The Years Back was a 13-part documentary series made for television by the National Film Unit and first broadcast in 1973. Covering six decades from 1900 to 1960, it was promoted as "people and events that shaped the New Zealand of today", and content was largely influenced by what historic film had survived. Presented by Bernard Kearns, fascinating footage (including the 1931 Napier Earthquake and Jack Lovelock’s 1936 Olympic triumph) is accompanied by interviewees recalling or commenting on past events, big and small, as they unfold on the screen.
Land of Birds was a series of 10 films looking at Aotearoa’s manu or native birds. Produced by the National Film Unit, the series was written, directed and largely photographed by Grant Foster. It was New Zealand’s first natural history film series, showing on NZ TV and internationally. The first instalment — Bird of a Single Flight (presented by Dr Robert Falla, on the kōtuku colony at Ōkārito) — won a 1973 Feltex Award for Best Natural History Programme. Other topics included Royal Albatross (toroa), and The Honeyeaters (tui, bellbird/korimako, stichbird/hihi).
This mid '70s ad campaign, made by the National Film Unit for the Tourist and Publicity Department, was aimed at the domestic market and offers nostalgic delights aplenty. 'Nightlife' focused on city bars and clubs, and 'Oldies' showcased options for retirees (scenic bus tours). Another version urged families to ditch the car (amidst the oil crisis) and take public transport to see the country; and in a classic of the genre pop star Craig Scott was a beach pied piper for adoring young Kiwis: "We're in God's own country, we gotta take the tiiiime ...".
The Governor was a television epic that examined the life of Governor George Grey in six thematic parts. Grey's "Good Governor" persona was undercut with laudanum, lechery and land confiscation. NZ TV's first (and only) historical blockbuster was hugely controversial, provoking a parliamentary inquiry and "test match sized" audiences. It won a 1978 Feltex Award for Best Drama. Auckland Star reviewer Barry Shaw trumpeted: "It has made Māori matter. If Pākehā now have a better understanding of the Māori point of view [...] it stems from The Governor.
The National Film Unit was set up in 1941 to publicise New Zealand’s war effort. The unit’s output soon evolved into the Weekly Review, a weekly reel screened in cinemas. Confusingly the first Weekly Review in October 1942 was named No. 60. It was the principal NZ film series produced in the 1940s. The series ended in August 1950 with the 459th issue. The reviews were a mix of newsreel and general interest stories and occasionally, full-reel documentaries. Some were later re-issued (without the Weekly Review title) for screening in educational and overseas markets.
This documentary series was presented by the legendary Selwyn Toogood. These New Zealanders was one of Toogood's first appearances for television, having previously become a household name as a radio host. The National Film Unit production was part-documentary, part-magazine, and part-travelogue, and took Toogood to six towns to capture their character and people. The towns visited were Gore, Benmore, Motueka, Huntly, Gisborne and Taupō. It provides a fascinating perspective of New Zealand life in the 1960s.
Artists Prepare was a series of six programmes made by the NFU and screened in the Kaleidoscope programme on TV2 during July and August 1980. It featured prominent performance-based artists of the time with each episode exploring their particular creative process and performances of their work. The subjects were: Limbs Dance Company, composer Chris Cree Brown, mime artists Robert and Jane Bennett, songwriter-singer David Ngatae, poets Sam Hunt and Gary McCormick and singer Malcolm McNeill.
New Zealand Mirror was a National Film Unit 'magazine-film' series aimed at a British theatrical audience. Mostly re-packaging Weekly Review and later, Pictorial Parade content for receptive UK eyes, it also generated a small amount of original content. The series covered items showcasing NZ to a British market and as such has some interest as a post-war representation of New Zealand's burgeoning sense of national identity, from peg-legged Kiwis and children feeding eels, to the discovery of moa bones, to pianist Richard Farrell.
Government filmmakers the National Film Unit launched Pictorial Parade two years after the demise of Weekly Review. It was another 10-minute magazine programme, but this time monthly, rather than weekly. It was the NFU’s major product for the next 20 years. In 1950 the NFU had been moved from under the wing of the Prime Minister’s Department, to be controlled by the Tourist and Publicity Department. The Pictorial Parade was seen as a move away from the political in government filmmaking, and a return to the promotional role of the early scenic films.
Landscape was made by ex-National Film Unit producer Bob Lapresle (six episodes were made in 1968 and six the following year). The focus of each half-hour programme was on people and personalities rather than on scenery, which was then being covered by the NZBC’s popular Looking at New Zealand. Beginning with ‘Friday in a Country Town’, the Landscape series went on to cover such varied topics as a family shearing gang, muttonbirders exercising their customary rights, the day to day life of a policeman, and the growing awareness of New Zealanders towards the arts.