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.
The coaster Breeze and her crew are immortalised in this much praised National Film Unit documentary. Poet Denis Glover and narrator Selwyn Toogood provide a rhythmic and lyrical commentary as the Breeze runs from Wellington to Lyttelton, then to Wanganui. Three weeks after the film's November 1948 release, director Cecil Holmes had his satchel snatched. He lost his NFU job after the resulting smear campaign accused him of communist leanings. Although reinstated after a court case, Holmes left for a successful screen career in Australia in 1949.
The Central Otago gold mining town of Cromwell celebrates its centenary in this NFU documentary. For a fortnight the townsfolk go about their ordinary business, but in colonial-era costume. They also re-enact the frontier-style life of gold rush New Zealand. Just 20 years before the film was shot, Cromwell banks were still receiving deposits of gold dust from customers. But the Cromwell of 1966 is also just a memory. While the old main street still exists, much of the town was flooded with the completion of the Clyde dam in 1993.
A pocket survey of the diversity of Kiwi farming circa 1952, this film serves as a booster’s reminder that thanks to self-reliance and research, New Zealand ranks as “one of the world’s great farming countries”. Cameraman Brian Brake captures arresting high contrast imagery: cattle move in silhouette against the sky; dust-caked fertiliser trucks emerge from clouds of lime; shirtless WWII veterans load silage onto harvesters. Meanwhile an upbeat, nationalistic voiceover pays homage to the holy trinity of good pasture, stock and climate.
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.
The trucks of NZ Army Service Corps were a familiar sight in 1950s Korea, according to this short National Film Unit newsreel. The focus is on New Zealand’s military involvement in the Korean War (1950-1953) — the narrator also says that in just over a year NZ guns fired over 250,000 rounds. Footage highlights the contrast between city life in Tokyo, Japan, where NZ soldiers went on leave; and the ruins of war-torn Korea. There’s also footage of NZ servicemen performing a haka before a footy game.
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.”