Stephen Latty has built up an eclectic CV encompassing short films, a run of documentaries, and 2010 feature film Russian Snark. His collaborations with director Michael Heath include two docos on modernist painter Edith Collier, and spellbinding images for 50-minute drama A Small Life. As a director, he has chronicled musicians in Opera in the Outback (with Kiri Te Kanawa) and country music tale Maple on the Hill.
Steve and I are both from Southland and we clicked a long time ago, before the new digital age. He inspires me with the way he understands my quiet way of working, and what I'm trying to achieve in my films. In our last three films his work has captured the attention of audiences all over the world. Director Michael Heath
Using plenty of his own photographs to illustrate his story, Errol Schroder takes us back to the 50s, 60s and 70s to provide his memories of being a photographer with the New Zealand Air Force (Schroder also spent three years in the navy). His Air Force career saw him posted through the Pacific and South East Asia. In Vietnam, there are tales of nervous times on American bases, and a hair-raising patrol in an OV-10 Bronco aircraft. Even in retirement, action came Errol’s way — his home was wrecked in the September 2010 Christchurch earthquake.
“Ask your mother!” That’s what John Fallow’s father told him, when he said he’d like to join the navy at the outbreak of World War II. She relented and John embarked on his wartime career aboard minesweepers. A six month course in Australia followed and, after exemplary work, an accelerated promotion; just one of three granted by the Royal NZ Navy during the war. Clearing mines from major ports following the sinking of the RMS Niagara outside the Hauraki Gulf led to working alongside US allies in the Pacific. John had a lucky war. His ship never fired a shot in anger.
Ken Bliss’s brief description of his father’s service in the Boer War is just one of the stories that make this interview essential viewing. Ken’s own military career began when he was called up at 18, in 1941. Too tall to be a pilot in the RNZAF, he became a radio mechanic and served in the war against the Japanese in the Pacific. Forming a surf lifesaving team on Bougainville to rescue American servicemen who couldn’t swim was an unexpected wartime duty. And having survived the war, a missed train in 1953 meant Ken also survived the Tangiwai disaster.
Reg Dunbar’s war was mostly fought in the skies above Europe and North Africa. His first bombing raids over Germany were as an RAF tail gunner in a Vickers Wellington plane - a cold and lonely job he says. For the rest of that tour he was in the wireless operator’s seat, the job he’d trained for. In North Africa the squadron supported the Eighth Army, the famous Desert Rats. Reg also took part in the first thousand bomber raid over Cologne. Later he worked on the secret 'Moonshine' radar, which fooled the Germans into thinking a bomber formation was on the way.
Early in World War ll Barbara Rowarth was desperate to join the Navy. But what became WRENS (Women’s Royal New Zealand Naval Service) was yet to be formed, and Barbara had to wait until 1942. Initially the WRENS were only taking cooks and stewards, but she joined up anyway and ended up in signals with the rank of 4th Officer. Barbara loved the WRENS and aged 93, looks back at that time with affection. That’s despite a bout of rheumatic fever which almost certainly would have killed her if not for a dose of the first penicillin to be made in Auckland.
When Frank Sanft’s older brother was killed early in World War ll, it only intensified Frank’s determination to serve. Joining the Royal Navy, he was eventually assigned to Operation PLUTO, which involved laying an undersea fuel pipeline between the UK and Cherbourg (vital in keeping Allied vehicles moving, directly after the invasion of France). Frank laughs now at a close call with a sniper ashore in France. Serving in the Pacific, he was there after Singapore’s notorious Changi PoW camp was liberated. In 2017 Sanft was awarded a prestigious French Legion of Honour.
“You forget about the rough times” says old soldier Steve Danes. Instead, the veteran of the Italian Campaign during World War ll focuses on the funny side. There are plenty of tales of the laughter and hijinks to be had when resting behind the lines, or on leave. Conscripted at age 18 and sent to Europe just short of his 21st birthday, Danes spent most of his war in Italy and there wasn’t much of the country he didn’t see. Along the way he encountered fanatical young Nazis, and older German soldiers who were sick of war and wanted it to end.
Stoney Burke reckons aviation fuel just about runs in his veins; fascinated by aircraft since childhood, joining the Royal New Zealand Air Force felt like a logical choice. Burke's long career as an engineer both on the ground and in the air included helping get supplies to Nepal for Sir Edmund Hillary’s school building projects, plus service in the Vietnam War. Flying into Saigon and some of the forward air bases in Vietnam could prove tricky, with planes taking small arms fire on their approach. Post Air Force, Stoney continued his career at Air New Zealand.
After a long flight in a C-130 Hercules, Dez Harrison arrived in Vietnam on the fifth of May 1967. As he puts it, when you’re young and green it’s all an adventure. Serving in 161 Field battery, Harrison says he was blessed with good leadership from non-commissioned officers who were mainly veterans of Korea and Malaya. As the memories rattle off, he has plenty of praise for the Americans in Vietnam, but less so for his Australian comrades. Stories of leave in Saigon and Singapore provide fond memories, but the reception back in New Zealand at the end of his service is less happy.
Harold Beven reckons he’s the luckiest man to serve in the Second World War. Born in a village east of London, he saw plenty of action in the (UK) Royal Navy, but by his own admission, never got his feet wet. Joining up as soon as possible after the outbreak of war, Beven served in almost all the naval theatres. As a Chief Petty Officer, he was involved in the evacuations of Greece and Crete — and later the allied invasions of Sicily and Italy — as well as the D-Day invasion of France. At the age of 96, Beven remembers entire conversations as if it was yesterday.
Keith Boles was certain he wanted to join the air force when the Second World War broke out, and it wasn’t long before he was a flying instructor. Evacuated from Singapore when the Japanese invaded, Boles eventually found himself in the United Kingdom, with an Advanced Flying Unit. A transfer to operations with Bomber Command saw him piloting de Havilland Mosquito bombers and being trained in the use of the top secret Oboe targeting system. Being part of a pathfinder unit was, he says, the safest job in Bomber Command and he came through his service unscathed.
This special compilation collects together short excerpts from all 50 Memories of Service interviews that David Blyth has conducted with veterans of war. The assembled interviews cover the battlefields of World War ll, plus Vietnam, Malaya and Korea. Grouped by season and loose categories, the memories range from training to planes and ships under attack, to escape attempts by prisoners of war, to taking on jobs left vacant by those who went to fight. NZ On Screen has individual interviews with all those featured across the five series.
From those who joined up in World War ll to the relative youngsters who saw action in Vietnam, this selection of clips is collected from the fourth series of interviews with ex-servicemen sharing their memories of service. The stories of these men and women range from the comical to the horrific. Age has taken its toll on their bodies but the memories remain sharp. Made by director David Blyth (Our Oldest Soldier) and Hibiscus Coast Community RSA Museum curator Patricia Stroud, the interviews are a valuable record of WWll and conflict in South East Asia.
At 101 Arthur Asher offers a remarkable account of his experiences in World War II. Dates and events come easily to mind as he narrates his time in the North African desert war and Greece. Caught up in the gruelling battle at Bel Hamid near Tobruk, Asher was later wounded by an exploding mine. A stay in a convalescent camp felt more like being in prison to Asher, who went on to fight the German advance in Greece, shooting down a spotter plane in the process. Back in North Africa, he was hit by a car, ending his war with a broken leg and jaw. Asher died on 19 May 2017.
Arthur Joplin was just 20 when he was awarded his wings and set off on active service to the UK. Joining Bomber Command, he was assigned to the famous 617 'Dambusters' Squadron. That was after the famous raids in Germany's Ruhr Valley, but Joplin took part in other special operations including the sinking of the German battleship Tirpitz. Joplin's war ended when he crash-landed while returning from a raid, killing two crew members. That’s something he’ll carry with him for the rest of his life, he says. Joplin broke both legs and never returned to flying.
Gwen Stevens was one of the last survivors of World War ll's top secret Auckland Combined Military Headquarters. There she plotted grid references from New Zealand’s coastal radar, tracking the coming and goings of ships and aircraft. The threat of a Japanese invasion had everyone on edge. At one point there was panic when it was believed an aircraft carrier had been detected off the coast. All services were mobilised, but it turned out to be a mistaken reading of the Three Kings Islands. Over 70 years later, Stevens' recall remains clear. Stevens passed away on 1 January 2018.
Joan Butland forged her father’s signature to join the Women’s Land Service. Her parents had already stopped her from becoming a nurse, so nothing was going to get in her way this time. Coming from a farm, her transition to the service was easy. But at just 17, her slight frame raised eyebrows among burly farmers, especially when it came to harnessing horses and driving four-horse teams. Butland shows pride in her home front contribution to World War ll in this interview, although in common with other former Land Girls it was only formally recognised in 2015.
Joan Daniel was excited to learn she was going overseas as a volunteer nurse in World War II — her mother less so. But it was the beginning of a three year adventure for Joan, as she recounts in this interview. First it took her to Egypt. The cases there were mainly related to ordinary illnesses, and there was time for sightseeing and fun too. Tragedy struck though, when three nurses were killed in a traffic accident. From the Middle East she was sent to Italy and a hospital close to Cassino. The patients now were casualties of war: the wounded, the shell-shocked and the dying.
Going with his father to see the battleship HMS Ramilles set Peter Couling on a course that led to the New Zealand Navy. Joining at 18, he soon found himself bound for Korea where his ship escorted convoys from Japan to Pusan. He was also on hand to see the battleship USS Missouri fire its guns in anger for the first time since World War II. That was in the early stages of the Incheon Landings. In this interview he also talks about going on parade in London for King George VI’s funeral. Back home he headed south with Sir Edmund Hillary and the Trans-Antarctic Expedition.
Like many of his generation in the United Kingdom, Ray Green was called up for National Service. But it wasn’t until he and his mates were almost on the troopship heading to Korea in 1951, that they realised they were going to fight. Green’s Welsh regiment spent a full year in the combat zone. Danger was ever-present as they patrolled on pitch black nights with the enemy just two thousand metres away, or over the next hill. As he recounts in this interview, Green escaped death or injury on several occasions. He relives it every night, but says it was an adventure he wouldn’t have missed.
Robert Wynn had already served in the Australian Navy before returning to New Zealand to join the army and fight what were called CTs, or Communist Terrorists, during the Malayan Emergency. Of the two years he spent in the country, he estimates he clocked up 18 months on patrol in the jungle. Aside from the enemy there were other concerns, including tigers and red ants. Robert saw action, but in this Memory of Service interview he doesn’t like to talk about that. Instead he focuses on his impressions of the country, and the unbreakable bonds forged with his fellow soldiers.
Ron Childs’ father had fought at Passchendaele in World War l. With another conflict looming, Ron signed up for the Territorials at age 18. A few months later war broke out, and he was in the army, guarding the entrance to Wellington Harbour with heavy artillery and searchlights. Poor health meant he never made it overseas; he spent the rest of the war on the home front. Serving in both the army and the air force, Childs was variously a gunner and dispatch rider.
Ron Cross is a military man through and through. A proud soldier, he feels lucky to have had the experiences that shaped his life. Joining up as a regular Army Cadet, Ron served in both the Malayan conflict and the Vietnam War. From the comedy of preparing for jungle warfare in snow-covered hills around Tekapo, to the tension of being fired on at close range on the roads of Vietnam, Ron’s vivid recollections are captivating. His one regret: that the lesson of how not to have wars has yet to be learned.
Wally Wyatt’s first encounter with the army was as a paper boy. During World War ll he sold newspapers to soldiers at Auckland's North Head military camp. Later, after training at Papakura, he headed off to Korea as part of the 163 Battery. A photo of Wally taken at that time ended up on a 40 cent stamp, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice. Korea is sometimes called the “forgotten war.” As this interview makes clear, that’s how Wally and his comrades felt after arriving back home. There was no welcome or thanks — they just got on with their lives.
On land, sea and air during World War II, and from Korea to Vietnam, this group of old soldiers remember their years of service. Close calls are common place but often laughed off, but the horror of war is often close to the surface. The third series of interviews from director David Blyth (Our Oldest Soldier) and RSA museum curator Patricia Stroud provide a valuable archive of a time now almost beyond living memory — particularly World War II, as the veterans enter their 90s and beyond.
The subject of this interview is Greg Rodgers, a Flight Sergeant in the RNZAF in Vietnam and Malaya. Rodgers joined the air force after college, and trained as a mechanic. He talks about the bond between ground crew and pilots, and the responsibility of having a pilot’s life in his hands at age 18. Rodgers also mentions off-duty good times (including jumping from choppers into the sea, before being wet-winched up again) and reflects on bad times after returning to civilian life: official neglect ("there was no support"), and the shock of leaving his Air Force "family".
Starting his World War II military service in the army, Jack Harold was soon transferred to the navy. He saw active service at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, and was aboard minesweeper HMNZS Moa when it and sister ship HMNZS Kiwi engaged a Japanese sub, eventually sinking it after the Kiwi dropped depth charges. The Moa’s luck didn’t hold; it was sunk in a Japanese raid, taking five of its crew with it. Jack survived, and returned to action in the Pacific aboard submarine-hunting ships. Jack Harold was discharged from the Navy in 1945; he passed away on 15 April 2017.
Aged 101 when interviewed for this series, Auckland-born Laurence Reynolds was a Major in the British Army during World War II. Reynolds was studying medicine in the UK when war broke out. Here he recounts his wartime service, from running a hospital in Iraq and dealing with malaria (almost dying of it himself), to romance on home leave, and facing polio and ambushes while working as a doctor in Quetta and Bannu (in what is now Pakistan). Post-war, Reynolds went on to pioneer coronary rehabilitation, including helping establish the first coronary care unit at Greenlane Hospital.
Like many young New Zealand males during the late 1960s, Wayne Chester joined the army and headed overseas to fight in Vietnam. As a machine gunner he patrolled the jungles outside of Saigon and saw combat, facing the Viet Cong on several occasions. He recounts his experiences in the jungle, along with some close encounters with wildlife, and the altercations and laughs shared with the American contingent. He also discusses his admiration for the Vietnamese people and the Viet Cong, and the long-term physical and political effects of agent orange.
In the early stages of World War I, New Zealand artist Edith Collier joined a group of women artists who left London to capture Ireland on canvas. Their destination: Bunmahon, a poverty-stricken fishing village on Ireland’s southern coast. Michael Heath’s second documentary on Collier sees him visiting Bunmahon with cameraman Stephen Latty. Guided by Collier’s paintings and sketches, they talk to locals about her visit, and life in Ireland 100 years ago. They also capture persuasive evidence of their own, attesting to the area’s often melancholy beauty.
In the northern French town of Le Quesnoy, the names of local streets and landmarks serve notice of a debt to New Zealand. In the final week of World War I Kiwi soldiers freed Le Quesnoy from its German occupiers — thanks partly to a 'magic' ladder, daringly used to scale the town’s 90-foot-high ramparts. Director David Blyth heads to France for the anniversary of Le Quesnoy’s liberation, following the path of one of the liberators: his late grandfather ‘Curly’ Blyth. The doco also includes an interview with Curly, conducted by historian Christopher Pugsley.
Writer Stephen Sinclair’s feature directing debut was inspired by a Russian couple who sailed to Aotearoa in a lifeboat. From there, he created this witty and unusual love story about Mischa (Stephen Papps) — an uncompromising filmmaker fallen on hard times — and his wife, looking for a country more appreciative of his art. But Mischa also has to reconcile his art with his humanity — with help from his neighbour (Stephanie Tauevihi, in an award-winning performance). The 15 minute making of documentary offers a cautionary tale for creatives looking to work with poultry.
This documentary looks at the life of neglected painter Edith Collier. Whanganui-bred Collier left for London in her late 20s to study art; her painting flourished, experimenting with modernism alongside fellow expat Frances Hodgkins. She returned home after World War I to family duty, and ridicule for her art (her disgusted father set fire to her nudes). Interviews with her biographer and family, and shots of her work, make for a poignant biography of a (curtailed) artistic life. Listener reviewer Helene Wong called it “affecting viewing, with a sense of discovery”.
Lawrence 'Curly' Blyth volunteered for World War 1 despite being under age. In 1916 his rifle brigade was sent to the Western Front, where he fought for 23 days amongst the mud of the Somme. In the final weeks of WW1 Blyth helped liberate the strategic French town of Le Quesnoy from German forces, later winning a French Legion of Honour for his efforts. In this documentary his grandson, director David Blyth, uses interviews and stock footage to chronicle the times at war of his bossy yet personable grandad, who died in 2001, aged 105.
Whanganui-born chef Peter Gordon helmed the Sugar Club in Wellington in the 80s, before moving to the UK and started up a series of acclaimed restaurants, including Providores and Tapa Room (opened shortly after this doco was made). Plaudits as a pioneer of ‘fusion’ cooking followed. Here the ‘kai magpie’, takes in everything from paw paw to paua on a homecoming taste trip: raw fish in Rarotonga, Waikato River 'tuna', deer at Wairarapa’s Te Parae, Seresin organic olive oil, Marlborough koura, Stewart Island oysters, and more. The one-off special screened on TV One and on BBC2.
This black comedy sees Kiwi blokes Barry (Tim Gordon) and Kev (Jason Hoyte) set off into the sunrise for a day’s fishing. The ‘men alone’ glories of Godzone in a runabout are disrupted when they discover their attitudes towards domestic violence and sexuality are at odds. Director Adam Stevens adapted the story from a scene in Atrocities, a play written by Hoyte and Jonathon Brugh (aka Sugar and Spice). In 2001 Beautiful went to the New York, Melbourne and Montreal film festivals, before screening at Sundance; it won Best Short Film at the 2003 NZ Film Awards.
Ralph Hotere (Te Aupōuri) is regarded as one of New Zealand's greatest artists. This documentary by Merata Mita provides a perspective on his world, largely by way of framing his extensive body of work. Hotere remains famously tight-lipped throughout, but there are interviews with artists, friends and commentators, alongside scenes of Hotere working and of his contemporary home context. Mita's impressionistic film is set to a Hirini Melbourne-directed score of jazz, māori and pop songs, and poetry reading by Hotere's first wife Cilla McQueen.
Little known in its homeland, but an award-winner overseas, director Michael Heath's tragic portrait of mother and child confronts "intense emotion without flinching" (as Lawrence McDonald wrote). Largely bypassing dialogue in favour of a more elemental approach, the filmmakers combine sound and song (courtesy of composer David Downes and singer Mahinārangi Tocker) with lyrical imagery of the family revelling in their rural backblock (shot by Stephen Latty). There is added poignancy in the fact that Tocker — playing the mother who loses her boy — herself passed away in 2008.
A young man suffering from mounting sexual frustration (Skitz regular Michael Sengelow) wakes up one day to find incredibly strange things happening between his legs. A comic fable about personal gardening, male organs, and finding the perfect partner, Prickle marked the directorial debut of one-time actor Murray Keane. Keane would showcase his talent for comedy again, when he directed episodes of Outrageous Fortune and Diplomatic Immunity.
Although The Tumbleweeds toured beyond Otago only occasionally, they provided many New Zealanders with their first exposure to country music. Almost 40 years into the band's career, Stephen Latty (Opera in the Outback) got some of their songs and memories down for this half-hour film. The band describe influences, costumes, and their own mid-tour double wedding. Country music expert Garth Gibson praises the "quite famous harmony sound" of sisters Myra and Nola Hewitt. Then The Tumbleweeds hit the road for Gore's Gold Guitar Awards, to perform 'Maple on the Hill'.
Opera in the Outback offers a wry, fly on the wall view of the lead-up to a most unusual event: the first concert by Kiri Te Kanawa in the Australian outback. Kiwi director Stephen Latty and writer Michael Heath realise the people are the story, from affable locals to those preparing for 9000 joyful, sometimes drunken arrivals. The inhabitants of Beltana — population roughly 12 — risk building a new racetrack for visitors less operatically inclined, while Australian National Railways send all the rolling stock they can. Some of the Kiwi film crew were awake for 52 hours, trying to capture it all.
"These mountains have always been a challenge. Now there's a new type of skier facing that challenge in a new way." Across the Main Divide follows NZ mountain guide Shaun Norman, US telemark skiing champ Whitney Thurlow and German skier Babette Bodenstein, as they cross the Southern Alps in free heel skis. Flown up the Tasman Glacier from Mount Cook, a 2,000m haul up to Graham Saddle is rewarded with sweet spring snow skiing and cheesecake at Alma Hut, before the tramp down to the West Coast. The doco screened worldwide and won awards at mountain film festivals.
Pre-dating Peter Jackson's arrival (Bad Taste) by three years, New Zealand's first horror movie sees Michael Hurst making his movie debut as he fights mutants (including Bruno Lawrence) on Waiheke Island. Hurst's character is out to avenge the mad scientist who forced him to kill his parents. A grand prize-winner at a French fantasy festival (with cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky on the jury), David Blyth's splatterfest marked the first of many horrors funded by the NZ Film Commission. It was also the first local showcase of the smoothly-flowing Steadicam camera.
This documentary follows a Southern Alps ski competition for local and off season northern skiers. Organised by Coast to Coast impresario Robin Judkins, the ‘grand slam’ series begins with a chopper ride to Black Peak for powder 8 and telemark skiing; and then it's above Lake Wanaka for slalom, ski jumping, and a grunty "air, style and speed" mogul. Après-ski competing there's a springtime descent down Mt Taranaki. It wouldn't be Kiwi skiing without kea, and the discipline of the inner tube. The crisp sax and synth 80s score is by Hello Sailor's Dave McArtney.
The video for BRF's second single contrasts images of youths in gas masks with This is New Zealand-style panoramic scenery. The song ominously describes a complacent society ignoring apocalyptic possibilities: it could be the theme song to The Quiet Earth. But like BRF's UK contemporaries the Cure and Joy Division, behind the brooding, melancholic music is a pop song with deceptive hooklines. The haunting melody emerges slowly from a funereal marching beat, while the chorus is almost ecstatic, with phased synthesised strings that seem to take flight.