Though Pamela Meekings-Stewart's work as a producer and director ranges widely, she has often been drawn to documentaries involving women and the arts. Her Feltex award-winning series Pioneer Women dramatised the lives of six women, from Princess Te Puea to Ettie Rout. These days she runs retreats from her farm in Pukerua Bay. Meekings-Stewart is sometimes credited as Pamela Jones.
Of all the years I worked in, with, for and on television, there was never a day I didn’t want to go to work! Pamela Meekings-Stewart
This short film by Clare O'Leary interviews New Zealand women at the forefront of new media design and development around the turn of the millenium. Among those on screen are Emily Loughnan, who moved from televison to co-founding company Click Suite, musician Jordan Reyne, and academic and author Lalita Rajasingham. Many agree that new developments in technology mean increased opportunity for women. The documentary first screened on the BBC World, Life series, as part of the Women Broadcasting for Change network.
Presented by Alison Parr, this 1997 TVNZ arts series focused on New Zealand literature and writers; it featured studio interviews with authors. The Write Stuff was made by Pinnacle Productions — Amanda Evans, Pamela Meekings-Stewart and Di Oliver-Zahl — who were also behind contemporary arts series For Arts Sake. There were 26 30-minute episodes. Those interviewed included Emily Perkins, Bill Manhire, Sonja Davies, Barbara Else, Kate de Goldi, and Marilyn Duckworth. The Write Stuff screened on TV One.
This edition of the mid 1990s TV One arts series sees host Alison Parr interviewing literary rising star Emily Perkins, then 26, while the expat author is visiting from London. Perkins talks about her time at drama school, her debut short story collection Not Her Real Name (whose Generation X life stories won international notice), and nerves about her upcoming first novel. The episode opens with poet Bill Manhire talking about book Mutes and Earthquakes, which anthologised the work and processes of his Victoria University creative writing programme. Perkins was a graduate.
This excerpt from the 22nd episode of Kiwi literature series The Write Stuff features unionist and peace campaigner Sonja Davies (1923 - 2005). Davies had just released Marching On, the follow-up to her acclaimed 1984 autobiography Bread & Roses. Presenter Alison Parr asks Davies about her experience in Parliament, as well as personal tragedy and gardening. Davies reflects on achieving change, her dislike for the aggression of the debating chamber, and the values her grandparents taught her: "compassion and responsibility, caring for others more than you care for yourself …"
Arts magazine series For Arts Sake screened on TV ONE for two hours on Sunday mornings for 22 weeks in 1996. The show featured a range of artists including dancer/choreographers Michael Parmenter and Mary Jane O'Reilly, playwright Hone Kouka, sculptor Michael Parekowhai, painter Graham Sydney, photographer Ans Westra, and animator and sculptor Len Lye. Former TV current affairs journalist Alison Parr was the show's presenter and interviewer. Each week's programme had a theme represented by local stories and interviews, as well as international items.
In this excerpt from the 1996 TV One arts series, presenter Alison Parr interviews the NZ Film Commission's longtime marketing director Lindsay Shelton about the international success of Kiwi films. Shelton attributes the recent popularity of Once Were Warriors and Heavenly Creatures to Kiwi stories being different and new — "everything in our films was unexpected". Roger Donaldson, Geoff Murphy, Jane Campion and Peter Jackson are mentioned, with special note of Jackson's "confidence and wish" to stay in New Zealand's "tiny as well as fragile" film industry.
In the late 80s the creation of a new public park in central Wellington became an act of cross-cultural collaboration, and an infamous battlezone between artist, council and naysayers. Following positive feedback over her design, council staff decided that redevelopment of Pigeon Park (an old pa site) would be led by Māori artist Shona Rapira Davies. This doco follows the passionate, stroppy Rapira Davies, as she fights cost overruns, landscape architects and passersby, and for her vision (which involved handcrafting Te Aro park's 20,000 plus ceramic tiles).
Hokonui Todd is a portrait of African statesman Sir Garfield Todd (1908 - 2002). Todd was an outspoken supporter of black right to self determination in Rhodesia (which became Zimbabwe in 1980, after a bloody civil war). Here Todd and wife Gracie reflect on their lives: from their "egalitarian" New Zealand upbringing; their arrival in Rhodesia as missionary farmers; Todd's time as Prime Minister; being imprisoned by Ian Smith's racist white regime (along with daughter Judith); to emerging as a "conscience of the country" burdened with postcolonial troubles.
By focussing on a single complaint of sexual abuse made by an 11-year-old girl against her mother’s partner, this docudrama examines the work done by social workers at the former Department of Social Welfare (now Child, Youth and Family). The victim and her family are actors but the social workers are real people who talk frankly about the confronting situations they face in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” job. The issues are canvassed sensitively by Pamela Meekings-Stewart; Former Māori Language Commissioner Haami Piripi plays the victim’s father.
Expressions of Sexuality examined the impact of the sexual revolution on New Zealand society in the late 1980s. In this episode, the trade-offs between married and single life (and the areas in between) are recounted through candid interviews with seven 'unattached' men and women, including a solo mother of five children and a celibate Catholic priest. Filmed in 1984, it took director Allison Webber two years to convince TVNZ that local audiences were 'ready' for what were still seen as taboo subjects.
This 1985 TVNZ documentary follows the recruitment of three new pilots into the Red Checkers acrobatic flying squadron of the Royal NZ Air Force. The pilots train to fly formations, loops and low level passes. There are close calls, and interviews with pilots and their spouses. What does it take to be a Kiwi Top Gun? Squadron leader (and future NZ Defence Force chief) Bruce Ferguson: "he's got to have confidence in himself, his abilities and to be a wee bit of a showman." The documentary marked one of the earliest directing credits for Emmy Award-winner Mike Single.
Cilla McQueen is a poet, teacher, performer and multimedia artist. In 1983 she won the New Zealand Book Award for Poetry and the Jessie MacKay Award for her debut volume Homing In (1982). McQueen has often written about Otago, and in this item she reads poems from the book and draws in varied locales around the region. McQueen also discusses where she sources her inspiration, and explains a creative process which involves stimulus from sight and sound as much as the written word. McQueen later moved to Bluff.
The Feltex-winning series Pioneer Women dramatised the lives of groundbreaking New Zealand women. This episode looks at the story of controversial safe-sex campaigner Ettie Rout. In World War I she travelled to Egypt to care for Kiwi soldiers; there she found venereal disease was rife, and recommended that prophylactic kits be issued and that brothels be inspected for hygiene. To the establishment her pioneering ideas on health, sex and gender were ‘immoral’ and received with hostility; while the RSA and some doctors considered her a “guardian angel of the ANZACs”.
The award-winning Pioneer Women series was producer Pamela Meekings-Stewart’s response to her perception that histories on NZ television, like The Governor, hadn’t adequately recognised the role played by women in shaping the nation. The initial series of six episodes focussed on the lives of Nurse Maude, Ettie Rout, Hera Ngoungou, Princess Te Puea, Elizabeth Colsenso and Ellen Hewett; it celebrated women who not only had to face hardship and deprivation but were charged with raising the next generation. A second series of three episodes screened in 1990.
This episode in the Pioneer Women series dramatised the story of Hera Ngoungou. In 1874 in Taranaki, Māori kidnapped an eight-year-old Pākehā girl — Caroline “Queenie” Perrett — possibly in retribution for her father breaking a tapu. Her family didn’t see her again until she was 60, when she was a grandmother and had spent more than 50 years living with, and identifying as, Māori. A moving (Feltex award-winning) performance from Ginette McDonald (aka Lyn of Tawa) mixes stoicism with an acknowledgement of good times and a sense of loss for what might have been.
This episode of Pioneer Women dramatises the life of Waikato leader Te Puea Herangi: from prodigal daughter to leader of the Tainui people. Te Puea helped establish the Kingitanga movement, and led Tainui to prosperity through wars, confiscation of their land, and an influenza epidemic. Future TV3 newsreader Joanna Paul plays Te Puea. Produced by Pamela Meekings-Stewart, the Pioneer Women series screened in a high profile slot on TV One, and challenged the view that white male statesmen were the only noteworthy figures in New Zealand colonial history.
The Beginner's Guide... was a series of half-hour documentaries made for TV ONE, and hosted by reporters Ian Johnstone, Caroline McGrath, Judith Fyfe, John Gordon and Philip Alpers. Veteran broadcaster Johnstone described the programmes as going "into areas of life which intrigue, mystify or frighten us". Topics included visiting a marae, prisons, wealth, bankruptcy, GST, the Census, divorce, cancer and the Freemasons. Three series of six episodes and one special screened between 1983 and 1986.
Broadcaster Ian Johnstone was an intrepid explorer for TVNZ's 80s Beginner's Guide documentary series; the series embedded personal guides to lift the veil on everything from marae protocol to the Freemasons. This edition sees a crime (embezzlement of TVNZ money) pinned to 47-year-old Johnstone by the CIB and so begins his (fictional) experience of judicial process and imprisonment. A humbled Johnstone aims to convey what life behind bars is like, and bust some myths en route, from "they only serve half their time don’t they?" to "it's like a four star hotel".
In the third episode of Johnstone’s Journey, broadcaster Ian Johnstone meets three generations of the Wendelken family. The episode is framed around an interview with matriarch Elsie, 85, then living in Timaru — her daughter Rae and grandson Ivan farm nearby. Son John is a public servant in Wellington; granddaughter Anne is a mother in suburban Wellington. Topics span from world wars, depression, farming and inflation, to shifting values. Says Elsie: “There are two things that have been left completely out of today’s young people: one is obedience, and the other is discipline.”
This edition of the 1976 adventure series documents a pioneering attempt to fly over Aoraki-Mount Cook by hot air balloon. RNZAF squadron leader Roly Parsons had made the first balloon crossing of Cook Strait the previous year. Director Pamela Meekings-Stewart captures his preparations to take on perilous winds and high altitudes. A first attempt with newbie co-pilot Rolf Dennler sets an altitude record, but crashes near Fox Glacier township, before Parsons pulls on his gold flight jacket for a final attempt at the challenge. Julian Dickon (Pukemanu) wrote the script.
Seven Days was designed by producer Des Monaghan to bridge the current affairs gap between the NZBC and TV One. As well as putting the heat on local politicians, it turned its attention to major international events. Major stories included Ian Fraser’s trip to Vietnam to cover the last days before the fall of Saigon and Ian Johnstone’s three-part look at apartheid-era South Africa ahead of the 1976 All Back tour. For its third and final year, the focus changed to observational documentaries and laid the groundwork for TVNZ’s in-house documentary unit.