This was the very last edition of the National Film Unit’s Weekly Review, a magazine-style film series which screened in New Zealand cinemas from 1942 until 1950. The first item is winter sports fun (ice skating, ice hockey) on a high country lake; the second report examines prototype newsprint made in Texas, from New Zealand-grown pine; the last slot covers the touring British Lions rugby team’s match against the NZ Māori, at a chilly Athletic Park. The Māori play the second half a man down after losing a player to injury (this was before injury substitutions were allowed in rugby).
In this experimental drama shot in 1975, four young idealists escape the city for rural Foxton, and set about living off the land. But an act of violence sends the commune into isolation and extremism. Teasing tense drama from rural settings, the 90 minute tale from maverick National Film Unit director Paul Maunder shines a harsh light on the contradictions of the frontier spirit. Although state television funded it, they found it too edgy to screen; instead Landfall debuted at the 1977 Wellington Film Festival. The cast includes Sam Neill as a Vietnam vet, and Mark ll director John Anderson.
Filmed on a 15,000 km journey through China in 1979, this documentary captures a country in transition: one where billboards are emerging on the streets of Shanghai, while commune workers still toil in the countryside. The film compiles images of people and landscape to observe China's then-recent emergence from the repressive Cultural Revolution; including memories from long-term resident, Kiwi Rewi Alley. Named after a description by Alley of China, it was made alongside companion documentary: Gung Ho: Rewi Alley of China.
Expat Kiwi Rewi Alley became one of the best known foreigners in 20th Century China and advocate for the Communist Revolution. When China was under siege from Japan in the late 1930s, Alley instigated an industrial co-op movement he termed ‘gung ho' (work together). Its success led to the phrase entering the global idiom. For this documentary a Geoff Steven-led crew travelled 15,000km in China in 1979, filming Alley as he gave his account of an engrossing, complex life story. Co-writer Geoff Chapple later wrote a biography of Alley.
This educational video was made by the NFU for the National Mountain Safety Council to promote awareness of bush safety. After a blackboard science lesson (check out a bearded Ray Henwood) things get interesting. A fictional trip into the bush turns into a Stubbies-clad 70s Kiwi version of the Blair Witch Project as we're told that one of the group will not survive the night, picked off by that fearsome killer: exposure. The message is serious, but the doom-laden tone induced titters in school classrooms and scout halls throughout NZ.
“Mental subnormality here is no higher than in other countries. Still it strikes more than one in a thousand.” The subjects of this 1964 NFU documentary are intellectually disabled patients (mostly children) at a Levin psychopaedic hospital, and the trainee nurses who care for them. The narration embodies contemporary healthcare ideas where “retarded” children were seen as patients to be kept “happy among their fellows”, and sheltered from the outside world. By the 90s, institutions like this one (later renamed Kimberley) were overtaken by assisted living.
Made for the Plunket Society by the NFU, A Baby on the Way uses a blackboard and various experts in front of an antenatal class to provide birth education for early 70s Kiwi parents-to-be. Plunket Medical Director Neil Begg lowers his pipe to introduce the lessons, and contemporary advice for ensuring a mother’s health during pregnancy is given by doctors, nurses, and physios. The scenes involving breast massage and analgesics may have induced titters in school-aged audiences, unlike the brief-but-gory concluding birth (set to piped organ music).
Tuberculosis and the Māori People of the Wairoa District was screened for the first time in 1952. It is one of many health education films made, but was unique in that it was a collaborative production involving the New Zealand Department of Health, the Ngāti Kahungungu Tribal District Committee and the National Film Unit. At this time, the death rate for Māori from TB was 10 times that of Pākehā. Turi Carroll (knighted in 1962) a respected Ngāti Kahungunu leader, narrates much of the film.
Godzone is “timber country” in this seventh slot in the New Zealand Now series. The NFU film looks at the world of the Kiwi bushman, as milling is providing the raw material for a postwar housing boom. The narrators provide a good keen guide to life in the remote and tiny (six houses) North Island town of Oraukura, where timber men fell giant native trees during the day and split kindling after work. For the men it’s a hard, but good life; for their wives it’s “pretty dull”. The Axemen’s Carnival in Taumarunui features OSH-unsanctioned woodchopping in socks.
This edition of the long-running National Film Unit series documents the curriculum at Manutahi Native District School in Ruatōria in 1947. The roll of 300 primarily Māori students, travel to the rural school on bus, foot and horse to learn everything from the alphabet to preparing preserves. Set in the post-war baby boom period, the male students learn to build a cottage while the girls learn ‘home economics’ (cooking and running a household). The first principle of the schooling is “learning by doing” and for the rural kids “the whole land is a classroom.”