Hugh Macdonald began his long, award-studded career at the National Film Unit, where at 25 he directed ambitious three-screen spectacular This is New Zealand (1970), which was seen by 400,000 New Zealanders. In the 80s he produced Oscar-nominated short The Frog, the Dog, and the Devil and established his own company, continuing a busy diet of commercial films, train documentaries and animation.
Ron Skelley spent 36 years with the National Film Unit’s sound department, contributing to the soundtracks of Weekly Review, Pictorial Parade, and many other NFU and independent films. He started at the NFU in 1949, and was in charge of the sound department from 1977 until his retirement in 1985. Skelley died in March 1992. Image Credit: Photo from The Evening Post, courtesy of Fairfax Media
Claude Wickstead started working at the Government Film Studios in 1938. After serving in WWll, he joined the National Film Unit’s sound department, where he contributed to the soundtracks of a great many films including the long-running series Weekly Review and Pictorial Parade. He was in charge of the NFU Sound Department from 1951 until his retirement in 1977.
During his 34 years as a National Film Unit cameraman, Kell Fowler filmed throughout New Zealand, and travelled as far afield as China and the South Pole. Career highlights included his work as cameraman and director of Oscar-nominated Antarctic film One Hundred and Forty Days Under the World (1964), and the filming of the sweeping three-screen vistas that featured in Expo 70 hit This is New Zealand.
Welsh-born James Harris played an important role in the founding of the National Film Unit in 1941. A well-educated, versatile filmmaker equally at home behind the camera, operating a splicer or wielding a pen, he spent 26 years with the NFU, mostly as a senior director. Photo credit: Archives New Zealand, reference AAQT 6401 A23,729
Should Clive Sowry ever choose to enter Mastermind, his knowledge of the National Film Unit will give his competitors a definite run for their money. Sowry worked at the government filmmaking organisation for 14 years, including nine as the NFU's archivist. He went on to undertake a programme that saved 100s of local films, and has written often about filmmaking in New Zealand — including for NZ On Screen.
Geoffrey Scott, MBE and OBE, oversaw the Government's National Film Unit for over 20 years, until his retirement in 1973. Scott began his film career playing piano over silent movies. During his command of the unit, the organisation won 141 awards.
There were times when the career of longtime National Film Unit director David Sims could have been cut short. Having survived close encounters with steam locomotives in mountainous terrain, he narrowly escaped being blown up, drowned and burnt alive at sea. Even filming a planned set-up on location had its hazards, as he found when his call of “action!” sent exploding rocks whistling by perilously close overhead.
New Zealand’s first left-wing documentary filmmaker, Cecil Holmes achieved notoriety in the late 1940s through the highly publicised exposure of his communist activity as a Public Service Association (PSA) delegate in the National Film Unit. He went on to become a significant film director in Australia.Image credit: Alexander Turnbull Library, 1/2-023573; F (detail)
Dropping in on the Americans at the South Pole for afternoon tea, having driven there by tractor, was one of the most unusual events of Derek Wright's career as a National Film Unit cameraman. In his 40 years with the NFU he filled many other roles, from laboratory assistant to producer: but it is for his filming in the Antarctic that he is particularly remembered.