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Introducing New Zealand

Short Film, 1955 (Full Length)

Recut from material shot at least five years before, this National Film Unit short appears to have been driven by the Tourist and Publicity Department. Coming in for praise are New Zealand’s primary exports (farm products), road and railways, and social security. In the 50s long distance air links were opening NZ up to the world but international tourism was not a major industry, and NZ was focused firmly on agriculture. People are shown farming, “a little unsmiling” on city streets, and at play (fishing, sailing and skiing). Kids drink milk and Māori are assimilating.  

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Lenny Minute One

Short Film, 1993 (Full Length)

Off his own bat, Ilam art student Glenn Standring got his third-year short into competition at the Cannes Film Festival. The minimal plot — hipster private eye Lenny Minute dryly narrates, before facing his nemesis, a rampaging giant blue “sheila doll” — allows Standring to conjure up a distinctive collage-styled cityscape, mined from a grab-bag of Americana inspirations: 50s sci-fi, jazz, the hardboiled detectives of Dashiell Hammett, and star Marlene Dietrich. After this early computer-aided short, Standring joined the Gibson Group as an animator, then directed two stylish features.

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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: including growing up in conservative Port Chevalier in the 50s and 60s, bathos, 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 mix of doco, (aptly) flowery home movie, and quiet reflection.

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Survey - The Town that Lost a Miracle

Television, 1972 (Full Length)

In this 1972 documentary writer James McNeish visits Opononi to examine the life and controversial death of Opo the dolphin. Working from a McNeish idea, director Barry Barclay uses Opo’s mid 50s visit to the Hokianga as the basis for a probing film essay on people, and other animals. Witnesses recall Opo “oomping away”; they include local Piwai Toi, filmmakers Rudall and Ramai Hayward, and author Maurice Shadbolt. Opo is provokingly not shown on screen. Michael King praised Miracle as “without a doubt the most interesting and evocative” slot in the Survey series to date.

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Tongariro National Park

Short Film, 1951 (Full Length)

This promotional film showcases Tongariro National Park, New Zealand's oldest (and the world's fourth oldest) national park. The film covers the park's four seasons, from dandy spring days at the Chateau ("holiday headquarters") for the romance of bowls and moonlit mountain jazz; to the scenic and snow-sport thrills of the volcanoes in winter: Ketatahi springs, the crater lake, beech forest, trout fishing, and skiing on the slopes of Mount Ruapehu where "the only sound in the white stillness is the hiss of the tips streaking into the snow".   

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How to Drown

Short Film, 1951 (Full Length)

In colonial times drowning was so rife it was known as 'the New Zealand death'. This jaunty 1951 educational film is an effort to rid our lakes, rivers and seas of the unfortunate tag through cunning reverse psychology, as swimmers, fishermen and skylarking lads learn "how to drown". It eschews the confrontational realism of many a later PSA for the light-hearted approach: mixing lessons on water safety with silent film-style tomfoolery, gallows humour and the odd bit of sexual innuendo. Features footage of surf lifesavers using the now-archaic rope and reel.

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This is Korea

Short Film, 1951 (Full Length)

This NFU newsreel begins with a potted history of Korea, from the founding of the “land of the morning calm” to the devastation wrought from the 1950 invasion of South Korea by communist North Korea. The Asian country was of interest to New Zealanders as Kiwi troops (‘Kayforce’) were stationed there, helping defend the south under United Nations command. Kiwi soldiers are shown playing footy, and on leave in Tokyo, before the gunners see action supporting an infantry advance across the 38th Parallel, and a NZ Navy frigate takes on a shore battery.

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Survey - The Unbelievable Glory of the Human Voice

Television, 1972 (Full Length)

Opening with an image of Orpheus floating on the water, this inspired doco climaxes with a contender for NZ's most eyeopening montage yet. Loaded with examples of the infinite ways the human voice can make music, the film sees host Julian Waring introducing choirs, opera, balladeers and protest singers. Along the way Michael Heath recreates a performance by Florence Foster Jenkins, a worryingly close cousin of Asian-New Zealand songbird Wing. The mash-up finale uses 2000 photographs to summarise two decades of music, in a scene that must have blown minds in the suburbs. 

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Heavenly Creatures

Film, 1994 (Trailer)

The movie that won splatter king Peter Jackson mainstream respectability was born from writer Fran Walsh's long interest in the Parker-Hulme case: two 1950s teens who invented imaginary worlds, wrote under imaginary personas, and murdered Pauline Parker's mother. Jackson and Walsh's vision of friendship, creativity and tragedy was greeted with Oscar nominations, deals with indie company Miramax, and rhapsodic acclaim for the film, and newbie actors Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet. Time magazine and 30 other publications named it one of the year's 10 best films.

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The Lion and the Kiwi

Film, 1959 (Full Length)

This National Film Unit documentary follows the British Lions 1959 rugby tour to New Zealand. Prior to live televised sports coverage, match highlights were rushed onto cinema screens; NFU tour coverage was later edited into this feature length doco. On the field the series was won by the All Blacks 3-1, including the first test where Don Clarke famously kicked six penalties to beat the Lions’ four tries. Off the field, the Lions visited farms and resorts, drove trout and tried Māori song and dance with guide Rangi. A star back for the Lions was Peter Jackson.