Mount Cook

Short Film, 1951 (Full Length)

After bad weather curtailed an ambitious film about Mount Aspiring in 1949, Brian Brake returned to the Southern Alps the following year to shoot Mount Cook — the first NFU film to feature Brake's mountain imagery in glorious blue and white colour. The wait was worth it: the longtime mountain-lover coaxes a succession of breathtaking images of the cloud-piercing mountain — plus a rollicking snow fight scene. The plot, what there is of it, centres on some skiers wandering closer to Aoraki/Mt Cook to get a better look, then demonstrating the joys of descent. 

Exhibition Loop

Short Film, 1947 (Full Length)

This National Film Unit documentary provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the various stages of 40s film production at the relatively nascent unit, from shoot to post production. It was made to be screened continuously (thus the ‘loop’ title) at exhibition theatrettes. There’s genial interaction among the cast and crew (see backgrounder for who they are). Directed by pioneer woman director Kathleen O’Brien, the filming took place at the unit’s Darlington Road studios in Wellington, close to where Weta Workshop and Park Road Post now operate in Miramar.

This Auckland

Short Film, 1967 (Full Length)

This impressionistic, late 1960s survey traces Auckland from volcanic origins to a population of half a million people. Produced by the National Film Unit, it finds a city of "design and disorder" growing steadily but secure in its own skin as its populace basks in the summer sun. A wry, at times bemused, Hugh Macdonald script and an often frenetic, jazzy soundtrack accompany time honoured Queen City images: beaches and yachting, parks and bustling city streets, and an unpredictable climate given to humidity and sudden downpours.

Weekly Review No. 60 - The First Episode

Short Film, 1942 (Full Length)

Despite the misleading numbering, this October 1942 film marked the first of the National Film Unit's long-running Weekly Review series. The NFU had been established a year earlier to promote the war effort via newsreels screened in movie theatres. In a meta first clip, Kiwi soldiers watch an NFU film in a makeshift outdoor cinema. Then war readiness is demonstrated via army exercises — including on Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where “Māori and Pākehā are working together, mounting machine guns for their common defence.” Finally: Red Cross parcels are prepared for NZ prisoners of war.

Through Scrummage, Three Quarters and All

Short Film, 1966 (Full Length)

This National Film Unit newsreel offers a wide-ranging look at ‘the national game’ in 1966. A muddy potted history (scored to rugby folk song ‘On the Ball’) rakes from the age grades to a Ranfurly Shield match, to the apex: the All Blacks. Ex-All Black fullback Bob Scott talks about the need for ‘four stone bantams’ to enjoy the game, while fellow AB Don ‘The Boot’ Clarke discusses the problems for a country player; Wellington College’s 1st XV plays a ‘traditional’ against Nelson in front of a mass haka on the terraces; and club players explain why they play (“it’s a manly game”).

Canterbury is a Hundred

Short Film, 1950 (Full Length)

This booster's gem was produced by the NFU to mark Canterbury's centennial. The original Canterbury crusaders' dream of a model England colony is shown in settler life re-enactments. The importance of meat and wheat to the region's prosperity is extolled and a progressive narrative — "in one brief century they've turned the wilderness into fertile farms and built their red-roofed homes" — underpins contemporary scenes (cricket, church) and much bucolic (plains, alps) scenery. Trivia: Peter Jackson used an excerpt from the film to open Heavenly Creatures.

The Sealhunters

Short Film, 1973 (Full Length)

This short black and white NFU 'drama' follows three young people on a road trip from Wellington. The trio are meant to be finding a seal colony, but in this early film from director Paul Maunder (Sons for the Return Home), the journey is the destination. The rambling adventure along the coast past Wainuiomata sees the trio discussing paua ashtrays, waning youth, marriage, the state of New Zealand television, and life in general. Future TV director John Anderson (road movie Mark ll) plays the husband, and Sam Neill edits. The music is by Tony Backhouse (The Crocodiles).

Pictorial Parade No. 96 - The New Army

Short Film, 1960 (Full Length)

An edition of the Pictorial Parade magazine-film series, 'The New Army' provides a short potted history of Kiwis in combat overseas, from World War I to the then-current Malayan Emergency. From the First New Zealand Expeditionary Force being reviewed by King George V in England, through desert warfare and island hopping in World War II, to the New Zealand Regiment's 2nd Battalion training for jungle warfare. The reel finishes with the battalion displaying new weapons and techniques, before parading through Wellington and embarking for Malaya.

Weekly Review No. 263 - Rugby in New Zealand

Short Film, 1946 (Full Length)

This excerpt from a post-war NFU newsreel begins at Eden Park for a match between Auckland and the ‘Kiwis’ (the army’s NZEF team), then goes on a jaunty ride through all-things rugby in NZ: from 1st XV (Wellington College), club and provincial (Ranfurly Shield in the Southland rain) clashes, to boot-making and badge selling on match day, with rugby’s centrality to the Kiwi psyche underlined throughout. “Rugby’s never over, though the crowds stream home from Eden Park or any place we play, to fans and players alike it will always be a part of our national life!”

Barry Brickell: Potter

Short Film, 1970 (Full Length)

This upbeat National Film Unit award-winner is about late New Zealand artist, conservationist, and rail enthusiast Barry Brickell. Filmed at his first studio and home in the Coromandel, it follows the progress of his large-scale works from start to finish. Accompanied by a jazzy soundtrack, Brickell works his clay alone in the sun. Amidst the five-finger and harakeke of the Coromandel bush, the making of New Zealand art has never looked more picturesque. Brickell died on 23 January 2016, at the age of 80. The short documentary was made as part of the Pictorial Parade series.