Gerard Smyth began his screen career in 1969 as a cameraman for state TV. Since turning director he has made documentaries on everything from the disabled (many for TV series Inside Out) to the arts. Qantas-nominated for his doco on cinematographer Alun Bollinger, Smyth made his feature debut with When a City Falls, an acclaimed account of the quakes in hometown Christchurch. He followed it with Jean Watson doco Aunty and the Star People.
...this is the story of the people of Christchurch, living through their hardest year. And it's the film they deserve. At once a celebration of endurance and a lament of loss, it will still be being watched 50 years from now. David Larsen, reviewing When a City Falls, Listener, 28 November 2011
Aged 50, Jean Watson sold her Wellington house to buy land for a children’s home in southern India. In 2013 filmmaker Gerard Smyth (director of acclaimed quake chronicle When a City Falls) spent two months in India, chronicling Watson and some of the many lives she has changed. Smyth’s documentary also harks back to the 60s, when Watson wrote novel Stand in the Rain, and hunted crocodiles with Barry Crump. The result won solid audiences at the 2014 NZ Film Festival. The Listener gave it four stars; “Unpretentious but unashamedly enjoyable” said The Dominion Post.
Gerard Smyth's acclaimed documentary about the Christchurch earthquakes is the story of people coping — for better or worse — with the huge physical and emotional toll that the quakes, and continuing aftershocks, inflicted on them, their homes and their city. It began as a home movie while the devastation of September was surveyed (with thanks given that no-one had been killed); but, as shooting of the recovery continued, the February quake compounded the destruction and claimed 182 lives (including their researcher and 16 colleagues at CTV).
This 2011 episode of the Russell Brown-fronted media commentary show examines how Christchurch is dealing with the aftermath of two devastating earthquakes. First up: the CEISMIC Digital Archive is working to preserve the memories and experiences of Cantabrians, and The Press editor Andrew Holden explains why his newspaper is donating everything it has published to the project. Then CERA CEO Roger Sutton talks about the key role of media relations, and filmmaker Gerard Smyth describes shooting his acclaimed chronicle of the quakes: When a City Falls.
Barefoot Cinema looks at the "art and life" of Alun Bollinger, whom Peter Jackson calls "the finest lighting cameraman that the country has ever produced." Goodbye Pork Pie, Vigil, Heavenly Creatures ... the path of the man known as 'AlBol' is like a screen industry growth chart. But the film is as much an affectionate account of the values and family of a "greenie good keen man", shaped around his four decades-long relationship with wife Helen. In this excerpt, 'AlBol' nails down iron in the rain at his West Coast home, and he and Peter Jackson reflect on their collaborations.
Christchurch policeman Stefen Harris launched his film career with this feature-length adaptation of his own book The Waikikamukau Conspiracy, about a small town Māori land claim. When drama funding couldn’t be secured, it was shot as a low budget mockumentary in just six days in South Canterbury. Jim Moriarty manages to be endearing in his determination to regain his people’s land at any cost, while David McPhail and Mark Hadlow enthusiastically lampoon the judicial system. The film won Best Digital Feature at the 2007 Air New Zealand Screen Awards.
Artsville was a mid-2000s slot that aimed to bring New Zealand art and artists to life via documentary. The subjects ranged from composers and playwrights to comic artists, photographers and an investigation into a life drawing class. Each piece was independently commissioned and varied in duration from hour-long studies to shorter pieces, compiled into a one hour programme for a late-night TV ONE slot. Artsville was later repeated on digital Freeview channel TVNZ6 (now defunct).
For a generation of music fans rock show Radio with Pictures was their link to local and international music — and essential viewing before TV2's Sunday night horror movies. Following on from the Grunt Machine in 1976, its presenters included Dr Rock (Barry Jenkin), Phil O'Brien, Karyn Hay and Dick Driver. RWP's run coincided with the rise of MTV and the music video, and a burgeoning 80s New Zealand music scene. Videos were a staple but artist interviews also featured and the show staged a number of televised concerts featuring leading local artists.
When New Zealand’s second channel arrived in 1975, TV One stayed with BBC format Play School as its pre-schoolers’ programme while newcomer SPTV made a local version of American show Romper Room (initially in Auckland, then from the Christchurch studios that later made After School). Participation from a young (and sometimes startled) studio audience was a hallmark of the show. The presenters included Miss Yvonne (they were always Miss) Moore — wife of future Prime Minister Mike Moore. Romper Room disappeared in 1980 when the channels combined.
In 1975 TV One launched with a flagship 6.30 news bulletin which went largely unchanged with the move to TVNZ in 1980. In a 1987 revamp, it became the Network News with dual newsreaders Judy Bailey and Neil Billington (replaced by Richard Long). In 1988, the half hour programme moved to 6pm. With the advent of TV3 in late 1989, it was rebranded One Network News; and, from 1995, extended to an hour. The ill-fated replacing of Long with John Hawkesby in 1999 saw it make headlines rather than report them. In 1999, there was another name change to One News.
Popco slotted in after Movin’ and before Norman, as part of a long tradition of Christchurch music shows which first began with Let’s Go in the early 60s. It featured a studio band, the Maggie Burke Dancers and vocalists including Bunny Walters, Annie Whittle, Tom Sharplin and Rob Guest, who performed the hits of the day. There were appearances from local acts including Ticket and Chapta, and overseas performers like Lindisfarne and Gary Glitter (who was overcome with vertigo and had to be rescued from a high diving board at QE2 pool, after miming one of his hits).
This excerpt from the On Camera series sees Australian entertainer Rolf Harris recording in NZBC’s Christchurch studios for an episode of children’s TV show Kidset. In an ensuing interview — popping with sound effects made using only his voice — he talks about cracking his wobble board, his advocacy for aboriginal music, hit song ‘Two Little Boys’, and differences between children’s and adult audiences. Daughter Bindi drops in before Harris muses on being air-sick, and pounamu hunting in Hokitika. In 2014 Harris was convicted of numerous sex offences.
NZBC series On Camera was an afternoon magazine show. It screened separately on each of the regional channels, but shared items and interviews. Subjects ranged from Rolf Harris and Alfred Hitchcock to VSA and ballet, and topics “of particular appeal to women”. Presenters included Julie Cunningham (Christchurch), Irvine Lindsay (Wellington) and Sonia King (Auckland), with Max Cryer reporting from Hollywood. Future head of TVNZ Māori programming Ernie Leonard (reporter) got early experience on the show, and future Quiet Earth composer John Charles was a director.
Town and Around was a nightly magazine show, covering everything from current affairs and studio interviews to slapstick to stunts; including a notorious spoof on a farmer who shod his turkeys in gumboots. A popular and wide-ranging regional series, it ran for five years from 1965, and was the training ground for a generation of industry professionals (Brian Edwards, David McPhail, and Des Monaghan amongst many others). Town and Around was made prior to a national network link, and editions came out of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.
In the Nature of Things saw Christchurch zoologist Ron Walton deliver science lessons to children. Walton (along with Night Sky presenter Peter Read) made made science pop, and was one of NZ’s best known broadcasting personalities of the 60s and 70s, fondly remembered by a generation of Kiwi kids. His fame saw him endorse everything from microscopes to Pye TV sets. From a gentler time, well prior to the pyrotechnics of MythBusters, Things was one of the few NZBC products from the era that screened internationally, selling to the US and a host of other countries.