An ideas man who campaigned for a Government film body, Stanhope Andrews would become the National Film Unit's first manager. Andrews commanded the Unit for a decade. Along the way he oversaw dramatic expansion, set up regular newsreel Weekly Review, and opened the door to filmmakers of both genders.
... once in a while you have the [...] satisfaction of dredging up and polishing with your own mind some facet of everyday life that expands not only your own puny little heart, but lends stature and dignity to the humdrum work of your fellow man. Stanhope Andrews, on making documentaries
This 1983 film looks at New Zealand in World War II, via a compilation of footage from the National Film Unit’s Weekly Review newsreel series, which screened in NZ cinemas from 1941 to 1946. It begins with Prime Minister Savage’s “where Britain goes, we go” speech, and covers campaigns in Europe, Africa and the Pacific, and life on the home front. The propaganda film excerpts are augmented with narration and graphics giving context to the war effort. Helen Martin called it "a fascinating record of documentary filmmaking at a crucial time in the country’s history".
This 1950 documentary about early primary school education was made by pioneering female director Margaret Thomson, who rated it her favourite NZ work. The survey of contemporary educational theory examines the new order in 'infant schooling' (though some things never change, like tadpoles and tidy up time). It is broken into sections: ‘Play in the Infant School’, ‘Doing and Learning’, ‘Learning to Read’, ‘Number Work’ and ‘Living and Learning’. The National Film Unit doco was made for the Department of Education. Douglas Lilburn composed the score.
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.
Coverage of a major event in the history of the NZ music industry — the pressing of Ruru Karaitiana’s timeless classic ‘Blue Smoke’ — is the highlight of this NFU newsreel. It was the first recording of a local composition performed by local musicians to be manufactured in NZ (in a very exact and highly labour intensive exercise involving men in white coats). The country’s biggest airlift of sheep, sharp shooting army cadets, high flying painters redecorating a Wellington church and heavy machinery being moved across Auckland by barge also feature.
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 episode of the National Film Unit’s Weekly Review newsreel series goes on a jaunty whistle-stop tour across the country. It takes off on TEAL’s new flying boat (Ararangi), from Wellington’s Evans Bay on a cruise over to the Marlborough Sounds and back. We then stop to smell the tulips on a South Canterbury tulip farm; before revving up for dusty motorhead bliss in Whanganui as a swarm of motorcyclists contest the Motorcycle Grand Prix. The reel pulls up in an Auckland factory for a fascinating look at the manufacture of glamourous nylon stockings.
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.
This edition of the NFU’s long-running Weekly Review series firstly looks at making of apparel for the 1950 Empire Games, including singlets "dyed in the traditional black". Then it’s down to Wellington Zoo to meet their new elephant, Maharanee; and across the harbour to examine earthmoving efforts to alter the Hutt River's course and save Barton’s Bush from being swept away. Lastly, it’s up Mt Egmont (aka Mt Taranaki) to follow good keen rangers trapping possums and shooting goats — some hiding up trees — to protect the native forest and slopes from erosion.
This Weekly Review features: An interview with Sir Peter Buck in which Te Rangi Hīroa (then Medical Officer of Health for Maori) explains the sabbatical he took to research Polynesian anthropology, a subject in which he would achieve international renown; Landscapes: The Lakes at Tūtira sets the stunning scenery of the Hawke's Bay lakes to verse by James Harris; finally Southern Alps: RNZAF Drops Building Materials hitches a ride on a Dakota full of building materials being parachuted in to workers at Mueller Hut on Mount Cook.
This Weekly Review features a speedboat and hydroplane regatta in Evans Bay in a stiff northerly as boats capsize in the choppy seas; the inter-provincial rowing eights on a flat-as-a-millpond Petone foreshore on the other side of Wellington Harbour in which Auckland's West End wins; and the reopening of the National Art Gallery by the Prime Minister Peter Fraser after eight years' occupation by the Air Force. The £40K national collection (mainly portraits and landscapes) is unpacked and reframed, and a Frances Hodgkins painting examined.
This edition of the National Film Unit newsreel series promotes a newly established New Zealand industry: the manufacturing of domestic ware. It shows the process of producing a cornucopia of Crown Lynn-like crockery — plates, cups, saucers, teapots, vases, etc. Machines make and glaze plates, while technicians cast irregular shaped vases, make prototypes for items such as Toby jugs, hand paint, and apply transfers. For, as the title suggests, the potter's wheel and handiwork still have their place, even in the age of mechanical reproduction.
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.
This classic wartime newsreel profiles the coal mining towns of Westland. It compares the town of Rūnanga, where mining has brought prosperity and a strong community life, with Denniston, which is set in rocky, inhospitable land high up a West Coast mountainside. Its tone is patriotic: “Here then are the men who feed New Zealand with the raw material of industrial prosperity ... They work in the darkness of the mines, buried away from the fresh splendours of the air above them.” The Weekly Reviews were screened in cinemas 1942 - 1950.
This early National Film Unit newsreel traces the aftermath of the World War II Battle for Crete. It shows the arrival in Egypt of defeated New Zealand soldiers after their evacuation. However more than 2000 New Zealanders were left behind and captured by the Germans. The film also features Lieutenant Winton Ryan, whose platoon acted as bodyguard to Greece's King George II — they accompanied him during his flight across Cretan mountain passes to safety. For the people back home Prime Minister Peter Fraser puts an optimistic gloss on a comprehensive defeat.
Produced by Stanhope Andrews, Country Lads was used to advocate for a reorganised government filmmaking body to publicise the war effort, before screening in cinemas as the first National Film Unit production. Lads shows footage of soldiers as they leave for the front. Adolf Hitler had called the Kiwi soldiers "poor deluded country lads"; but here the description is co-opted as a compliment. A national character is expressed — pioneers who had "helped make this country what it is: happy, prosperous and free" — and is used to underpin the soldiers' mission.