Geoffrey Scott, MBE and OBE, oversaw the Government's National Film Unit for over 20 years, until his retirement in 1973. Scott began his film career playing piano over silent movies. During his command of the unit, the organisation won 141 awards.
... he could take pride in having built an environment that allowed young filmmakers, producers and technicians to acquire the skills needed to succeed on their own. Peter Kitchin, in a Dominion Post obituary for Geoffrey Scott.
This is an NFU account of a 1970 mission to find, net, and train a Bottlenose dolphin for Marineland in Napier. Informative narration scores the hunt as veteran whaler Joe Perano helps two staff search the Marlborough Sounds. Soon, a pod of "submarine surfers" ride the ship's bow, and a young female is dramatically netted (to her mother's distress). A truck ride and flight later she is swimming in her new marine park home. A year on 'Pelorus Jill' makes her public debut, performing spectacular 12 foot leaps and beaching for a tummy scratch from her trainer.
The Years Back was a 13-part documentary series made for television by the National Film Unit and first broadcast in 1973. Covering six decades from 1900 to 1960, it was promoted as "people and events that shaped the New Zealand of today", and content was largely influenced by what historic film had survived. Presented by Bernard Kearns, fascinating footage (including the 1931 Napier Earthquake and Jack Lovelock’s 1936 Olympic triumph) is accompanied by interviewees recalling or commenting on past events, big and small, as they unfold on the screen.
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.
Bernard Kearns presents a survey of NZ life in the 30s in this episode of the National Film Unit series The Years Back (“people and events that shaped the New Zealand of today”). The documentary includes a wealth of footage taken from NFU stock: the aftermath of the 1931 Napier earthquake, the Depression (as Kearns bluntly states, “there was a lot of misery in the 30s”), and runner Jack Lovelock’s gold medal triumph at the Berlin Olympics. There’s also editorial flair as King George VI’s lavish coronation ceremony is juxtaposed with the A&P show back home.
This NFU documentary visits a street in a relatively new sub-division in Meadowbank in East Auckland to provide a fascinating slice-of-life look at the early 1970s ideal of raising a family and owning a house in the suburbs. The subjects are a largely homogenous group — pākehā couples in their 20s or 30s with school aged children and a stay-at-home wife. Issues canvassed include paying the mortgage, raising children, social unrest, promiscuity and abortion; but the experience of women as housewives and mothers in the suburbs is the underlying story.
The Years Back was a documentary series that used archive footage and interviews to survey New Zealand’s 20th century history. This episode details events in the Pacific during World War II, from Japan’s 1941 attack of Pearl Harbour through to mid 1944. Japan’s aggressive thrust into South East Asia threatened New Zealand and Australia (“any day now it’ll be us”), and forced the countries into war close to home. Veterans and commanders recall sea battles, rallying of air defences and jungle warfare, from New Caledonia to New Guinea.The series was made by the National Film Unit.
New Zealand's relationship with Antarctica and the explorers and scientists who went there is the focus of this episode in The Years Back series, with Bernard Kearns as guide. Early last century NZ was the starting point for most polar expeditions, including Robert Falcon Scott's fatal attempt to reach the Pole. Footage of Scott on the ice is featured, and as well as clips of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s epic survival tale. Of course the Sir Edmund Hillary-led 50s Kiwi expedition is shown: Hillary made a defiant dash for the Pole on tractors, arriving 4 January 1958.
The focus of this short film is a memorial service on Seatoun Beach, five years after the sinking of interisland ferry Wahine on 10 April 1968. More than 50 people died when the ship keeled over just inside Wellington Harbour, after hitting a reef during a ferocious cyclone. The ferry had been in service just 20 months. National Film Unit director Sam Pillsbury uses archive footage of the sinking, along with reconstructions and recreations of radio reports. The memorial service itself was recreated for the film. There are also images the attempted salvage operation.
This consolidating episode of the archive-based New Zealand history series finds World War II at an end, the return of Kiwi servicemen and the country in an optimistic mood. That's sealed by the 1950 British Empire Games where New Zealand is third on the medal table. But rising prices and low incomes lead to more militant unionism, culminating in the fractious waterfront workers dispute of 1951. At the same time there's a new flowering of the arts. The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is established and a new generation of writers and artists take centre stage.
This episode of history series The Years Back focuses on the impact of World War II on Kiwi women. Through archive and interviews it looks at home front life: rationing (as recalled by Dame Pat Evison), fashion (‘Simplicity Styles’), and the arrival of American troops — around 1,400 women would later emigrate to the United States as war brides. It also shows the liberating effect of the war on many women as they took up the jobs left vacant by men serving overseas. Women joined the services too: with more than 8,000 enlisted across the army, navy and air forces.
The end of World War II is in sight in the 10th episode of this series about 20th century history. But there's still fighting to be done by New Zealand troops and their allies, as they battle tenacious Japanese forces in the Pacific. Future Prime Minister Jack Marshall addresses his men in the jungle, and war correspondent Stan Wemyss recalls being under fire with Fijian troops in the jungles of Bougainville (while his footage of the event plays). When the war finally ends, Prime Minister Peter Fraser delivers his victory speech and there is dancing in the streets.
With the Second World War over, Kiwis stood with their more powerful allies in the occupation of Japan. But with Britain increasingly preoccupied with its home affairs and Europe, New Zealand began to set its own foreign policy agenda. In this episode of The Years Back presenter Bernard Kearns explains how New Zealand turned to its own backyard to create new export markets. That also meant military involvement in Korea and Malaya and a sometimes fumbling attempt at being a colonial power in the Pacific.
In this episode of the archive-compiled history series, Bernard Kearns focuses on the Roaring Twenties. Soldiers returning from the First World War struggle to tame the land as commodity prices fall. The Labour Party, with miners as its backbone, gains a foothold on the political scene, and the Ratana Church emerges as an alternative to more distant Māori leaders. In Dunedin, the New Zealand and South Seas International Exhibition proves a huge success and members of the Royal Family are popular visitors to our shores. But the Great Depression looms.
This edition of the New Zealand history series looks at the beginning of World War II. With war declared in 1939 NZ faces the new decade with a call to arms. Presenter Bernard Kearns explains how Kiwis mobilised and set sail for the Middle East, before being sent to Greece and Crete where overwhelming German superiority sent them into retreat. Prime Minister Peter Fraser explains the defeat to New Zealanders in an NFU newsreel filmed in Egypt. The contemporary footage also shows the victory at the naval Battle of the River Plate and looks at some Kiwi war heroes.
In this episode of the The Years Back presenter Bernard Kearns explores New Zealand's part in the famous campaign against Rommel in the Libyan Desert. Using rare footage of the action and contemporary post-battle reconstructions, the episode follows the New Zealand 2nd Division in the lead up to the battle of El Alamein and pursuit of the German Afrika Korps, and victory under the guidance of legendary British commander Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery. A notable moment is Kiwi Sergeant Keith Elliott being presented with his VC for his deeds at Ruweisat Ridge.
In this The Years Back episode Bernard Kearns charts New Zealand's 6th Brigade and Maori Battalion as they fight their way through Italy between 1943 and 1945. Reaching Monte Cassino in 1944, the force suffered 1600 casualties in 12 weeks of bitter fighting. Using NFU pictures, the documentary traces the advance north after Cassino falls, and includes the bloodless capture of Padua and the setting up of the New Zealand Forces Club in the best hotel in Venice. The documentary ends with Kiwi forces facing down Tito's Yugoslav partisans in Trieste.
This episode of archive-compiled The Years Back series sees presenter Bernard Kearns exploring how New Zealand coped on the home front as World War II expanded into South East Asia and the Pacific. Access to imports was hampered and rationing bit. Fuel and rubber shortages are overcome with novel approaches and farmland becomes the garden for our allies. The episode also examines how industry switched from civilian needs to making war materials. The Home Guard changes from a bit of a laugh to deadly seriousness as the threat grows of invasion by Japan.
This National Film Unit production records the making of four large-scale sculptures for a 1971 international symposium to commemorate Auckland City’s centennial. Helen Escobedo (Mexico) nodded to the skyline’s masts and cranes with Signals in Parnell Rose Garden; Opened Stone by Hiroaki Ueda (Japan) was balanced near Auckland Art Gallery for 35 years; and American Fred Loopstra's Homage to Will still ploughs Victoria Park. A central city scrap metal work by Canadian Tom Burrows was removed in 1977, perhaps achieving his stated aim: to “disturb” its viewers!
In November 1971 more than 70,000 visitors converged on Hamilton over six days for the first ever World Rose Convention. What's in a name? Well it can help you locate favourite flowers in the vast exhibition, but "form, substance and freshness" rule as this NFU short film shows the meticulous preparation, judging and reactions. Side-trips for international visitors to Paradise Valley and Rotorua's thermal areas add a travelogue element. But from the opening time-lapse shot of a blooming rose it's clear what these 'rosarians' are there for.
The quarter acre dream is in full flower in this colourful celebration of Kiwi gardening. Director Conon Fraser surveys the symbols (tool sheds, trimmed edges) and rituals (broken window, cricket ball), and muses on the role of gardens: from civic pride to “escape from the house”. A wide range of public and private landscapes are honoured, both reverentially — a time-lapse of blooms in Wellington's Lady Norwood Rose Garden — and whimsically — eg talking pests, and a couple rolling on the lawn in front of a knitting oldie. The film won top prize at a US Horticultural Society Festival.
This 1972 National Film Unit production promotes New Zealand’s national parks, from the oldest — Tongariro (established in 1887) — to Mt Aspiring (1964). Besides slatherings of scenic splendour, the film shows rangers clearing tracks, 70s après ski activity on Ruapehu, and school children at Rotoiti Youth Lodge: skylarking, river crossing, and cornflake eating en masse. When this film was made there were 10 National Parks (there are now 14). “In all their variety they’re the heritage of everyone who’s heard the call and felt the freedom of the unspoilt land.”
Made for the UN's first 'Earth Summit' in Stockholm in 1971, the film explores what the future holds for NZ’s environment. Director Hugh Macdonald (This is New Zealand) presents an impressionistic ecosystem: mixing shots of native natural wonder, urbanisation, and pollution with abstract montages and predictions from futurologists — such as Cousteau’s “underwater man”. Before climate change heated up 21st Century Doomsday debates, this film (made for the Ministry of Works!) places stock in individual responsibility. The score aptly enlists the French nursery rhyme ‘Are You Sleeping?’.
This NFU mini-biopic eulogises the 19th Century Māori leader Te Rauparaha. The Ngāti Toa chief led his people on an exodus from Kāwhia, to a stronghold on Kāpiti Island where he ruled — via musket, flax trade and diplomacy — over a Cook Strait empire extending south to Akaroa. The free-ranging film includes recreations of the 'Wairau Incident' which stirred fears of Māori uprising amidst settlers; Te Rauparaha’s ignominious 1846 arrest by Governor Grey; and the 1849 reburial on Kapiti of the "cannibal statesman" (evocatively rendered using inverted colours).
This 1972 NFU documentary looks at the care of children born with physical disabilities. Aimed at families with ‘crippled’ children, the film was directed by Frank Chilton for the Crippled Children Society (now CCS Disability Action). Parents, doctors, teachers and field officers are shown engaging with children and young adults at home and in the community, from spring-loaded splints for spina bifida patients to Māori stick games as therapy for cerebral palsy. It is introduced by Mrs New Zealand 1970, Alison Henry (whose son was born with a congenital foot defect).
This 1972 NFU documentary follows three climbers (Hugh Canard, Neil Hamilton and pioneering guide Bruce Jenkinson) on an ascent of Mt Aspiring. Directed and photographed by Grant Foster (Land of Birds), the beautifully-shot short film heads up country in the Land Rover. Rivers are crossed in the sun, then the climbers rope up and get the pick axes out. It’s tea, food and harmonica in the hut, then a pre-dawn start (“hell it’s cold!”) before cutting steps and leaping crevasses up the “matterhorn of the south”. The film screened on PBS in the United States.
This National Film Unit film follows Nobel Prize-winning scientist Ernest Rutherford, from farm boy in the Marlborough Sounds to leading Cambridge University's legendary Cavendish Laboratory. Described by Einstein as "a second Newton", Rutherford was one of the founders of modern atomic physics. Director David Sims pays special attention to Rutherford's colonial upbringing and education, and how it encouraged him to experiment. The atom-splitter famously said of Kiwi ingenuity, "we don't have the money, so we have to think". Rutherford is voiced by actor Grant Tilly.
Made by Philip McDonald (Such a Stupid Way to Die) for the National Water and Soil Conservation Authority, this award-winning short explores the impact of people on New Zealand’s water cycle. Shots of irrigation, industrial waste and run-off from dairy farming show Godzone’s 1972 waterways to be far short of 100% pure — the closing national anthem played over polluted rivers underlines the point. A young Sam Neill (then working at the National Film Unit) cameos as an eau-so-suave drinker in a scene showing the disconnection between water use and where it comes from.
Made for the Plunket Society by the NFU, A Baby on the Way uses a blackboard and various experts in front of an antenatal class to provide birth education for early 70s Kiwi parents-to-be. Plunket Medical Director Neil Begg lowers his pipe to introduce the lessons, and contemporary advice for ensuring a mother’s health during pregnancy is given by doctors, nurses, and physios. The scenes involving breast massage and analgesics may have induced titters in school-aged audiences, unlike the brief-but-gory concluding birth (set to piped organ music).
Made for the Post Office, this 1971 National Film Unit documentary offers a potted history of New Zealand, using postage stamps as the frame. Director David Sims ranges from Māori rock drawings, to Tasman and Cook. Once Pākehā settlers arrive, the film offers a narrative of progress (aside from two world wars) leading to nationhood and industry. Archive photographs, paintings, Edwardian-era scenes and reenactments add to the subjects illustrated on the stamps. The stamps include New Zealand’s first: a full-face portrait of Queen Victoria by Alfred Edward Chalon.
In this 1971 film pianist Barry Margan ‘humps’ his grand piano around NZ, on a mission to bring classical piano to places where it might not typically be heard. Aiming to break down barriers to enjoying live chamber music, Margan plays his pop-up piano (including Douglas Lilburn’s ‘Sonatina’) at coffee bars, libraries and art galleries. The trailer-borne grand is not easy to set up, but the audiences (from soldiers to children) are willing. Narrated by Margan, this was the last film in the National Film Unit's three decade-spanning Pictorial Parade magazine series.
Made by the NFU for the NZ Water Safety Council this film enlists shock to provoke punters to consider water safety. On a summer’s day a fisherman, surfer and boatie all reckon it's “a great day for it”. But thoughtlessness results in tragedy. Directed by Hugh Macdonald (This is New Zealand), the disjunct between the jaunty song on the soundtrack and sunken bodies onscreen anticipates the graphic horror of the late 90s/early 00s road safety ads (sharing kinship with 1971 bush safety PSA Such a Stupid Way to Die). Grant Tilly cameos as a radio DJ.
This NFU documentary looks at working lives of a crew of Wellington rubbish collectors aka 'the dusties'. With an insightful dustie narrating, the film follows the team on their rounds, beginning early morning with the seagulls at the depot. Then it's into the trucks and off to face occupational hazards: irate householders, sodden winter sacks, and notoriously steep hills. Our dustie muses on everything from health benefits and job perks (discarded beer, money and toasters!) to cleanliness. This classic observational film ends with a tribute folk song.
This short film evokes a day fishing from Karioitahi’s black sand beach: balloons are tied to bait lines then sent out, and the fisherman yarn, drink Fanta, and reel in the catch. Expressively shot by Lynton Diggle in black and white, and backed by an accoustic guitar score, the narration-free Pictorial Parade marked an early entry for director John Laing (Beyond Reasonable Doubt). In 2001 Laing proudly recalled his NFU employers' outrage at the film's “pseudo-Japanese bullshit.” He left the Unit shortly after; ironically the film would win him a job at Canada’s National Film Board.
In Māori mythology Maui fished up the North Island from the sea; here the fisherman plunging into the depths is a giant drill ship, Discoverer II. By the 1960s technological changes had made it possible to prospect for oil in shallow offshore waters. This NFU film documents the months-long process of exploring for oil and gas, and the discovery of the underwater dome off the Taranaki coast that came to be known as the Maui gas field — one of the largest in the world in 1969. The field was subsequently exploited and was mostly depleted by the early 2000s.
This educational video was made by the NFU for the National Mountain Safety Council to promote awareness of bush safety. After a blackboard science lesson (check out a bearded Ray Henwood) things get interesting. A fictional trip into the bush turns into a Stubbies-clad 70s Kiwi version of the Blair Witch Project as we're told that one of the group will not survive the night, picked off by that fearsome killer: exposure. The message is serious, but the doom-laden tone induced titters in school classrooms and scout halls throughout NZ.
It's 9am, and people have been queuing for hours. Welcome to Expo '70 in Osaka Japan, with 70 plus countries showing what they are made of. This National Film Unit documentary combines an overview of the expo, with a closer look at the New Zealand presence. There is extensive footage of the Kiwi pavilion, including background to screenings of Hugh MacDonald's three-screen spectacle This is New Zealand, which was one of the most acclaimed films at Expo '70. The Maori Theatre Trust also perform.
Like the digital ‘mash-up’ concept to come, this 1970 film uses content from more than one source to create something new. In this film collage, relics of visual and material culture from New Zealand museums are combined to evoke life in earlier eras. These objects — from moa skeletons, to scrimshaw, to a stereoscope, and surveys of Māori culture and sex appeal (!) — are mixed with historical footage (including turn of the century Queen Street) and a classical score. Another Time was directed by Arthur Everard for the National Film Unit.
Manapōuri hydroelectric power station is New Zealand’s largest. This 1970 NFU film — made for the Electricity Department — follows workers clearing a path for power through epic Fiordland mountains and rainforest, building roads and power pylons, and stringing a cable along the “hard and dirty” 30 miles to the aluminium smelter at Bluff. Sixteen men were killed constructing ‘the line’ before power was first generated in 1969. At the same time the scheme generated mass protests (the ‘Save Manapōuri’ campaign) at the proposal to raise Lake Manapōuri's level.
Made for the National Heart Foundation, this 1970 documentary shows “a rehabilitation programme for patients with coronary heart disease”, devised by Otago University Medical School and the NZ School of Physiotherapy. The film is framed around a doctor addressing a class of nursing students, and follows a “coronary club” of patients through PE rehab to being able to work, garden and play golf again. The film also imparts general health lessons to avoid heart disease (exercise, quit smoking, lose weight). It was made by the National Film Unit.
Tokelau is a New Zealand territory, spanning three small South Pacific atolls. In the 1960s the New Zealand Government expressed concern about overpopulation, and instigated the Tokelau Islands Resettlement Scheme. This National Film Unit documentary surveys Tokelau society and culture from a New Zealand perspective, and follows the journey of a group of Tokelauans who chose to migrate to Aotearoa (where they adapt to telephones and horses near Te Puke). It was one of three NFU documentaries directed by Derek Wright on Pacific Island subjects.
There have been many royal visits since Prince Alfred first came to NZ in 1867 for pig hunting and picnicking. Made for TV (it screened in March 1970), this NFU title surveys tours from George V in 1901 to Queen Elizabeth II in 1963, via archive footage and photos. It also looks at NZ’s changing relationship to the “distant mother country”. Tours include the Prince of Wales in 1920 (he is said to have shaken 20,000 hands), the Duke and Duchess of York in 1927 (the footage is silent so there’s no speech from the future King George VI), and Queen Elizabeth II’s 1953-54 Coronation Tour.
This 1970 documentary surveys New Zealand’s dairy industry — “probably the most advanced in the world” — from pasture to export. Dairying then produced a quarter of NZ’s income, but with Britain due to join the EEC, NZ was forced to seek new markets. This film proclaims the industry’s readiness, thanks to an artificial breeding centre (with ‘calf-eteria’), room-sized computers, and cheeses designed for the Asian market. The country's 25,000 dairy farms were each owner-operated, and averaged 90 cows. The Dairy Industry won top prize at an agricultural film competition in Berlin.
Directed by Hugh Macdonald, This is New Zealand was made to promote the country at Expo '70 in Osaka, Japan. An ambitious concept saw iconic NZ imagery — panoramas, nature, Māori culture, sport, industry — projected on three adjacent screens that together comprised one giant widescreen. A rousing orchestral score (Sibelius's Karelia Suite) backed the images. Two million people saw it in Osaka, and over 350,000 New Zealanders saw on its homecoming theatrical release. It was remastered by Park Road Post in 2007. This excerpt is the first three minutes of the film.
This upbeat National Film Unit award-winner is about late New Zealand artist, conservationist, and rail enthusiast Barry Brickell. Filmed at his first studio and home in the Coromandel, it follows the progress of his large-scale works from start to finish. Accompanied by a jazzy soundtrack, Brickell works his clay alone in the sun. Amidst the five-finger and harakeke of the Coromandel bush, the making of New Zealand art has never looked more picturesque. Brickell died on 23 January 2016, at the age of 80. The short documentary was made as part of the Pictorial Parade series.
This National Film Unit film visits Christchurch roughly four years before the main event, to promote the city’s readiness to host the Commonwealth Games. A comical potted history of New Zealand precedes a montage of young women cycling around Canterbury environs and a split screen catalogue of NZ tourist attractions, before getting into a survey of the venues. As the opening demonstrates, “there’s always a traditional welcome awaiting our friends!” In 1973 the NFU completed a second film called Christchurch 74, before covering the games themselves in the feature-length Games 74.
One of the last films made by Jeremy Sykes before his death in the Antarctic in a helicopter accident, this NFU short commemorates the 1969 Cook bicentennial. It traces Cook’s first voyage to New Zealand and his charting of the coastline. Contemporary illustrations and dramatic camerawork are used to follow his six-month journey around Aotearoa. It also highlights Cook's navigational skills as he sailed the Endeavour, home to 94 men, two greyhounds and a goat, through uncharted waters, helping earn him his reputation as "explorer extraordinary and servant of the King".
Shot for an Australian Travel Agents Seminar, this short film seeks to portray 1969 New Zealand as a hip and happening place. The tourism clichés of a scenic wonderland remain, but the film attempts to present a more sophisticated NZ to entice jet-set Aussies east. After all, we "got rid of six o'clock closing ages ago." To complement the Anzac staples of sport, beer and gambling there are mountains and Māori. Nightclubs offer show bands and strippers for "relaxation" after strenuous days of sightseeing. C’mon is a fascinating snapshot of a nation in transition.
Three young ski instructors head south for an end of season adventure on Mt Ruapehu and the Tasman Glacier. Michael Dennis and Anne Reid both competed for NZ in the 1968 Grenoble winter Olympics. They join Swiss-born heli-ski pioneer Herbie Bleuer on the slopes in this 1969 NFU short film, replete with slightly dated, “hip” voiceover. With not another soul in sight, the three begin on Mt Ruapehu, skiing down to examine the crater. Then it’s down to Queenstown and a ski-plane flight onto the top of the Tasman Glacier for a run down its 27 kilometre length.
Winner of multiple awards, this 40 minute film aims to teach families how to manage communication with a deaf child. Narrator Peter Brian guides young families through the steps they can take to ensure their deaf child is able to develop speech and communication as effectively as possible. The documentary includes interviews with two deaf adults living full lives. In an early example of crowdfunding, a sponsorship body was set up to fund A Deaf Child in the Family. It was one of a number of shorts written and directed by Frank Chilton which focussed on people living with disabilities.
Released in February 1969, this National Film Unit documentary offers an impressionistic view on the making of sheet glass. Director Lynton Diggle follows the raw materials (sand, limestone, dolomite) to a Whangarei factory, where they’re combined with broken glass. There, men in protective gear look like they’re enacting an alchemical ritual, as the ‘frit’ mixture is melted in the “punishing heat” of a crucible. Then it’s transferred to the drawing chamber where a toffee-like wall of glass is pulled up for cooling and slicing. Ambient sounds are used to forge a percussive score.
A rod and rally race is the angle for this 1969 light comedy. Legendary angler ‘Maggots’ McClure lures “glamour boy” lawyer and fishing novice Applejoy (Peter Vere-Jones) into a contest to catch three trophy fish in Russell, Taupō, and Waitaki. The old dunga versus Alvis ‘Speed 20’, north versus south duel transfixes the nation; snags, shags and scenic diversion ensue. Directed by noted UK documentary maker Derek Williams, the caper was made with NFU help and funded by energy company BP. It showed with Gregory Peck western The Stalking Mood in New Zealand theatres.
Renowned ornithologist and Dominion Museum head Robert Falla goes into the field to present this first edition of National Film Unit’s Land of Birds. His subject is the kōtuku or white heron, nesting in swamp forest by Ōkārito Lagoon, Westland — the only New Zealand breeding colony. In Māori lore the heron is the sacred 'He kotuku rerenga tahi' or 'bird of single flight', owing to its rare sightings. Grant Foster’s beautifully shot survey of the kōtuku’s Ōkārito summer housing screened on TV in 1972, and won a 1973 Feltex Award for Best Natural History Programme.
This 1969 film promotes the attractions, industry and history of “contemporary Rotorua”, from the Arawa canoe to forestry, from mud pool hangi to the Ward baths (“heavenly for hangovers”). The score is jazz, and the narration is flavoured by the impressive baritone of opera singer Inia Te Wiata (father of actress Rima), who gushes about geysers and Rotorua’s evolution from sleepy tourist backwater to modern city and conference centre. Also featured: kapa haka, meter maids in traditional Māori dress, and a rendition of classic song ‘Me He Manu Rere’ in a meeting house jive.
This 1968 tourism promo follows two Aussie sheilas, Helen and Beverly, on a champagne-fuelled trip across the ditch. The tour kicks off with an obligatory sheep's 'baa', but offers some surprises alongside the scenic wonderland way, such as a detour to a Kaingaroa Forest mill and an Otago gold rush history lesson. Surprisingly trippy, Blow Up-inspired opening credits, some bold cutting and a jazzy score enliven the jaunt; a highlight is the lasses and hip local lads Monkee-ing around a Māori village and geothermal power station ... it's not PC, but it's definitely pop-tastic!
Auckland is known as the City of Sails and each Anniversary Day, the Waitemata Harbour hosts the world’s largest one-day regatta. The culture of yachting on the Hauraki Gulf gets full-blown homage in this 1968 National Film Unit film. The short documentary sets up sailing as a way to escape the bustle of the city, and follows the tacks and jibes of a race — “The hum of straining rigging, the sting of flying spray on the lips … the feeling that only a yachtie knows as his craft lifts and surges.” The narration is by Tim Eliott, who had recently helped found Wellington's Downstage Theatre.
Taufa'ahau Tupou IV was crowned King of Tonga on his 49th birthday. This NFU film covers the lead up to and the entire ceremony on 4 July 1967. It was the first coronation in the island kingdom since Tupou’s mother, Queen Sālote, in 1918. Tongans from the outer islands had been arriving in the capital Nuku'alofa for a month. Dignitaries included the Duke and Duchess of Kent and New Zealand’s Prime Minister Keith Holyoake, plus opposition leader Norman Kirk. Director Derek Wright covers the ceremony with decorum, reflecting the dignity of the occasion.
This National Film Unit documentary looks at thoroughbred racehorse breeding in New Zealand, an industry described as producing "the world's finest racing" — eg 1966 Melbourne Cup winner Galilee. Made when racing could arguably still be called our national sport, the film visits leading stud farms (such as Trelawney in the Waikato) to follow the life of a foal, from birth through yearling sales and training, to Wellington Cup race day — when roads are gridlocked with "a congregation whose bible is a racing almanac". The footage includes a 'good citizenship' school for jockeys.
“There are six of them: three school teachers, an architectural draughtsman, a student of anthropology and a bus mechanic.” This lively and light-hearted 1968 National Film Unit production profiles The Hamilton County Bluegrass Band, who come together in Auckland to play in a villa, a recording studio, and at the Poles Apart Folk Club (where they would record a live album the same year). The band brought the sounds of Kentucky to New Zealand via a prolific run of albums, and regular appearances on 60s TV show The Country Touch. They turned professional in 1969.
Made for television in the late 60s, this documentary pursues four young Māori — Ripeka, Moana, Grace and Phillip — as they transition from school, whānau and rural life to live in the city. The film follows them as they arrive in Wellington and attend a pre-employment course run by The Department of Māori Affairs, which offers accommodation and advice on employment options. Director Arthur Everard later became NZ's Chief Film Censor. A 1991 sequel To Live in the City 24 Years On, travelled across three countries to pick up on the lives of the four, now middle aged.
This fondly-remembered Pictorial Parade plunges down the famously steep grade of the Denniston Incline. The cable railway was the key means of transporting ‘black gold’ from the isolated Denniston Plateau to Westport. The engineering marvel fell 518 metres over just 1670 metres. It brought down 13 million tonnes of coal and many hardy families, despite notorious brake failures. This film was made just before the mine and railway ceased operating, as “old king coal” was supplanted by oil. Director Hugh Macdonald writes about making it, and a companion film, here.
This 1967 NFU instructional film demonstrates breathing exercises developed by Bernice ‘Bunny’ Thompson, to help children suffering from asthma and bronchitis. The film was based on the pioneering physiotherapist's 1963 book of the same name. Director Frank Chilton won renown for his documentaries dealing with the health and welfare needs of children. Asthma and Your Child was commissioned by the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation, and was an early example of a privately-funded socially-useful film. The animation of respiratory processes is by Morrow Productions.
This impressionistic, late 1960s survey traces Auckland from volcanic origins to a population of half a million people. Produced by the National Film Unit, it finds a city of "design and disorder" growing steadily but secure in its own skin as its populace basks in the summer sun. A wry, at times bemused, Hugh Macdonald script and an often frenetic, jazzy soundtrack accompany time honoured Queen City images: beaches and yachting, parks and bustling city streets, and an unpredictable climate given to humidity and sudden downpours.
This 1967 documentary tells the story of 734 Polish children who were adopted by New Zealand in 1944 as WWII refugees. Moving interviews, filmed 20 years later, document their harrowing exodus from Poland: via Siberian labour camps, malnutrition and death, to being greeted by PM Peter Fraser on arrival in NZ. From traumatic beginnings the film chronicles new lives (as builders, doctors, educators, and mothers) and ends with a family beach picnic. Made for television, this was one of the last productions directed by pioneering woman filmmaker Kathleen O'Brien.
The Central Otago gold mining town of Cromwell celebrates its centenary in this NFU documentary. For a fortnight the townsfolk go about their ordinary business, but in colonial-era costume. They also re-enact the frontier-style life of gold rush New Zealand. Just 20 years before the film was shot, Cromwell banks were still receiving deposits of gold dust from customers. But the Cromwell of 1966 is also just a memory. While the old main street still exists, much of the town was flooded with the completion of the Clyde dam in 1993.
This vibrant NFU travelogue takes the pulse of NZ's capital after 125 years of Pākehā settlement and finds a "colourful, casual" city that has had to impose itself on the landscape to endure. Highlights include the 90 sec opening flyover, some off-the-wall music choices in the score and vox pops that are well shy of 'coolest little capital' chutzpah. The wind puts on a requisite show but so do the city's 32 miles of beaches, with a Riviera-esque Oriental Bay beaming on a good day. The mower on a rope trick looks dodgy to a more health and safety conscious age.
This National Film Unit newsreel offers a wide-ranging look at ‘the national game’ in 1966. A muddy potted history (scored to rugby folk song ‘On the Ball’) rakes from the age grades to a Ranfurly Shield match, to the apex: the All Blacks. Ex-All Black fullback Bob Scott talks about the need for ‘four stone bantams’ to enjoy the game, while fellow AB Don ‘The Boot’ Clarke discusses the problems for a country player; Wellington College’s 1st XV plays a ‘traditional’ against Nelson in front of a mass haka on the terraces; and club players explain why they play (“it’s a manly game”).
Made for the Forest Service by the National Film Unit this instructional film demonstrates essential firearms safety. Like later cautionary tales (eg. cult bush safety film Such a Stupid Way to Die) the film dramatises what can happen when things go wrong, before a hunter imparts "the five basic safety rules" (with obligatory ciggie hanging from lower lip). The rendering of the lesson might be hokey (compared to the explicit traffic safety ads of the '90s and '00s) but the message is deadly serious, as ongoing hunting tragedy headlines attest.
This NFU film presents the funeral of Tongan Queen Sālote Tupou III in December 1965. Queen Sālote had a special bond with New Zealand — she studied at Auckland Diocesan School, spent summers in NZ and lived her last days at 'Atalanga, the Tongan residence in Auckland. Among the 50,000 mourners at her funeral in Tonga were NZ Governor General Sir Bernard Fergusson, Prime Minister Keith Holyoake and Norman Kirk. Tongan tradition holds that the casket must never pass through a gateway; 108 pall bearers carried it over walls in a procession to the royal tombs.
A series of comical graphics introduce this 1966 National Film Unit diversion, in a style animator Terry Gilliam would soon make famous via British comedy shows Do Not Adjust Your Set and Monty Python's Flying Circus. The film itself follows a reporter (Michael Woolf) on a jaunt with an international 'veteran car rally' through Southern Lakes scenery, trying to make sense of it all. As he says, "there don’t seem to be any rules to this vintage motoring business". Directed by John King, the playful film features a dubbed soundtrack, complete with sheep baas and car horn sound effects.
The ‘Young Giant’ is Kaingaroa Forest: the largest plantation in the Southern Hemisphere, and one of the largest exotic forests in the world. 1,300 square kilometres produce “50 million cubic feet of timber a year” for pulp, paper, and building. Directed by Brian Cross, and made by the NFU for the forest’s then-managers — the New Zealand Forest Service — this documentary showcases the industry in the pines: scrub clearance for forest extension, burn-offs, machine planting, pruning, felling, grafting, and kiln-drying cones to extract seeds for sowing.
This 1966 edition of National Film Unit’s magazine slot heads to Christchurch International Airport to explore weather measuring devices being launched there. Helium 'Ghost Balloons' are sent into the sky by an outpost of the United States' National Center for Atmospheric Research. Meanwhile Christchurch weathermen send up hydrogen balloons, read satellite data, and provide a flight plan for a U2 reconnaisance plane from the US Air Force. The pilot’s preflight routine involves breathing pure oxygen to prepare him for the ultrahigh altitude plane’s steep ascent into the sky.
This Army recruiting film was made while New Zealand was still involved in the Vietnam War. While its emphasis is on the various trades, such as carpentry, engineering and radio operation, which can be learned in the army, it doesn't shy away from the purely military aspects. Soldiers are trained in unarmed combat, parachuting and jungle warfare. Exercises at the Waiouru Army Camp involving armoured support are also featured. Women are included, but in 1966 they fulfil roles in signals and nursing to free up men for combat duties.
Sponsored by the Crusader Shipping Company, this 1966 National Film Unit production joins one of the firm's ships as it transports NZ products from Auckland to Asia — home to “one quarter of the human race, 900 million customers”. As milk powder, wool, mutton, apples, cheese and deer antlers are delivered to ports in the Philippines, China, Japan, and Hong Kong, director Ron Bowie observes cultural difference and economic opportunity; and a “westernising” Orient is beautifully captured by Kell Fowler. The NFU crew were rare foreign observers in Chairman Mao’s China.
President Lyndon B Johnson's whirlwind visit to New Zealand on 19 October 1966 is chronicled in this National Film Unit documentary. The visit came as controversy grew over Kiwi involvement in the Vietnam War. But aside from a few protestors, the first visit to NZ by a serving US President and his wife was greeted with enthusiasm by about 200,000 Wellingtonians. State and civic receptions were followed by the obligatory farm visit to watch a shearing gang, before the President flew out at the end of 'New Zealand’s day with LBJ'.
Winter is going. This impressionistic take on spring in Aotearoa focuses on details of regeneration, from the mountains to the sea. Director Ron Bowie and cameraman Grant Foster capture signs of the season: ice melt like tadpoles under snow grass, gannets nesting on their Cape Kidnappers tenement, fern koru unfurling, kōtuku and royal spoonbills perched in Ōkārito trees like Dr Suess characters, willow buds and kōwhai flowers. And of course, lambs and daffodils. The camera aptly obeys the title to end. Patrick Flynn (Don’t Let it Get You) composed the score.
A military exchange between New Zealand and the United Kingdom is the focus of this National Film Unit short. About 150 Kiwi soldiers head to London for Exercise Powderhorn in 1964, which includes guard duty at Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London. And they still have time to see the sights. Meanwhile a contingent from the Loyal Regiment in North Lancashire arrives in New Zealand for Exercise Te Rauparaha. They experience jungle warfare in a mock battle on the West Coast and practise mountain craft in the Southern Alps.
The Waitomo Caves are a longtime tourist magnet, thanks to their bioluminescent glow-worms and spectacular stalagmite and stalactite formations. Aside from the glories of the caves, this National Film Unit tourism film mentions the surrounding countryside as “a good reason to stay another day”. Set to a laid-back jazz score, a tour from Waitomo Caves Hotel takes in lambing, limestone outcrops, scenic driving and a picnic by the Marokopa waterfalls. But "to float down the underground river as galaxies pass silently overhead is the crowning pleasure in the valley of Waitomo.”
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.
Taking viewers on a tour of the Volcanic Plateau in the central North Island, this aerial jaunt is enough to make anyone want to take to the skies. After taking off from Rotorua, the award-winning NFU short treats us to soaring shots of the Waimangu Volcanic Rift Valley, Ruapehu, and 'The Frying Pan', the world's largest hot lake. As well as the impressive scenery, the voiceover (supposedly by the pilot) offers up a brief history of the geysers and fumaroles littering the plateau, and a mention of how the Waikato River has been interrupted by "that necessary monster: progress".
In this 60s TV series Selwyn Toogood headed to the heartland to explore six Kiwi towns; it was one of the legendary presenter's first TV slots. In this fifth episode Toogood heads to Motueka to check out the hops, orchards and tobacco crops, and the impact of the seasonal workers on pubs and policing in the Tasman district. Toogood muses on machinery, and interviews pickers about their motives. Women pickers exalt the chance to meet some "jokers" and save for an OE. Toogood also asks a couple of Australian blokes “what do you think of New Zealand girls?”
NFU-produced TV series These New Zealanders explored the character and people of six NZ towns, 60s-style. Fronted by Selwyn Toogood, it was one of the legendary presenter's first TV slots. In this episode Toogood dons the walk shorts and long socks and visits Taupō, extolling the lake district as a place of play (camping, fishing, swimming, jet-boating) and work (the development of Lochinver Station for farming). Toogood does a priceless vox pop survey of summertime visitors, including the requisite quizzing of an overseas couple about whether they like it here.
These New Zealanders was the first National Film Unit series produced for television. Presented by Selwyn Toogood (in one of his first TV roles), it looked at six Kiwi towns in the 1960s. In this episode Toogood visits the Waikato coal mining town of Huntly and learns about efforts to develop industry and opportunities for the local labour force, at a time when coal is being stockpiled. Existing businesses — the brickworks and an earthmoving equipment manufacturer — demonstrate the benefits of being located in Huntly.
In this award-winning tourism promo, an easy-going narrator guides us through a land of contrasts — “where else would you find golf and geysers?”. The sights range from frozen to boiling lakes, characterful cities to odd natives (kiwi, takahē, carnivorous snails). Visual highlights include quirky road-signs (“beware of wind”, “slow workmen ahead”), toheroa digging and a flotilla of capsizing optimists. Directed by NFU veteran Ron Bowie, the film won an award at the 1963 Venice Film Festival, before headlining a special Amazing New Zealand season of shorts in NZ cinemas.
New Zealand’s Antarctic presence is still in its infancy as this striking Academy Award-nominated NFU documentary chronicles the six month polar summer of 1963/64. Sled teams pulled by teams of huskies are despatched to explore far flung corners, nothing is too small — or too great — to be analysed by a battery of scientists, and the base at Cape Hallett is resupplied (it suffered a serious fire shortly afterwards). However, all of this activity seems to make little impression on a remarkable polar landscape constantly threatening to reassert itself.
“Mental subnormality here is no higher than in other countries. Still it strikes more than one in a thousand.” The subjects of this 1964 NFU documentary are intellectually disabled patients (mostly children) at a Levin psychopaedic hospital, and the trainee nurses who care for them. The narration embodies contemporary healthcare ideas where “retarded” children were seen as patients to be kept “happy among their fellows”, and sheltered from the outside world. By the 90s, institutions like this one (later renamed Kimberley) were overtaken by assisted living.
This NFU classic tells Peter Snell's story, up until just before his triumph at the Tokyo Olympics (he'd already won 800 metres gold in Rome, and beaten the world record for the mile). Snell's commentary — focused, candid — plays over footage of training and some of his key races. "It always gives a feeling of exhilaration to run in the New Zealand all black singlet." Snell offers insights into the marathon-style training of coach Arthur Lydiard (15 miles daily, 100 miles a week), and there's priceless footage of Snell running through bush and leaping fences in Auckland's Waiatarua hills.
This documentary series was presented by the legendary Selwyn Toogood. These New Zealanders was one of Toogood's first appearances for television, having previously become a household name as a radio host. The National Film Unit production was part-documentary, part-magazine, and part-travelogue, and took Toogood to six towns to capture their character and people. The towns visited were Gore, Benmore, Motueka, Huntly, Gisborne and Taupō. It provides a fascinating perspective of New Zealand life in the 1960s.
These New Zealanders was a series presented by Selwyn Toogood (one of his first television roles) looking at six Kiwi towns. Here Toogood travels to Benmore Dam, to find out what it was like to live and work on NZ’s (then) largest construction project. He interviews engineers, workmen and housewives, discussing work and pay, social opportunities and family life. As the town had the highest birthrate in the country, facilities for children were also important. The itinerant workers earned good money — about 25 pounds a week, and enjoyed a low cost of living.
These New Zealanders was a magazine-style series produced by the National Film Unit and presented by Selwyn Toogood (one of his first television roles), that looked at six Kiwi locations in the 1960s. In this episode Toogood visits the North Island East Coast city of Gisborne. By 1964 improved road, rail and air links had brought about the end of Gisborne's isolation from the rest of the country. Here Toogood meets food processor James Wattie, and talks to the locals about the problems, achievements and hopes for the region.
These New Zealanders was a series presented by Selwyn Toogood (one of his first television roles) that looked at six Kiwi locations. Here Toogood visits the prosperous farming county of Gore. At that time Gore had a very high rateable value (75 million pounds) and was the only county in NZ to be debt free. A freak early summer storm has left seven inches of snow on the ground at a ‘rehab’ farm; a romney sheep breeder also dabbles in grain, rearing bulls and race horses; and Toogood chats with Maurice Cronin, who has been farming in the area for 45 years.
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 1962 National Film Unit production is a comprehensive survey of the history and (then) state of Māori carving. Many taonga are filmed on display at Wellington’s Dominion Museum, and the design aspects of ‘whakairo’ are examined, from the spiral motif to the origin of iconic black, red and white colouring. Finding reviving tradition in new “community halls”, the film shows the building of Waiwhetu Marae in Lower Hutt in 1960, recording the processes behind woven tukutuku panels and kowhaiwhai patterns, as the tapping of mallets provides a percussive presence.
Directed by David Fowler for the National Film Unit, tourism promo Holiday For Susan enthusiastically follows 22-year-old Aussie Susan's tour of Godzone with Kiwi lass Lorraine Clark. En route, Susan finds a husband in Auckland's David Thomas. Abounding with shots of scenic wonder (cleverly integrated with signs of the country's industrial progress), and Susan's legs (many aspects of the film would have had Kate Sheppard rolling in her grave), the film presents a jaunty portrait of 60s NZ as a destination for young, well-to-do, globetrotters.
This 1962 film about geothermal power generation begins with animated sequences telling the Māori legend of how the North Island’s volcanoes were created. Then it explores the “crazy idea” of volcanic power, and how New Zealand might harness its potential. At Wairakei, roads have collapsed and the ground can rumble: “nothing is ever quite predictable on this battleground for power”. Nearby, steam is used for heating, hangi, bathing, and … growing pineapples. The animation was handled by Mike Walker (later producer of Kingi’s Story), of Levin-based Morrow Productions.
This National Film Unit short captures the action with the RNZAF’s 75 Squadron aerobatic team. The pilots, all in their early to late 20s, fly their de Havilland Vampire jets through low and high altitude manoeuvres. NFU cameraman John Hutchinson squeezed himself and his camera into the cockpit for 14 flights over five days, to capture spectacular images from a fifth Vampire piloted by Flight Lieutenant Barry Gordon. The team was formed in 1958 for the RNZAF's 21st Anniversary Air show at Ohakea. It then toured New Zealand, giving displays at all the major airports.
This documentary examines the alpine flora and birdlife in the Upper Waitaki area of the South Island. Its distinctive bird-life includes karearea (falcons), mirimiro (tomtit), kererū and kea. The native vegetation is profiled in depth. The area's introduced animals include deer, chamois, and thar, which have become pests. Beautifully shot, directed, and packed full of information, this is the kind of film the NFU was famous for. It was commissioned by the Soil Conservation Council, NZ Forest Service and the Department of Internal Affairs.
Shot by photographer Brian Brake as a NFU tourism promo, Snows of Aorangi surveys New Zealand's mountain landscapes. Brake captures stunning imagery: ethereal ice forests, lightning storms, volcanic craters, glaciers, avalanches, kea. Three skiers are mesmerising as they scythe downhill from Almer Hut: "for a little while they've given themselves to the rhythm of sky and earth" runs the James K Baxter-scripted narration. It was the first NZ film to compete for an Oscar, nominated in the Best Short Subject (Live Action) category in 1959.
In the anthropomorphic (and non-PC) tradition of the chimpanzee tea party and PG Tips ads comes this contribution from the National Film Unit. Here chimpanzees provide safe cycling lessons for children. Chaplin-esque scenes ensue as Charlie the Chimp disregards road-rules: "if that young monkey gets to school in one piece he'll be lucky ... he'll get killed sure as eggs". Directed by pioneering woman filmmaker Kathleen O'Brien — who got the idea after seeing them in a visiting variety act — the film contrasts vividly with the brutality of contemporary road safety promos.
This 1949 NFU film visits Western Samoa. Director Stanhope Andrews surveys life in the “lotus land of the Pacific”, showing taro and coconut harvest, cooking in umu, and church and fale building, as “the flower-decked girls sing and dance beneath the palms”. The benefits of New Zealand’s then-administration are shown (eg. medical services, education) but the travelogue ignores earlier ignominious acts, such as the quarantine blunder that saw one in five Samoans fall to influenza. The Olemani Aufaipese (choir) provides the score. Samoa won independence in 1962.
This 1949 NFU film is a whistle-stop tour of Aotearoa that, per the title, takes in the full gamut of the scenic wonderland. Splendidly filmed in Kodachrome, there are lakes (Tutira, Manapouri, Te Anau, Wakatipu), caves (Waitomo), mountains (Cook/Aoraki, Egmont/Taranaki) and forests and farms aplenty, with the occasional city sojourn and an obligatory ferry shot. In the narration indefatigable nature is harnessed for man’s needs and appreciation. Of note is a sequence on gum-collector Nicholas Yakas, who shows impressive agility as he scales a giant kauri.
This NFU film features the 1948 celebrations which marked the centenary of Dunedin's founding. The Edinburgh of the South's Scots heritage figures prominently, with Jock Carlson taking over the more Caledonian parts of the narration from Selwyn Toogood. A tour of the city is followed by extensive footage of the carnival week's centrepiece: an elaborate "cavalcade of progress", as floats trace Dunedin's development over 100 years, before the ambitious light and fireworks finale. In the period the film was made, all of the NFU's colour footage was processed overseas.
Prelude to Aspiring was the first National Film Unit title directed by legendary photographer Brian Brake, soon after he joined the Unit in 1948. It follows a group of climbers up the Matukituki Valley, west of Wanaka, towards Mt Aspiring for the opening of a new hut and a trudge through snow to resurrect a flattened shelter high up Mt French. The autumn alpine scenery is breathtaking even in black and white, and the film perfectly performs its role as one of a series of promotional ‘documentaries' made by the NFU.
This National Film Unit magazine film meets the NZ team for the 1948 London Olympics as they prepare to depart by boat (accompanied by a manager, and a chaperone for the sole female competitor). Each of the seven members is profiled in this reminder of an era when athletes had day jobs, training was 'several hours a day' and swimsuits looked more like impediments than performance aids. A nicely-shot demonstration of weightlifting technique by Maurice Crow is a highlight. Despite the enthusiasm of Selwyn Toogood's voiceover, the team failed to win any medals.
This post-war Weekly Review urges Kiwi farmers to grow more wheat in the face of a world shortage, and out of a patriotic duty to help Britain. Graphic images of global poverty (especially in the final minutes) are counterpointed with NZ wealth and agricultural ingenuity. The film features scientist Otto Frankel, who introduced new wheat varieties that were better suited to the local climate. This was director Alun Falconer's only on-screen credit while working at the National Film Unit. He and Roger Mirams soon left to found pioneering company Pacific Film Unit (later Pacific Films).
This postwar Weekly Review joins a welfare officer from the Crippled Children’s Society on her Wellington rounds: advising parents, chaperoning children to hospitals to undergo physical and speech therapy, and overseeing the supply of specialist footwear and splints. There’s also a Kiwi take on Heidi as a boy is offered a farm holiday, walking on crutches among the cows: “No care and treatment can substitute for the uplift of two weeks in the country.” Released in September 1948, the film was made by decorated war correspondent Stan Wemyss (grandfather of Russell Crowe).
This short profiles the work of Gisa Taglicht. A pioneer of women's rhythmical gymnastics, Taglicht advocated the benefits of physical exercise for women. Risqué at the time for the women’s skimpy outfits, the Wellington-set film sees women escaping machine and washing line oppression via a YWCA hilltop session: limbs reaching and stretching towards a stark sky. The National Film Unit's post-war Weekly Reviews became less overtly patriotic, and some, like this Michael Forlong-directed one, were unabashedly experimental. The score was composed by Douglas Lilburn.
This 1948 documentary follows 24 hours of work on the railways. It was directed for the National Film Unit by New Zealand’s first female film director, Margaret Thomson. It shows the engines and commuter trains preparing to leave Wellington, and the overnight train arriving from Auckland. Workers toil on the railway lines above the remote Waimakariri Gorge, and the town of Otira gets ready for a dance. The final shots are of an engine coming through the dawn and back to the city.
The coaster Breeze and her crew are immortalised in this much praised National Film Unit documentary. Poet Denis Glover and narrator Selwyn Toogood provide a rhythmic and lyrical commentary as the Breeze runs from Wellington to Lyttelton, then to Wanganui. Three weeks after the film's November 1948 release, director Cecil Holmes had his satchel snatched. He lost his NFU job after the resulting smear campaign accused him of communist leanings. Although reinstated after a court case, Holmes left for a successful screen career in Australia in 1949.
This National Film Unit documentary provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the various stages of 40s film production at the relatively nascent unit, from shoot to post production. It was made to be screened continuously (thus the ‘loop’ title) at exhibition theatrettes. There’s genial interaction among the cast and crew (see backgrounder for who they are). Directed by pioneer woman director Kathleen O’Brien, the filming took place at the unit’s Darlington Road studios in Wellington, close to where Weta Workshop and Park Road Post now operate in Miramar.
At 11am on 15 August 1945 news of Japanese surrender reached New Zealand, marking the end of the nation's six years in World War II. This newsreel records the public celebrations in windy downtown Wellington and on Auckland’s Queen St, where there are street parties, bagpipes and beer as tensions are released. At Wellington Town Hall on the second day of the public holiday, tributes are paid to “team spirit”; and Prime Minister Fraser hopes for social justice and that the dead have not died in vain. Then there is a mass rendition of ‘Land of Hope of Glory’.