Keith Hawke was behind the camera on landmark TV series Tangata Whenua, and many other productions besides. In the 80s he reinvented himself in Asia as a director/producer of television and corporate videos, working in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.
I didn't touch a movie camera until the day that I decided to be a cameraman. Keith Hawke
Visionary educationalist and novelist Sylvia Ashton-Warner is interviewed by leading educationalist of the day, Jack Shallcrass, in this documentary about her life and work. From her home in Tauranga the film explores her educational philosophies (“organic teaching” and her “drive to diffuse the impulse to kill”) and her “divided life” between woman and artist, as she plays piano and interacts with children. It is the only interview she ever made for television, and was the first of the Three New Zealanders documentaries made to mark International Women's Year.
This film contrasts impressions of two places over the course of a day: Mana Island and Wellington city. Two young climbers (a teacher and a gardener) row out to the island while the sun rises and the city wakes up. Over smokes and beer, the men discuss why they climb. Evocative shots of their rockface ascent are paralleled with shots of city bustle: traffic, Radio Windy DJs and new high rises. The genre of dramatised documentary was relatively new when cinematographer Waka Attewell made this film — his directorial debut. It was mainly shot over two weekends in 1973.
The Adventure World TV series saw Sir Ed lead an A-Team of mates on a run of adventures. The concept was dreamt up by Bob Harvey, who enlisted Roger Donaldson to direct The Kaipo Wall and an (unproduced) Everest trip. Sir Ed and his climbing mate Mike Gill then went DIY and made two half hour films. This mission to climb The Needles — a rock stack off Great Barrier Island — was the first. Peter Mulgrew sails them over, Murray Jones goes parkour on the rocks and scales a kauri, Graeme Dingle surfs a dingy, and Sir Ed is the self-described “peppery co-ordinator”.
Three New Zealanders was a documentary series that looked at the lives of three of NZ's most celebrated writers: Sylvia-Ashton Warner, Janet Frame and Dame Ngaio Marsh. Produced by Endeavour Films (John Barnett), the final chapter of this three-part series centres on internationally acclaimed crime-writer and Shakespearean director Dame Ngaio Marsh. It contains an interview with Marsh in her later years, interspersed with comments from former students and friends, and re-enactments from her novels (with the Blerta crew as players, and John Bach as Hamlet!).
This 1976 documentary examines India’s third Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. Her father took office as Prime Minister in 1947, the day India became independent from Britain. Framed around an extended interview with Gandhi, reporter Dairne Shanahan explores India and Indira’s history, and her controversial ‘emergency’ governing of the democracy’s 600 million people. The documentary was directed by Barry Barclay. As this article explains, Shanahan hoped it would be the pilot for a series, but it was never made. In October 1984 Gandhi was assassinated by two of her bodyguards.
This three-part documentary series was made to mark International Women's Year in 1975; it provides rare and precious interview footage with three of New Zealand's most celebrated writers; Sylvia-Ashton Warner, Janet Frame and Dame Ngaio Marsh; who each reflect on their life and philosophy. In the case of Ashton-Warner and Marsh, these documentaries were filmed in the last decade of their lives. Three New Zealanders was produced by John Barnett for Endeavour Films.
This fresh, unhurried film is drawn from a substantial interview with renowned writer Janet Frame by Michael Noonan; filmed largely at at Frame’s then-home on Whangaparoa Peninsula. It was part of the Three New Zealanders series made to commemorate the 1975 International Year of Women — an early John Barnett production. The rare footage of Frame — here aged 50 — presents a confident writer in her prime, and negates any stereotypes about Frame's inarticulacy or shyness. Note: the segments from the programme dramatising some of Frame’s work are not included here.
The Hum is about sailing legend Geoff Stagg, and his yacht Whispers. Directed by Tony Williams and written by Martyn Sanderson, the doco is a paean to the lure of sailing, focusing on Stagg’s colourful personality, and his veteran ocean-racing crew, as they take on the Wellington to Kapiti Island and down to the Sounds race. Fortunately for the film they deliver on reputation. Dolphins, Strait squalls, streaking, ciggies, and some fierce 70s moustaches are all in a weekend’s sailing. Stagg would go on to head renowned Farr Yacht Design (now Stagg Yachts).
This classic 70s series saw film crews follow Sir Edmund Hillary and an A-Team of mates (Dingle, Wilson, Gill, Jones, son Peter et al) on missions into the wild. The concept was dreamt up by Bob Harvey. The Kaipo Wall — an expedition to ascend for the first time Fiordland's remote Kaipo Wall — was the first, directed by Roger Donaldson. An ensuing Everest trip was unproduced. Mike Gill and Hillary then went DIY and produced two editions: a climb of the The Needles, a rock stack off Great Barrier; and Gold River, a Kawarau and Clutha river jet-boat dash.
Apparently it's not that New Zealand has a bad image in the USA, more that it has no image. In an attempt to remedy this situation, cameras follow New Zealand's favourite mid-70s country rocker Kenny Rogers (pre-'The Gambler') and his band the First Edition on tour on a Road Services bus. All western shirts, shaggy hair, beards and satin jackets, they see the sights, meet the people (many of them older, rustic characters), play baseball, put down a hangi, break into song and admire the country's slower, more dignified pace. If only it had a McDonalds...
Tangata Whenua was a groundbreaking six-part documentary series that screened (remarkably in primetime) in 1974. Each episode chronicled a different iwi and included interviews by historian Michael King with kaumātua. These remain a priceless historical record. The Feltex Award-winning script was by King and director Barry Barclay. The NZBC said the series had "possibly done more towards helping the European understand the Māori people, their traditions and way of life, than anything else previously shown on television". Paul Diamond writes about Tangata Whenua here.
Tangata Whenua was a groundbreaking six-part series from 1974, on Māori. Barry Barclay directed, and historian Michael King was writer and interviewer. Each episode (remarkably screening in primetime on Sunday nights) chronicled a different iwi and included interviews with kaumātua — a first for New Zealand screens. This episode looks at the people of Waikato, and focuses on the Kīngitanga (Māori King Movement), examining why a movement formed in the Waikato in the 19th century to halt land sales and promote Māori authority has contemporary relevance.
This documentary follows the 1973 Heatway Rally, a mud and oil-splattered event in which 120 drivers covered 3600 miles over eight days. Directed by future advertising legend Tony Williams, it was a major logistical exercise, with five camera units, shot by a who’s who of the 70s New Zealand film industry. In addition to high speed on-and-off road action, it includes an explanation of what co-drivers actually do, a chance for a driver’s wife to ride in a rally car, and driving and cornering montages set to orchestral accompaniment. It won the 1974 Feltex Award for Best Documentary.
Opening with an image of Orpheus floating on the water, this inspired doco climaxes with a contender for NZ's most eyeopening montage yet. Loaded with examples of the infinite ways the human voice can make music, the film sees host Julian Waring introducing choirs, opera, balladeers and protest singers. Along the way Michael Heath recreates a performance by Florence Foster Jenkins, a worryingly close cousin of Asian-New Zealand songbird Wing. The mash-up finale uses 2000 photographs to summarise two decades of music, in a scene that must have blown minds in the suburbs.
“A film developed from the imagination of New Zealand children” is how director Tony Williams describes this remarkable, sprawling mix of drama and documentary. It features a fictitious teacher (writer Michael Heath) working with a class of 11-year-olds from Petone to explore what freedom means to them. At times their notions might seem naive but the film remains firmly non-judgmental. The free-wheeling approach, most memorable in the Paekakariki beach fantasy scenes, makes for a “wonderfully idiosyncratic” (film historian Roger Horrocks) hymn to juvenile freedom.
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.
The iconic all-things-rural show is the longest running programme on New Zealand television. With its typical patient observational style (that allows stories of people and the land to gently unfold) it’s an unlikely broadcasting star, but New Zealanders continue, after 50 plus years, to tune in. Amongst the bucolic tales of farming, fishing and forestry, there are high country musters, floods, organic brewing, falconry, tobacco farming, as well as a fencing wire-playing farmer-musician, a radio-controlled dog, and Fred Dagg and the Trevs.
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.