the company’s touring program include Bournonville’s Napoli, kiwi Arthur Turnbull’s Do-Wack-A-Do, a quirky 1930s flapper themed production (also with a NZ composer, Dorothea Franchi) and the tulle and poise of Fokine’s Les Sylphides. Prismatic Variations, choreographed by ballet company founder Poul Gnatt, and produced by another dance icon Russell Kerr, is the finale for this tribute to those who have made New Zealanders “ballet conscious.”
This 1963 film looks at how the development of high country aviation is taking on the challenges presented by the South Island’s rugged geography. Piloted by war veterans, small aircraft parachute supplies into remote locations for Forest Service hut building and service lighthouses. Meanwhile helicopters and airlines open up opportunities for industry (venison, tourism, forestry, topdressing) and recreation (fishing, hunting). Good keen men, smokos and Swannies abound in this classically-filmed National Film Unit documentary.
This 1960 tourism film, produced by the National Film Unit, is aimed at a particular market niche: hunter holidaymakers. It follows a visitor from Omaha, USA, ‘JD’, who flies down to the “land of countless deer”: Dart Valley in the Southern Alps. A folk song extols the joys of answering the call of the wild — “The very best thing for a man: To hunt and fish and sleep out of doors, eat his tucker where he can” — as JD and his guide climb via bird-filled beech forest onto scree slopes to nab a 14-point stag; before a ciggie on the ridge and a squiz at the scenery.
Though first established at Wigram in 1923, it wasn't until 1937 that the Royal New Zealand Air Force became an independent military command. This NFU documentary marks the 21st anniversary celebrations in 1958. It looks back at the RNZAF's early days and its battle-hardened contribution in World War II, then follows cadets working towards their ‘wings’ — Top Gun training Kiwi-style. The RNZAF's jets are also seen in action in Malaya; and its search and rescue role is covered. At a celebration dinner, an officer muses that one day planes may be pilotless.
In this 1956 reel, Sir Edmund Hillary and colleagues describe their mission to set up bases in advance of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Ed meets Everest mate George Lowe in Uruguay to board The Theron, and they smash and use explosives to blast their way through ice, then unload supplies (including the soon-to-be-famous Ferguson tractors). Sections of the footage were shot on 16mm film by Hillary himself. Lt Commander Bill Smith and Dr Trevor Hatherton narrate pathfinding with sledges in McMurdo Sound, on the other side of the continent.
A Friendly Career (or The Story of the Training and Life of the New Zealand School Dental Nurse) was a promotional film made by the National Film Unit for the Department of Health. The plot waltzes through the idyll of one doe-eyed careerist's sugar-coated journey to a respectable job in the 'murder house', caring for the teeth of the Dominion's children. Focusing on the hard work and 50s fun times of hostel life, with its friendships, matrons, tooth-pulling and en masse doing-of-the-hokey pokey, the end of this careerist road is pitched as one of great satisfaction.