Talented scriptwriter Alun Falconer joined the New Zealand National Film Unit as a production trainee at the age of 22. His first assignments appear to have been assisting with the editing of one of the items that appeared in Weekly Review No. 245 (released on 10 May 1946), and editing and writing the commentary for the item Sport… The Season Opens for the following week's Review.
Over the next two years he wrote, edited, or directed about 60 items for this magazine-film series. This work could be studio-based, or could involve travelling with a cameraman to film scheduled events or subjects fitted into a pre-determined itinerary.
The travelling film crew were encouraged to find stories as they went. Stories dealt with in a documentary style ensured the Weekly Review was never solely a newsreel, and often the whole of the weekly reel was taken up with a single subject. In November 1947 Falconer and two cameramen, in Christchurch on a routine assignment, were on the spot to witness the destruction by fire of Ballantyne's department store. Their dramatic film of the fire was rushed to Wellington and ready for picture theatre screens the following night.
It was on Lighthouse Maintenance (1947, released as Weekly Review No. 305) that Falconer first worked with cameraman Roger Mirams on a single-subject film, foreshadowing a later business partnership. The two collaborated on two further documentaries for the Weekly Review series – Maori School (1947), filmed in Ruatoria, and Backblock Medical Service (1948), showing the work of Dr GM Smith in the Hokianga district. In publicity for the latter film the work of cameraman and director went unacknowledged, overshadowed by the novelty of the film having a specially commissioned music score by Douglas Lilburn.
Falconer's only National Film Unit screen credit was as director of Wheat Problem 1948, (released as Weekly Review No. 337), a film that exhorted farmers to grow more wheat in the midst of a world shortage.
Not long after the release of this film, Falconer and Mirams left the NFU and set up the Pacific Film Unit. Mirams had just begun as NZ representative and freelance cameraman for Fox Movietone. In May 1948, on behalf of the Pacific Film Unit, Falconer presented a submission to the Motion Picture Industry Committee enquiry, proposing the establishment of a National Film Board, and urging that government film work should be available to producers other than the NFU.
Falconer's PFU credits were for writing three scripts — The Proof of the Pastry (1948), The Age of Oil (1949), and Tribute to Achievement (1949) — and as director for There Aren't Any Accidents (1949), made for the Transport Department.
In March 1949 he set out for China with the intention of making a film about New Zealand expatriate Rewi Alley, and his work with industrial cooperatives. When this fell through he stayed on and worked as a journalist in Shanghai, where he witnessed the fall of the city to the communist army. He left in 1950 for London where he returned to film production, making training films for the National Coal Board Film Unit for a number of years.
He also wrote feature film screenplays, among them seige drama The Man Upstairs (1958), starring Richard Attenborough in the title role as a disturbed boarding house tenant, and Brit-noir film Never Let Go (1960), starring Richard Todd and Peter Sellers.
Turning his writing talents to television, he scripted episodes for police drama series Gideon's Way, Special Branch and New Scotland Yard.
Alun Falconer died in a London hospital on 27 September 1973 at the relatively young age of 50 years.
Writing and Original Research by Clive Sowry
Mr Alun Falconer (Obituary) – The Times (London) 29 September 1973, Page 14
Anonymous, 'New Zealander's Original Story Filmed In Britain' – The Dominion, 21 March 1959, Page 14
Anonymous, 'Exported Talent' – NZ Truth, 17 September 1957, Page 14
Alun Falconer, New China, Friend or Foe? (London: The Haldrett Press, 1950)
Anonymous, 'At Random' – Monthly Film Bulletin of The Wellington Film Society Inc., No 30, 1 April 1949, Page 1
Anonymous, 'Need To Bar State Interference In Film Production Stressed' – The Dominion, 22 May 1948, page 8
Anonymous, 'Filming on Thin Ice' – Screen Parade, October 1946, Page 41