The career of pioneering documentarian Bill Saunders began in the early days of New Zealand television. He went on to champion a fly on the wall documentary style and win Feltex Awards for acclaimed films on Moriori, and the elderly. Saunders was the final remaining member of TVNZ’s documentary unit when it was disbanded in 1988, and an outspoken advocate of public service broadcasting until his death in 1995.
Though still a young man he was yet the elder statesman of New Zealand’s documentary makers … He was a true gentleman, integrity and compassion the hallmarks of both the man and his work. Keith Hunter, writing a tribute to his colleague, Sunday Star Times, 7 May 1995
At any one time between mid 1942 and mid 1944, between 15,000 and 45,000 US servicemen were camped in NZ preparing for, and recovering from, war in the Pacific. The marines brought colour and drama to the austerity of home front life. Fifty years later this TV documentary used interviews, reenactments and archive material to explore the “American invasion”. Sonja Davies recalls a Wellington street fight kicked off by a racist insult directed at Māori, and her wartime pregnancy and romance (1,500 marriages ensued from “when the Americans were here”).
This TVNZ production screened at the end of 1989, just before the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Filmed at Government House, presenter Ian Johnstone oversees passionate kōrero as a panel of youngsters, academics and Māori and Pākehā elders debate the place of New Zealand’s founding document. Don Selwyn and Angela D’Audney explore its history, and Sir Paul Reeves begins by musing on chief Te Kemara’s famous about-turn, when, after first opposing the Treaty, he turned to Hobson and said: “How d’ye do Mr Governor”.
This TVNZ documentary captures the early days of NewstalkZB, shortly after Radio New Zealand gambled on relaunching it with an all talk format. Previous breakfast host Merv Smith has taken most of his audience to rival Radio i; his replacement is Paul Holmes. The former king of the Wellington airwaves is soon grappling to make an impact in Auckland. Competition amongst the stations is cutthroat, but Holmes is the focal point here. He’s under pressure and surrounded by a battery of often conflicting opinions. By 1988 he'd hauled the show from ninth to second in the ratings.
In July 1985 French government agents bombed Greenpeace vessel The Rainbow Warrior while it was moored at an Auckland wharf. The boat was set to protest French nuclear testing at Mururoa; photographer Fernando Pereira was killed. This TVNZ documentary, which screened in April 1986, explores the international incident and its fallout. This excerpt, featuring dramatic reconstructions, covers the arrival of the spies in New Zealand and their movements up to and after the bombing. Witnesses and key figures, such as Prime Minister David Lange, are interviewed.
“It’s hard to imagine our way of life before the box turned up in our living rooms.” Newsreader Dougal Stevenson presents this condensed history of New Zealand television’s first 15 years: from 60s current affairs and commercials, to music shows and early attempts at drama. The first part of a two-part special, this charts the single channel days of the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation from its birth in 1960 until puberty in 1975, when it was split into two separate channels. Includes recollections from many of NZ TV’s formative reporters and presenters.
In this two-part Lookout documentary from 1983, critic Hamish Keith explores how New Zealanders have housed themselves over the 20th Century. This first part builds to 1935: it begins in Auckland War Memorial Museum, with Keith asking how Kiwis would represent themselves if they were curators in the future. He presents the state house as the paramount Kiwi icon, and examines the journey from Victorian slums and Queen Street sewers to villas, bungalows and suburbia; plus the impact on housing of cars, consumerism, influenza, war, depression, and new ideas in town planning.
This 1983 Hamish Keith-presented documentary is subtitled 'Housing New Zealand in the Twentieth Century'. Part two picks up from Michael Joseph Savage’s 1930s state housing scheme. Keith argues that as the emphasis shifted from renting to owning, middle class suburbia became the foundation of Kiwi postwar aspirations. He looks at changing demographics in the cities — as home owners fled on newly built motorways — and argues that the suburban ideal has become bland and out of reach, as New Zealand once again becomes a country of “mean streets and mansions”.
This documentary looks at the construction of a replica of the HMS Bounty, in Whangerei. The ship was commissioned to be built for a David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia) film of the famous mutiny. Fidelity to the original is paramount, except the 20th Century edition has a steel hull. Construction of the boat carries on regardless of uncertain fortunes of the film, as producer Dino De Laurentiis and David Lean part ways. The Lean film was ultimately unmade after financing faltered, but the boat went on to star in Kiwi director Roger Donaldson's film of the story.
Contact was introduced as TV2’s slot for local documentaries when TVNZ was established in 1980. At 7pm on Monday nights, it featured 30 minute programmes made both in-house and by independent producers. Multiple episode series within the strand included historian Les Cleveland’s archive based Not So Long Ago, and Ian Taylor Adventures, where the former Spot On presenter tried his hand at various extreme sports. The Contact brand was transferred to TV1 in 1981, as TV2 began to move towards more of an entertainment focus.
This Feltex Award-winning documentary follows two grandchildren of Tommy Solomon — the last full-blooded Moriori — on a pilgrimage to Rēkohu in the Chatham Islands, to rediscover their heritage. They learn about 1000 years of Moriori settlement: Polynesian origins, pacifist beliefs (tragically tested by 19th Century Māori invasion), carvings and a seafood-based way of life. Years before Michael King’s 1989 book Moriori: A People Discovered and Barry Barclay film Feathers of Peace, this 1980 doco launched a revival of Moriori culture, and revised popular misconceptions.
In 1885 the NZ Government used legislation to take ownership of sections of Bastion Point (Takaparawhau) for defence purposes. This ancestral Māori land belonging to Ngāti Whātua was never returned, and in 1976 Crown announced plans to sell off land for housing. Joe Hawke led a group of peaceful protesters which occupied the land for 507 days, until they were forcibly removed by 700+ police and soldiers. This documentary, which screened as part of the Perspective current affairs series, examines some of the issues behind the protest that polarised a nation.
In the one channel days of the early 1970s, the Survey slot was the place to find local documentaries. Topics ranged across the board, from social issues (alcoholism, runaway children) to the potentially humdrum (an AGM meeting) to the surprisingly experimental (music film The Unbelievable Glory of the Human Voice). After extended campaigning by producer John O’Shea, emerging independent filmmakers, including Tony Williams and Roger Donaldson, joined the party — bringing fresh creativity and new techniques to the traditional gentle, narration-heavy doco format.
Current affairs show Gallery took on controversial topics of the day, most famously in a Brian Edwards interview which solved a Post Office industrial dispute live on-air. Produced by Des Monaghan, it began as a studio-based programme that discussed political issues, but was soon expanded. Edwards’ confrontational style of interrogating public figures was new to New Zealand TV, and polarised viewers. It saw Edwards (the "mad mauler") become a household name, and earned him a reputation as a hardline interviewer. He was succeeded as host by David Exel.
Nightly magazine-style show Town and Around played on New Zealand screens during the second half of the 60s. Hosted by Peter Read, this end-of-1968 special from the Wellington edition showcases highlights from over 500 items that year. The concentration is on lighter material, most famously a hoax piece on a farmer who puts gumboots on his turkeys. In another piece reporter John Shrapnell discovers that locked cars in the city tend to be the exception. Also featured: an interview with entertainer Rolf Harris, and an impromptu Kiwi street-Hamlet.
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.
Launched in October 1964, Compass was the first local programme to provide regular coverage of politically sensitive topics. Alongside the job of reporting on the news from a NZ perspective, Compass was the first to file comprehensive news reports from overseas. The controversial banning of a programme on the changeover to decimal currency became a flashpoint in 1966. This led to the high profile resignation of producer Gordon Bick. Compass can now be seen as the forerunner to Close Up, Foreign Correspondent and more recently Sunday.