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After managing to introduce drama and dance into his post WWII films for the National Film Unit, filmmaker Michael Forlong spent the remainder of his career directing features in Europe. In 1972 he returned to New Zealand to shoot children's tale Rangi's Catch, discovering actor Temuera Morrison in the process.
Not only is Rangi’s Catch one of the best children’s films ever made, it is grand entertainment for people of all ages. Veteran reviewer Catherine de la Roche, in The Dominion
Brian Brake is regarded as New Zealand's most successful international photographer. He worked for the Magnum cooperative, and snapped famous shots of Pablo Picasso at a bullfight and the Monsoon series for Life magazine. In this Inspiration documentary — made shortly before his 1988 death — Brake reviews his lifelong quest for “mastery over light”, from an Arthur’s Pass childhood to a fascination with Asia. He recalls time at the National Film Unit and is seen capturing waka huia, Egyptian tombs, and Castlepoint’s beach races (for a new version of book Gift of the Sea).
After being spotted performing for tourists in Rotorua, 11-year-old Temuera Morrison was given his very first starring role in this British TV series, shot downunder by expat Kiwi director Michael Forlong. In this clip, Rangi (Morrison) and co have adventures with sharks, crayfish and a stranded sheep near their remote South Island farm. Meanwhile two robbers (Ian Mune and Michael Woolf) sneak into the house. The scene is set for crims and and children to chase each other all the way to Rotorua. The series was seen in New Zealand cinemas in a shortened movie version.
Recut from material shot at least five years before, this National Film Unit short appears to have been driven by the Tourist and Publicity Department. Coming in for praise are New Zealand’s primary exports (farm products), road and railways, and social security. In the 50s long distance air links were opening NZ up to the world but international tourism was not a major industry, and NZ was focused firmly on agriculture. People are shown farming, “a little unsmiling” on city streets, and at play (fishing, sailing and skiing). Kids drink milk and Māori are assimilating.
This isn't an apartheid manual or minimalist design code, but a 1952 road safety film from the National Film Unit. The film follows 'Mrs White' and 'Mrs Black' leaving their respective homes (on foot) for a bridge evening. Mrs White wears visible clothing and faces the traffic (would a modern colour remake see a Mrs Fluoro?). Mrs Black dresses eponymously and walks with her back to the traffic. Predictable results ensue. Modern viewers who associate such character names with Reservoir Dogs will not be disappointed by the suspenseful denouement.
Using spectral tactics to generate road safety awareness this film carries on from where The Elysian Bus left off, emphasising that the loss of the 300 Kiwis who are likely to die on the roads in the coming year will be more than statistical. A Christmas Carol-style future projection shows gifts being handed out from under the tree, but Mary is not there to receive hers as she was on "the list of names". Actual crash footage drives home the grim message with more solemnity than Ghost Chips. One of the names under the reaper's skeletal finger is spookily 'Peter Jackson'.
This magazine newsreel mixes buried treasure with a classic Brian Brake-shot performance piece. Opener 'The Long Poi' captures a poi dance. In 'The Buried Village' tourists examine fireballs and Māori stone carvings buried in the 1886 Tarawera eruption. The final piece showcases the talents of Kiwi pianist Richard Farrell and director Brian Brake. Brake's moody studio lighting and lively compositions frame this performance of a Chopin waltz. Farrell would die in a UK car accident in 1958 — the same month Brake won his first big spread in Life magazine.
When King George VI died in 1952, the National Film Unit went into the editing room to revisit footage of a royal visit made down under in 1927, before he and his wife Elizabeth had ascended to the throne. The resulting film offers a high speed, whistlestop view of the Duke and Duchess of York's 28 day tour of NZ. "To the accompaniment of many expressions of loyalty and greetings", the pair are kept busy planting trees, opening Karitane homes, fishing, and generally shaking hands. Later plans to return to NZ were cancelled after the King fell ill.
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.
In colonial times drowning was so rife it was known as 'the New Zealand death'. This jaunty 1951 educational film is an effort to rid our lakes, rivers and seas of the unfortunate tag through cunning reverse psychology, as swimmers, fishermen and skylarking lads learn "how to drown". It eschews the confrontational realism of many a later PSA for the light-hearted approach: mixing lessons on water safety with silent film-style tomfoolery, gallows humour and the odd bit of sexual innuendo. Features footage of surf lifesavers using the now-archaic rope and reel.
It's a Wonderful Life meets driver education in this NFU film that aims to scare those who would be careless in bad weather conditions. This now-quaint precursor to 2011's Ghost Chips road safety ad sets up a low-key mystery plot, as five naive unfortunates find themselves at a bus stop in pea-soup fog. Purgatorial befuddlement — the bus goes via 'Infinity Terrace' and a saucy angel is handing out harps — turns to moralizing, complete with flashbacks and a lecture from the weather god, as they discover why they've ended up en route to 'Elysian Fields'.
Aroha depicts a young Māori chief's daughter who embraces the modernity of the Pākehā world (attending university in Wellington) while confronting her place with her own people (Te Arawa) and traditions at home. The NFU-produced dramatisation is didactic but largely sensitive in making Aroha's story represent contemporary Māori dilemmas (noted anthropologist Ernest Beaglehole was the cultural advisor). Watch out for some musical treats, including an instrumental version of classic Kiwi song, 'Blue Smoke' and a performance of the action song 'Me He Manu Rere'.
This National Film Unit dramatised doco was boosterism for postwar immigration to New Zealand. Three Brits (Margaret, Cassie, Harry) travel and settle down under and the film records their hopes, jobs (nurse, factory worker, engineer), challenges (accents, 'casual' work ethic, locals wary of the ‘Poms’) and adventures in the new country (tramping, skiing, milk bars, the races, romance). Partaking in a glacier rescue raises Harry's spirits and assimilates him with the blokes. The film was released theatrically in the UK, and was scored by Douglas Lilburn.
This post-war film was made to showcase New Zealand to UK audiences. Directed by Michael Forlong, the NFU film is a booster’s catalogue of contemporary NZ life. The message is that NZ is a modern pastoral paradise: open for business but welfare aware. Nature is conquered via egalitarian effort; air and sea links overcome the tyranny of distance; and science informs primary industry. Māori are depicted assimilating into the Pākehā world. Sport, suburbia and scenic wonder are touted, and an NZSO performance shows that the soil can grow culture as well as clover.
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 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.
This Weekly Review pays respect to the traditional Māori art of raranga (or weaving), and looks at the industrialisation of New Zealand flax (harakeke) processing. The episode features a factory in Foxton where Māori designs are incorporated into modern floor coverings. Patterns in Flax features some great footage of the harvesting and drying of flax plants, and shots of immense (now obsolete) flax farms.
This 1946 film surveys New Zealand housing: from settler huts to Ernest Plischke’s modernist flats. Architect William Page bemoans sun-spurning Victorian slums with their unneeded “elaboration”. But more fretful than fretwork is a housing crisis that sees 26,000 families needing homes, with owning or renting out of reach of many. Michael Savage’s pioneering (but war-stalled) state housing scheme and newly-planned suburbs offer hope. Fed by wood and cement, NZ can build again with brio: “For a home is the basis of the simple things that make victory worthwhile.”
This National Film Unit travelogue, produced for the NZ Government Department of Tourist and Health Resorts, finds post-war Auckland basking in sunshine. Flowers bloom in parks and gardens, city streets bustle and public swimming pools are packed. Trams and flying boats are a reminder of a by-gone era in the city's transportation while a rug factory is a colourful if unexpected inclusion. Last stop is a visit to Kawau Island — home of Governor Grey's Mansion House — where the sun also shines and aquaplaning, sports and bush walks are the order of the day.
This 1945 newsreel reports on the repatriation of New Zealand prisoners held in Japanese camps during the war in the Pacific. Cameraman Stan Wemyss (grandfather of Russell Crowe) ranges across Asia with the RNZAF — from Changi in Singapore, to camps in Java (Indonesia), and Siam (Thailand). The narration notes grimly that “the movie camera does not record the stench of death”; and returned PoW, Dr Johns of Auckland, implores for the sake of the children: “that the experiences that we have gone through at the hands of the Japanese shall never, never again be possible.”
This 1944 newsreel documents arrivals at a Wellington wharf from the Middle East: New Zealand soldiers and Polish children. For the refugees it was the conclusion of an epic wartime survival tale: an exodus from Poland via Siberian labour camps, to being greeted by Prime Minister Peter Fraser in NZ. The Poles then take the train past waving crowds to their new home: a camp in Pahīatua. Twenty years later the children were revisited in Kathleen O’Brien’s classic 1966 documentary The Story of Seven-Hundred Polish Children.