Kotuku

Short Film, 1954 (Full Length)

This short National Film Unit documentary travels to Westland to meet the kōtuku or white heron. In Aotearoa, the kōtuku is known for its beauty and scarcity (the bird’s only NZ breeding colony is near Okarito Lagoon). The black and white film joins the ranger to go whitebaiting, as kōtuku arrive in spring. Kōtuku’s special place in Māori mythology is recounted, and legendary ornithologist Robert Falla checks out chicks in a crowded ponga fern nest. Directed by John Feeney, the film premiered in Christchurch in front of Queen Elizabeth, on her Coronation Tour.

A List of Names

Short Film, 1952 (Full Length)

Using spectral tactics to generate road safety awareness this film carries on from where The Elysian Bus left off, emphasising that the loss of the 300 Kiwis who are likely to die on the roads in the coming year will be more than statistical. A Christmas Carol-style future projection shows gifts being handed out from under the tree, but Mary is not there to receive hers as she was on "the list of names". Actual crash footage drives home the grim message with more solemnity than Ghost Chips. One of the names under the reaper's skeletal finger is spookily 'Peter Jackson'.

1951

Television, 2001 (Full Length)

In 1951, New Zealand temporarily became a police state. Civil liberties were curtailed, freedom of speech denied, and people could be imprisoned for providing food to those involved. This award-winning documentary tells the story of the 1951 lockout of waterside workers, and what followed: an extended nationwide strike, confrontation and censorship. There are interviews with many involved, from workers to journalists and police. At the 2002 NZ Television Awards, 1951 won awards for Best Documentary and Documentary Director (John Bates). Costa Botes backgrounds 1951 here.

New Zealand Mirror No. 24

Short Film, 1953 (Full Length)

This was the 24th edition of New Zealand Mirror, a 1950s National Film Unit series promoting New Zealand to British audiences. The first clip, about rugby's Ranfurly Shield, was deemed “too topical” by the UK distributor, and cut from later editions. The clip in question captures the colour of the national obsession (knuckle bones, livestock parades) at Athletic Park, where Taranaki challenge shield holders Wellington. It was later seen in Kiwi theatres as a short, playing with 1982 rugby tale Carry Me Back. The latter segments show Kaiapoi ploughing, and Wairakei thermal energy. 

Loading Docs 2016 - The Colourist

Web, 2016 (Full Length)

Scenic vistas of Aotearoa have become an important part of New Zealand identity. Hand-coloured photos produced by Whites Aviation from 1945 were formative in the genre, and hugely popular after WWll. This 2016 Loading Doc profiles 'colouring girl' Grace Rawson, now 83, who uses cotton wool and brushes to demonstrate the meticulous process behind colouring the images. The short was co-directed by artist and commercials director Greg Wood, and author Peter Alsop (Selling the Dream), whose book on the photos, Hand-Coloured New Zealand, was published in 2016.

Pictorial Parade No. 23 - Pumicelands

Short Film, 1954 (Full Length)

This film outlines the efforts to transform the “barren” pumice lands of the North Island’s Central Plateau into arable farmland. Once scientists discover the magic missing ingredient that will make the soil more fertile (cobalt chloride), the serious job of burning scrub, ploughing and sowing begins. The film uses a traditional 'triumph over nature' narrative, but director John Feeney makes elegant use of montage and composition. Author Maurice Shadbolt, who spent time working at the National Film Unit, regarded it as "without doubt the best film to come from the Unit".

Passport to Pleasure

Short Film, 1958 (Full Length)

One of the last films shot by longtime cameraman Bert Bridgman before his death, this 1958 promotional film follows an American tourist with a licence to fish in New Zealand, her “passport to pleasure”. Narrated by Pulitzer-Prize winning writer and conservationist Louis Bromfield, the film quotes liberally from English 'father of fishing' Izaak Walton, as the “gal from the States” is given fly fishing instruction. The life cycle of trout is shown, and the film — directed by onetime war correspondent Ron McIntyre — ends with a contest of wits between wily angler and trout. 

Pansy

Television, 2001 (Full Length)

This TV documentary sees director Peter Wells look at his life “through pansy-tinted glasses”. Motivated by the anniversary of his brother’s 1989 death (from AIDS) Wells’ film charts his path to becoming a pioneering gay filmmaker and writer: from growing up fascinated by colour and the glamour of royalty in conservative Port Chevalier in the 1950s, to baking, and deciding to come out when he was drafted to fight in Vietnam. As befits an artist whose credits include Desperate Remedies, the treatment is distinctive: a mixture of documentary, (aptly) flowery home movie, and quiet reflection.

Song of the South Seas - The Life and Music of Bill Sevesi

Short Film, 1992 (Full Length)

Bill Sevesi was the 'Godfather' of Polynesian music in New Zealand; his impact can be heard in the strum of ukeleles in classrooms across the country. In this 24-minute film Sevesi (born Wilfred Jeffs) narrates his life story, including his childhood in Tonga, making his first guitar, and his role in bringing Pacific Island music into the dance halls of 1940's and 50's New Zealand. Sevesi's bands mixed Hawaiian steel guitar with pop tunes of the day, resulting in sunny hits like 'Kissing Hula'. Watch out for uke player Sione Aleki, Tonga's answer to Jimi Hendrix.

Decades in Colour (series one promo)

Television, 2016 (Excerpts)

Decades in Colour sourced home movies from more than 800 New Zealanders to paint a picture of New Zealand life, from "the inside out". Made by company Greenstone for Prime, each one-hour episode covered a decade from the 1950s to the 1970s, from post World War II recovery through to suburbia to cultural awakening. Presented by broadcaster Judy Bailey, the clips are narrated by the home moviemakers and their subjects. Bailey called it "a unique family history of the one family to which we all belong". A second series followed in October 2017.