This 2015 edition in the Loading Docs series explores the past, present and future of Crystal Palace, a dilapidated but stately theatre on Auckland’s Mt Eden Road that has been drawing the curtains since the 1920s. Co-directed by Karl Sheridan and Robin Gee, who work under the Monster Valley moniker, the documentary canvasses the spilled Jaffas, dances, surf film screenings and local legends of the venue — and is also a plea to bring the ballroom and cinema back to life. In March 2016 Monster Valley answered their own call, and took over management of the theatre.
This National Film Unit promotional film begins at the Aratiatia rapids on the Waikato River and heads on up to Lake Taupō, where it chucks on the waders and casts into the waters of the volcanic crater lake, to extol the virtues of fishing for rainbow trout. The narration is firmly of its time: “Here’s one man’s idea of the complete angler: complete with radio and pretty girl. Maybe the fish won’t bite, but he’s planned a good day whatever line he uses.” Lake Taupō - Paradise for Fishermen was the NFU’s first production to be shot on 35mm colour film (specifically 35mm Ansco Colour).
Christine Jeffs made her directing debut with this lush, high end (35mm film, Dolby sound) short film. Dorothy (Fiona Samuel), a lone swimmer, luxuriates in tranquil bliss at a deserted pool — only to have her solitude rudely interrupted by a squad of swimmers. A wordless, strikingly choreographed conflict ensues as Dorothy attempts to assert herself against the dehumanised aggression of the swimmers. Stroke was invited to international festivals including Cannes and Sundance; and Jeffs went on to direct feature films Rain and Sunshine Cleaning.
Galaxies away from images of tar-addled lungs on cigarette packets, this film offers an unusual public health message about smoking. Set to rhyming couplets, the plasticine hero tries out to see if he has the right stuff to fly a rocket to Venus. There he battles the demon Nicotine, and (long before Avatar’) convinces Venusians to destroy their tobacco trees. Shot in 35mm by pioneering animator Fred O’Neill, Space Flight was made for theatrical release. For reasons unknown the Health Department, who commissioned it, didn't want the film to go on general release.
Four shorts in one, starring the claymation character who represents "the bad-tempered little knot we all have inside." Decaff originally debuted in two short videos. Funded by grants and a student loan, this 35mm film adds two new stories to remakes of the originals. Decaff made a strong impact on the short film scene, gained a cult audience and the character co-hosted TV show Short Cuts, a showcase for Kiwi shorts. Decaff's creator Greg Page, drummer, artist and music video-maker is the director behind horror film The Locals.
Tis the season to be toxic in this "distinctly Kiwi take on the f***ed up whanau" (Chris Knox, Real Groove). Broke, depressed oldest son Keri arrives home to face up to a suburban Christmas countdown and two messed up sisters, a gay brother, drunk kids, and narcoleptic parents. Director Gregory King wrests bleak comedy and holiday horrors from the tokes, tinsel and frequent toilet visits. The raw realism of his debut feature saw it selected for Toronto, Locarno, Edinburgh, and Melbourne festivals. It won best digital film and script at the 2003 NZ Film Awards.
In Gaylene Preston's documentary, seven elderly women recall their personal experiences of World War II. Their intimate, unadorned stories are filmed talking heads style, interspersed with personal photographs and period newsreel clips. From tragic love stories to long-suppressed revelations of sex and death, War Stories is a revealing touchstone of New Zealand history. It received international acclaim. LA Times writer Kevin Thomas enthused that Preston takes "a simple idea and turns it into a rich, universal experience".
This documentary tells the stories of the New Zealand soldiers who were part of the identity-defining Gallipoli campaign in World War I. In the ill-fated mission to take a piece of Turkish coastline, 2721 New Zealanders died with 4752 wounded. As part of research, every one of the then-surviving Gallipoli veterans living in New Zealand was interviewed, with 26 finally filmed. Shot at a barren, rocky Gallipoli before the advent of Anzac Day tourism, this important record screened on Easter Sunday 1984, and won a Feltex Award for Best Documentary.
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.
Valley of the Stereos is a comic face-off that starts tinny, but gleefully escalates to bass heavy, as a not-so-zen hippy (Danny Mulheron) gets caught up in a vale-blasting battle with the noisy bogan next door (Murray Keane). Made by many key Peter Jackson collaborators, the near-wordless pump up the volume tale was directed by George Port, shortly before he became founding member of Jackson's famed effects-house Weta Digital. Ironically Weta's computer-generated miracles would help render the stop motion imagery seen in the finale largely a thing of the past.