Made by Philip McDonald (Such a Stupid Way to Die) for the National Water and Soil Conservation Authority, this award-winning short explores the impact of people on New Zealand’s water cycle. Shots of irrigation, industrial waste and run-off from dairy farming show Godzone’s 1972 waterways to be far short of 100% pure — the closing national anthem played over polluted rivers underlines the point. A young Sam Neill (then working at the National Film Unit) cameos as an eau-so-suave drinker in a scene showing the disconnection between water use and where it comes from.
In 1928 Kiwi cyclist Harry Watson and three Australians headed to France, and became the first English-speaking team to compete in the gruelling Tour de France. Out of the 168 who began the race, only 41 riders made it to the finish line. More than 80 years later, cycling fanatic and Amazing Race host Phil Keoghan joined friend Ben Cornell, in an attempt to retrace the 1928 course in the same timeframe as Watson. They rode the same type of vintage bike, without gears. Keoghan chronicled another epic cycle journey (this time across the US) in his 2011 documentary The Ride.
This NFU documentary gets in the saddle to follow the professional riders in the world’s southernmost road cycling race. Held in October 1981, the Tour of Southland went from lowland towns like Lumsden to the spectacular trans-Southern Alps road to Milford. Chopper shots and pre-GoPro camera mounts follow riders through Fiordland National Park rainforest. As cyclists rest aching muscles, an unusually philosophical narrator wonders “but is it worth it?”. Date stamps include cigarette sponsorship and a Cortina support fleet. The film screened in cinemas alongside Smash Palace.
This National Film Unit magazine film meets the NZ team for the 1948 London Olympics as they prepare to depart by boat (accompanied by a manager, and a chaperone for the sole female competitor). Each of the seven members is profiled in this reminder of an era when athletes had day jobs, training was 'several hours a day' and swimsuits looked more like impediments than performance aids. A nicely-shot demonstration of weightlifting technique by Maurice Crow is a highlight. Despite the enthusiasm of Selwyn Toogood's voiceover, the team failed to win any medals.
In the late 1980s, Kiwi John Britten developed and built a revolutionary racing motorcycle. He pursued his dream all the way to Daytona International Speedway in Florida. In 1991 the underdog inventor came second against the biggest and richest manufacturers in the world. Britten: Backyard Visionary documents the maverick motorcycle designer as he and his crew rush to create an even better bike for the next Daytona. After arriving in Florida, another all-nighter is required to fix an untested vehicle with many major innovations. Costa Botes writes about the documentary here.
One of the last films shot by longtime cameraman Bert Bridgman before his death, this 1958 promotional film follows an American tourist with a licence to fish in New Zealand, her “passport to pleasure”. Narrated by Pulitzer-Prize winning writer and conservationist Louis Bromfield, the film quotes liberally from English 'father of fishing' Izaak Walton, as the “gal from the States” is given fly fishing instruction. The life cycle of trout is shown, and the film — directed by onetime war correspondent Ron McIntyre — ends with a contest of wits between wily angler and trout.
In this 2010 series, comedian Te Radar ditches his lawnmower to take on the challenge of transforming an overgrown quarter acre lawn into a lush garden bursting with produce. Using recycled material and organic methods, Te Radar has six months to hit his goals — including making a profit from selling his food. "You can almost smell the fertility in the air," he claims in this first episode, filmed in Riverhead north of Auckland. In true Te Radar style, comedy ensues. He forgets to build a gate for a fence, and heads to a neighbour's shed for help turning an old reel mower into a mulcher.
Eleven-year-old Utah gets dumped with his estranged dad for the day in this 2011 short film. Dad is the sole employee at a Northland rubbish dump. Utah is embarrassed by his Dad’s job and recycled gifts, but thanks to a trash tour and reversing lessons, gets to know him better. One of the first products of the NZ Film Commission’s Fresh Shorts scheme, the film won director Hamish Bennett a NZ Writers Guild award for Best Short Film Script. The Dump was the first short from teacher Bennett and actor/producer Orlando Stewart; they followed with 2014 award-winner Ross and Beth.
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.
Set during the 1974 Commonwealth Games, thriller-fantasy series The Games Affair was NZ telly's first children's serial. Remembered fondly by 70s kids, it follows three teenagers battling a miscreant professor who's experimenting on athletes. The second episode begins with the trio finding a performance-enhanced (by nifty stop-motion) beach runner. The trail takes them to QEII Park for the Games' opening ceremony where they confront the villains, and — via pioneering DIY FX — deflate John Bach Flat Stanley-style. Note: the episode has nothing to do with toilets.