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.
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.
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.
This isn't an apartheid manual or minimalist design code, but a 1952 road safety film from the National Film Unit. The film follows 'Mrs White' and 'Mrs Black' leaving their respective homes (on foot) for a bridge evening. Mrs White wears visible clothing and faces the traffic (would a modern colour remake see a Mrs Fluoro?). Mrs Black dresses eponymously and walks with her back to the traffic. Predictable results ensue. Modern viewers who associate such character names with Reservoir Dogs will not be disappointed by the suspenseful denouement.
In this November 1955 newsreel, Sir Edmund Hillary addresses 2000 Wellington school children, as part of a pitch to win support for an Antarctic expedition. Ed shakes hands with pint-sized fundraisers, and one of his crew models Kiwi-made cold weather gear. The voiceover mentions a "New Zealand Antarctic expedition", but Hillary's team would actually form half of a Commonwealth team, led by UK explorer Vivian Fuchs. After leaving supplies for the British crossing party, Hillary controversially went on ahead to the South Pole. Both BP and the NFU filmed the expedition.
This NFU public safety film takes a jaunty approach to a serious subject as it shows road crossing dangers via bad examples. Mis-steps include walking off the footpath carelessly, crossing the road at oblique angles, 'dithering', and over-confidence. The humour may be physical and the narration pun-filled, but the lessons remain relevant, as pedestrian accidents on Wellington's and Auckland's 21st Century city bus lanes attest. Despite the big question promise of the title there is no Socratic dialogue about crossing the road or any consideration of chickens.
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'.
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.
Broken Barrier marked the first New Zealand dramatic feature to be made since 1940. Its production saw directors John O'Shea and Roger Mirams crowding into a Vauxhall with two silent cameras, one picked up "from a dead German in the Western Desert". Ditching dialogue for 'spoken thoughts', the pioneering film examines cultural complications in a romance between a Pākehā journalist (Terence Bayler) and a Māori nurse (Kay Ngarimu, aka Keita Whakato Walker). According to O'Shea, some viewers considered it "a dirty movie" for spurring mixed race relationships.
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.