We use cookies to help us understand how you use our site, and make your experience better. To find out more read our privacy policy.
Profile image for Rudall Hayward

Rudall Hayward

Film Pioneer

'Pioneer' is an overused word, but Rudall Hayward’s claim to the title is strong. He was directing and shooting feature films in New Zealand in the 1920s, an age when movies were usually made by people in  or visiting from  other lands. A half century later his final movie To Love a Māori (1972), made in partnership with second wife Ramai, became the first colour feature directed by New Zealanders on home soil.

Hayward was an ambitious, prolific and publicity-savvy filmmaker. On top of short comedies, educational films and newsreels, his long career encompasses seven features. Four of his movies were completed before the arrival of talkies, more than any silent director working in New Zealand.

The feature films often explore historical conflicts between Māori and Pākehā. Writers Sam Edwards and Stuart Murray argue that the features are Hayward’s major achievements  the place where he “visualized and examined many of the myths that underpin New Zealand society and history”. Author Annabel Cooper argues that his three features about the New Zealand Wars "tell a national story with emblematic figures who embody national virtues and bring peace out of conflict. Each film was made at a pivotal moment of nationhood in New Zealand". Author Deborah Shepard adds that these early films display “a sensitivity and political awareness of Māori history” well beyond Hayward's Pākehā contemporaries.

Hayward was born in Wolverhampton England on 4 July 1900, to a family with a long history as touring performers and entrepreneurs. At age four Rudall arrived in New Zealand, and the family began three years touring Australasia with a variety show, which included early film screenings. The family's home base was Waihi, where the rowdy billiard room was often packed with musicians, politicians and "cranks of every colour and creed".  

In 1909 his father Rudall and uncle bought Auckland’s Royal Albert Hall, and turned it into a cinema. By 1912 Hayward’s Picture Enterprises ran at least 14 movie theatres across New Zealand; Rudall junior began learning the projectionist’s ropes at age nine.

He went on to spend two years studying electricity at Waihi’s School of Mines, then began working in films — seemingly to the chagrin of his family, who knew that distributing movies made more financial sense than making them. Hayward worked for a visiting Australian director — "painting the legs of an Australian actress" to make her look Māori, for 1921 movie The Betrayer — and spent time in Australia.

Queen Street theatres showed no interest in Hayward’s first film, two-reel comedy The Bloke from Freeman’s Bay (1921). Hayward recalled his uncle Henry offering money to burn it, in order to preserve the family name. Hayward persuaded an aunt to run it in her Ponsonby cinema, postering every space he could. After calling the police and complaining about crowds, he helped create newspaper headlines, ensuring more screenings.

As a child, Hayward had been inspired by the writings of historian James Cowan. Later he would return often to Cowan’s work for filmic inspiration, having realised New Zealand’s history offered material as dramatic as any Hollywood western. "I decided to capture some of the wild history of our beginnings on a strip of celluloid film, and immediately, while there were still people alive who remembered the period accurately."

At 21 Hayward directed and produced his first feature, romantic melodrama My Lady of the Cave. He adapted the tale from a popular newspaper serial written by a family friend. A syndicate of 20 put up the 1000 pound budget. Profits made from local screenings were lost "trying to get it released overseas". Hayward married Hilda Moren the following year, and they installed a darkroom in her mother’s house. Hilda’s contributions were many and varied, including editing, casting, and costumes.

Between 1925 and 1928 Hayward directed, produced, and co-wrote (or adapted) another three features: the original silent version of Rewi’s Last Stand (1925) — which he said played for five weeks in Auckland —  The Te Kooti Trail (1927), and The Bush Cinderella (1928).

The Te Kooti Trail is based on incidents from the military campaign of legendary leader Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Tūruki. Hayward used local Māori in his cast, and gave the starring role to elderly Tūhoe chief Te Pairi Tūterangi, who had carried rifles for Te Kooti as a boy. On the day planned for the film’s premiere, the government arranged a private screening to get feedback from Māori politicians and Ringatū elders, after which the censor demanded the removal of two subtitles referring to Te Kooti’s "fake miracles". Some have argued that Hayward then used the incident to win publicity for the film, but it appears more likely that the fuss was created by Whakatane Films, the company that financed it.

The Bush Cinderella was a romance staring 1927 Miss New Zealand Dale Austen; Hayward wrote in 1940 that the low budget helped make it his most successful film.

As the depression set in, the Haywards began travelling around New Zealand towns, pumping out roughly two-dozen comedic shorts. Each film showcased some locals on screen, a chase scene, and included the name of the town in the title, to help win over local audiences. Mock-documentary Forgotten Silver pays tribute to these ‘community comedies’.

The arrival of talkies in the late 20s threw New Zealand films into a coma. Hayward’s films and career changed dramatically, arguably for the worse. Faced with buying "extortionately" priced American sound equipment, Hayward and colleagues Jack Baxendale and Armitage Moren spent around two years developing their own. Hayward used the camera on early comedy Hamilton Talks (1934) and newsreels, including an interview with George Bernard Shaw which Hayward said was shown internationally.

He also shot — and likely directed — moralising depression-era tale On the Friendly Road (1936). It is known most for scenes of Kiwi radio legend Reverend Colin Scrimgeour (aka Uncle Scrim).

Hayward followed it with what would grow to become his second, sound version of Rewi’s Last Stand. This time he showed much more concern for accuracy in dramatising the events of 1864's Battle of Ōrākau. Many of the scenes were shot on or close to the original Waikato locations, including a painstakingly recreated replica of Ōrākau Pā. Keen to have the film screen in the United Kingdom, Hayward later agreed to have it cut into substantially shorter form as The Last Stand

Whatever name it went by, it was the only feature-length historical drama made in New Zealand for at least three decades. The film would be seen by many Kiwi schoolchildren, and enjoyed by filmmakers Merata Mita and Peter Wells (see quotes on this page). 

Rewi also introduced Hayward to his future wife and creative partner, photographer Ramai Te Miha (aka Patricia Miller), who played the romantic lead. They married in 1943. Rudall worked at government filmmakers the National Film Unit. In 1946 the couple departed for Britain, where Rudall’s sound camera helped them win work. They made newsreels and documentaries; Rudall directed 34-minute ship tale The Goodwin Sands.

By 1952 the couple were back in New Zealand, where a documentary on Opo the dolphin would sell to 26 countries (they talk about Opo in this 1972 documentary). There were also filmmaking excursions to Australia, Albania, and an invitation from the Chinese Government to make a series of films on China, the first to be shot in English there since Communist rule began in 1949. The two also collaborated on a film about race relations, The World Is Turning Toward The Coloured People, and through the 60s made a series of educational films (including some shot in Samoa) seen by many Kiwi schoolchildren.

As Rudall aged, Ramai's share of the filmmaking burden increased. She later said that "I used to cart the equipment, I mean I was 17 years younger than Rudall, and toward the end I also at times had to carry him". In press interviews Rudall often continued to give the impression that he worked alone. 

In the 1970s, the Hayward’s filmmaking exploits had finally begun to win renewed attention. The NZ Broadcasting Corporation screened Rewi’s Last Stand, and Rudall was given a special Feltex Award, and later an MBE. Visiting American scholar Robert Sklar wrote an admiring article about him in Landfall, arguing Hayward’s screen picture career was one of the longest in the world.

In this period the couple were busy on multiple projects, including a short film based on Katherine Mansfield story The Doll's House. The seventh and final feature to be released under Rudall Hayward's name was completed in 1972. To Love a Māori was an ambitious yet under-resourced tale of young Māori moving into the city. It was shot in colour on 16mm, at a point when colour was still a novelty in local features. Rudall Hayward died of pneumonia in Dunedin on 29 May 1974, while on a promotional tour for the film. Over ensuing years Ramai's part in the couple's filmmaking partnership would win more attention, thanks primarily to the work of writer Deborah Shepard. Ramai finally passed away in July 2014. 

Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision have restored three of Rudall Hayward’s early features. His work on both versions of Rewi's Last Stand is explored in depth in Annabel Cooper's book Filming the Colonial Past. He is the subject of a chapter in book New Zealand Filmmakers, while his partnership with Ramai is analysed in Deborah Shepard's Between the Lines

Profile written by Ian Pryor; updated on 11 April 2023 

Sources include
Clive Sowry
Rudall Hayward, ‘Twenty Years Behind a Movie Camera’ - The Listener, 8 November 1940
Rudall Hayward, 'Professional Entertainment in Old Waihi' - Ohinemuri Regional History Journal, No 18, June 1974
Annabel Cooper, Filming the Colonial Past - The New Zealand Wars on Screen (Dunedin: Otago University Press, 2018)
Nathan Crombie, 'Long service to TV, films rewarded' (Interview with Ramai Hayward) – The Wairarapa Times-Age, 5 January 2006
Sam Edwards, 'Docudrama From The Twenties - Rudall Hayward, Whakatane, and the Te Kooti Trail' - Historical Review: Bay of Plenty Journal of History, November 1993, Volume 41, Number 2
Sam Edwards and Stuart Murray, ‘A Rough Island Story - The Film Life of Rudall Charles Hayward’ in New Zealand Filmmakers. Editors Ian Conrich and Stuart Murray (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2007) page 35
Sam Edwards and Helen Martin, New Zealand Film 1912 - 1996 (Auckland:Oxford University Press, 1997)
Diane Pivac, Rudall Hayward’s The Te Kooti Trail: Stirring the pages of New Zealand history (Booklet) - New Zealand Film Archive, 2001 
Diane Pivac, ‘The Rise of Fiction: Between the Wars’ chapter, in New Zealand Film Editor Diane Pivac with Frank Star and Lawrence McDonald (Wellington: Te Papa Press, 2011)
Diane Pivac, 'The Bush Cinderella' - 2000 NZ Film Festival Souvenir Programme
Deborah Shepard, ‘Shadow Play - The film-making partnership of Rudall & Ramai Hayward’ in Between the Lives - Partners in Art. Editor Deborah Shepard (Auckland University Press, 2005) page 113
Lindsay Shelton, 'Hayward, Rudall Charles Victor' (Profile) Te Ara Website. Accessed 10 October 2017 
Robert Sklar, ‘Rudall Hayward, New Zealand Film-Maker’ - Landfall 98, June 1971, page 147