This Bill Ralston-fronted two part documentary looks at Auckland’s great family business empires: the Nathans (merchants and brewers), Myers (brewers), Wilsons and Hortons (newspapers) and Winstones (construction). With fortunes made in the pioneering days of the 19th Century, they created products that became household names and dynasties that dominated local commerce. Most failed to evolve and were picked off by the corporate raiders of the 1980s, but they left behind a legacy of fine homes, major buildings and community bequests.
In this Paul Swadel-directed short, a work-gang on a remote Ruapehu construction site relieves boredom with cruelty. The edgy male camaraderie escalates towards a tense, inevitably dire — and OSH-unfriendly — conclusion. The scrum of Kiwi blokes going Lord of the Flies on the newbie (Marek Sumich) is played by a powerhouse cast: Marton Csokas, Rawiri Paratene, and Frank Whitten. Adapted by John Cranna from his short story, Accidents was filmed under the Makatote viaduct. It was selected for Venice Film Festival and won a special jury mention at Clermont-Ferrand.
It’s possible that Auckland’s early 60s urban growth has never seemed bigger, brighter or bolder than it does in this breathless NFU newsreel. As the city encroaches ever further into the countryside, suburbs blossom and improved roads, motorways and the new harbour bridge keep the citizenry moving. In the CBD, construction is booming with a 23 storey civic centre on the way up and an obsession with bigger and better parking buildings. Improved infrastructure is also demanded — with upgrades to ports, railways, telephone exchanges and sewage facilities.
Manapōuri hydroelectric power station is New Zealand’s largest. This 1970 NFU film — made for the Electricity Department — follows workers clearing a path for power through epic Fiordland mountains and rainforest, building roads and power pylons, and stringing a cable along the “hard and dirty” 30 miles to the aluminium smelter at Bluff. Sixteen men were killed constructing ‘the line’ before power was first generated in 1969. At the same time the scheme generated mass protests (the ‘Save Manapōuri’ campaign) at the proposal to raise Lake Manapōuri's level.
In this National Film Unit-produced 'documentary' a circus sets up at the beach. Made for the Ministry of Works to stir debate about the use of coastal land, director Michael Reeves' wiggy treatment of the subject situates the film in the 'frustrated auteur meets sober commission' NFU tradition. Ringmaster Ian Mune is a seaside Willy Wonka canvassing claims to the coast. Demands of development, recreation, and housing are dramatised — including a bizarre look at stranger danger in suburbia, and a graphic illustration of the risks of off-mains sewage treatment.
This post-war Weekly Review boards a RNZAF Dakota flying “the longest air route in the world”: a weekly 17,000 mile ‘hop’ taking mail to Jayforce, the Kiwi occupation force in Japan. Auckland to Iwakuni via Norfolk Island, Australia (including a pub pit-stop in the outback), Indonesia, the slums of Singapore, Saigon, Hong Kong; then Okinawa, Manilla and home. Director Cecil Holmes’ pithy comments on postcolonial friction and rich and poor avoided censorship, but won a warning not to rock the boat. The next year he was controversially sacked from the National Film Unit.
In this reality show Phil Keoghan (The Amazing Race), ambushes contestants and bids them to overcome a challenge with limited time (three days) and resources. This episode ditches the self-help aspect and ups the machismo by having a freezing worker, southern shepherd, champion rower, trans-Atlantic race winner, Kiwi league legend, and ex-Mr New Zealand compete in old school elimination challenges for NZ's 'toughest man' title. Future Olympic champ Eric Murray is the young buck wrestling for the hardman mantle with wily Mark 'Horse' Bourneville.
The Colombo Plan was a Commonwealth “federation of neighbours” which aimed to counter communism in Asia by providing development aid in the area's poorer countries. This National Film Unit short, directed by future NFU manager David H Fowler, ranges across Asia as it surveys New Zealand’s contributions to the postwar plan: funding hospitals, agriculture and education in Indonesia, Malaya, Sarawak, North Borneo, Pakistan and India. The film also visits Colombo students in their home countries, passing on skills that they learned while studying at NZ universities.
This National Film Unit film visits Christchurch roughly four years before the main event, to promote the city’s readiness to host the Commonwealth Games. A comical potted history of New Zealand precedes a montage of young women cycling around Canterbury environs and a split screen catalogue of NZ tourist attractions, before getting into a survey of the venues. As the opening demonstrates, “there’s always a traditional welcome awaiting our friends!” In 1973 the NFU completed a second film called Christchurch 74, before covering the games themselves in the feature-length Games 74.
People of the Waikato makes frequent pitstops along the 425 km path of NZ's longest river. Made in an era of post-war electricity shortages, the film balances requisite beautiful scenery with excursions into the Waikato's extensive hydroelectric system: including then-unfinished fourth dam Whakamaru, whose development was slowed by the discovery of clay in the foundation rock. Alongside brief glimpses of those who live and work on the river, there is footage of stunt-filled canoe races, Turangawaewae Marae, and a veteran boatman tugging coal.