Remembered by his colleagues as “the leader in capturing New Zealand scenery on film from 1923 to 1954”, Bert Bridgman began his career as a cameraman in the days of silent film, and later directed the Centennial film One Hundred Crowded Years. He served as a war correspondent in the Pacific for the National Film Unit and was chief colour cameraman at the time of his death.
Come hell or high water, the perfectionist in Bridgman wanted the best and nothing else; he professed to believe that if the war were left to him it would be a much better show. Stanhope Andrews, in his 1944 book Close-Up of Guadalcanal
One of the last films shot by longtime cameraman Bert Bridgman before his death, this 1958 promotional film follows an American tourist with a licence to fish in New Zealand, her “passport to pleasure”. Narrated by Pulitzer-Prize winning writer and conservationist Louis Bromfield, the film quotes liberally from English 'father of fishing' Izaak Walton, as the “gal from the States” is given fly fishing instruction. The life cycle of trout is shown, and the film — directed by onetime war correspondent Ron McIntyre — ends with a contest of wits between wily angler and trout.
Four decades before starring in The Last Samurai, New Zealand’s most symmetrical volcano stole the limelight in this NFU short. Extolling a mantra of progress and change, Taranaki presents New Plymouth as regional hub and suburban paradise, surrounded by bays and gladioli. Narrator Paul Ricketts touches on a conflict-soaked past by recalling his great grandmother’s nightly refuge in a central city stockade, during the 1860s Taranaki Wars. Back in 1954, a fishing license costs two pounds, and co-operatively-run dairy factories produce over half the nation’s cheese.
A Friendly Career (or The Story of the Training and Life of the New Zealand School Dental Nurse) was a promotional film made by the National Film Unit for the Department of Health. The plot waltzes through the idyll of one doe-eyed careerist's sugar-coated journey to a respectable job in the 'murder house', caring for the teeth of the Dominion's children. Focusing on the hard work and 50s fun times of hostel life, with its friendships, matrons, tooth-pulling and en masse doing-of-the-hokey pokey, the end of this careerist road is pitched as one of great satisfaction.
This 1952 tourism film promoted New Zealand as a destination to Australians. In the 1950s the Kiwi tourist industry lacked accommodation and investment. But new opportunities were offered by international air travel — like the Melbourne to Christchurch route shown here, flown by TEAL (which later became Air New Zealand). Produced by the National Film Unit, this promo touts the South Island as an antidote to crowded city life in Melbourne and Sydney. Road trips offer glaciers, lakes, snow sports, motoring, angling, racing, and scenic delight aplenty.
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.
This National Film Unit promotional film begins at the Aratiatia rapids on the Waikato River and heads on up to Lake Taupō, where it chucks on the waders and casts into the waters of the volcanic crater lake, to extol the virtues of fishing for rainbow trout. The narration is firmly of its time: “Here’s one man’s idea of the complete angler: complete with radio and pretty girl. Maybe the fish won’t bite, but he’s planned a good day whatever line he uses.” Lake Taupō - Paradise for Fishermen was the NFU’s first production to be shot on 35mm colour film (specifically 35mm Ansco Colour).
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 short film looks at New Zealand's thoroughbred scene in its post-war boom period. In 1950 New Zealand boasted the most thoroughbreds in the world by population, 200 stallions and 5000 brood mares. Some of the most famous sires of the time are featured as the film makers visit the leading studs of the day. The film begins with the outdoor birth of a foal at Alton Lodge (then owned by industrialist Sir James Fletcher and his son); and also visits Inglewood, near Christchurch: the oldest thoroughbred stud still standing a stallion in New Zealand.
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 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.
The war is Europe is over and New Zealanders take to the streets to celebrate in this NFU newsreel. The relief and excitement at the end of hostilities against Germany is clearly visible on the faces of the thousands who flood into New Zealand's towns and cities. But Deputy Prime Minister Walter Nash reminds the crowd the war is not over: Japan has yet to surrender. That doesn't stop wild celebrations following the National Declaration of Peace. Civilians and servicemen alike enjoy the party, many looking the worse for wear "in advanced stages of celebration".
Between 1942 and 1944 thousands of American servicemen were 'in camp' in New Zealand, either before or after seeing action in the Pacific. This early National Film Unit documentary captures life in an Auckland military hospital, where wounded US soldiers went to recuperate. Servicemen take part in occupational therapies like 'Māori carving' and boat building, and frolick about in the harbour. There are shots of Auckland industries, a woollen mill and a weapon factory, and footage of a military parade in front of the Auckland War Memorial (now the Museum).
New Zealand Munitions was the 26th National Film Unit effort, and the longest made in the Unit's first year. The NFU was established in August 1941 to make films illustrating New Zealand's war effort. Completed in December of that year, this is a classic propaganda piece. As World War II intensifies, New Zealanders are reassured that the country has the heavy industry required to supply its army. Factories are converted to wartime needs and munitions pour out. A suitably bellicose script informs viewers "This is our striking power: men and munitions."