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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Country GP (Lani Tupu) takes a back seat in an episode set in the first week of 1950, which centres around the arrival in Mason’s Valley of the parents of local teacher Tim Bryant (Duncan Smith). The discovery that Tim’s father Sid (played by Vigil scriptwriter Graeme Tetley) is a unionist and paid up member of the Communist Party shatters the township’s apparently relaxed way of life. Sid has come to warn his son of difficult times ahead that could see him back in prison, but his presence inflames some of the locals and leads to a questioning of the true meaning of freedom.