On Christmas Eve 1953 a volcanic eruption caused a massive lahar to flow down Whangaehu River. The Wellington-Auckland express crossed the rail bridge at Tangiwai minutes later; it collapsed, and carriages plunged into the flooded river. Out of 285 people, 151 died, in New Zealand's worst rail accident. This 2002 documentary examines events and the board of inquiry finding that the accident was an act of God. This excerpt attacks the story that Cyril Ellis could have warned the train driver what lay ahead, and argues there was a railways department cover-up at the board of inquiry.
This 1966 NFU film shows highlights of the fourth rugby test between the touring British Lions and New Zealand's All Blacks. Filmed in the days before live telecast of home matches (it was feared attendance would be affected) the Eden Park test features some classical rucking and free-flowing back-line play. A broken collarbone reduces the Lions to 14 men early on (injury replacements were not allowed) and the All Blacks prevail 24-11. Coached by Fred Allen, a great AB line-up (the Meads bros, Tremain, Nathan, Gray, Lochore) won the series 4-0.
A 24-year-old Helen Clark (complete with long flowing locks) features in this NZBC current affairs footage from the annual conference of Young Labour — the Labour Party’s youth division. Twenty five years before she will become NZ’s first elected female Prime Minister, Clark is a junior politics lecturer making her way in the party machine as she chairs a session about abortion law reform. The room might be smoke filled but the atmosphere is more earnest than Machiavellian; and, while commitment to the cause is strong, expectations are more finite.
In the 1940s and 50s sheep shearers Godfrey and Ivan Bowen developed the 'Bowen Technique', an innovative method involving rhythmical sweeps of the handpiece. The Guardian described Godrey as having arms that “flow with the grace of a Nureyev shaping up to an arabesque”. Here he runs through the 'blows' (strokes) designed to achieve "maximum speed, quality work with a minimum of physical effort". Shearing Technique was originally produced in 1956; this shorter cut screened in New Zealand theatres in 1958 with English coming of age film High Tide at Noon.
“A film developed from the imagination of New Zealand children” is how director Tony Williams describes this remarkable, sprawling mix of drama and documentary. It features a fictitious teacher (writer Michael Heath) working with a class of 11-year-olds from Petone to explore what freedom means to them. At times their notions might seem naive but the film remains firmly non-judgmental. The free-wheeling approach, most memorable in the Paekakariki beach fantasy scenes, makes for a “wonderfully idiosyncratic” (film historian Roger Horrocks) hymn to juvenile freedom.
This 1968 Looking at New Zealand episode travels to NZ’s third-largest island: Stewart Island/Rakiura. The history of the people who've faced the “raging southerlies” ranges from Norwegian whalers to the 400-odd modern folk drawn there by a self-reliant way of life. Mod-cons (phone, TV) alleviate the isolation, and the post office, store, wharf and pub are hubs. The booming industry is crayfish and cod fishing (an old mariner wisely feeds an albatross); and the arrival of tourists to enjoy the native birds and wildness anticipates future prospects for the island.
Before he achieved worldwide fame as an actor, Sam Neill directed documentary films for the National Film Unit. This film examines the philosophy, early achievements and frustrations of one of New Zealand's most innovative architects, Ian Athfield. Athfield won an international competition in 1975 to design housing for 140,000 squatters in Manila, in the Philippines, yet struggled to gain recognition back home. This film culminates in Athfield's trip to the Philippines to pursue the project. Shooter John Toon later memorably shot feature film Rain.
This documentary showcases some of the tricks of the trade used by Peter Jackson in the making of his first feature — the aliens-amok-in-Makara splatter classic, Bad Taste. Compiled following the film's 1988 Cannes market screening, it's framed around an extensive interview with a 25-year-old Jackson at his parents’ Pukerua Bay home. These excerpts offer fascinating insight into his ingenuity: from building a DIY Steadicam, to the making of the infamous sheep-obliterating rocket launcher scene, to PJ musing on the impetus that being an only child provided him.
This 76-minute documentary looks at efforts to restore the mauri (life spirit) of Northland's Lake Omapere, a large fresh water lake — and taonga to the Ngāpuhi people — made toxic by pollution. Simon Marler's film offers a timely challenge to New Zealand's 100% Pure branding, and an argument for kaitiakitanga (guardianship) that respects ecological and spiritual well-being. There is spectacular footage of the lake's endangered long-finned eel. Barry Barclay in Onfilm called the film "powerful, sobering". It screened at the 2008 National Geographic All Roads Film Festival.
Rain evokes an idyllic 1970s beach holiday. But as the title hints, all is not sunny at the bach. Mum (Sarah Peirse) is drowning in drink, Dad is defeated, and 13-year-old Janey is awakening to a new kind of power. Adapted from Kirsty Gunn's novel, Rain marked the acclaimed first feature for director Christine Jeffs. Invited to screen at the Cannes Film Festival, it won awards back home for actors Peirse, Alistair Browning and teenager Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki. Neil Finn and Edmund Cake composed the soundtrack. LA Times critic Kevin Thomas called it "an important feature debut".