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.
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.
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.
Directed by Sam Pillsbury, this 1974 film observes Ralph Hotere — one of New Zealand’s greatest artists — at a moment when excitement is gathering about his work. Lauded as a “classic” by Ian Wedde, the documentary is framed around the execution of a watershed piece: a large mural Hotere was commissioned to paint for Hamilton’s Founders Theatre. Interviews with friends and associates — poets Hone Tuwhare and Bill Manhire, art critics, officials and dealers — are intercut with fascinating shots of Hotere working (including making art by photocopying or 'xerography').
DIY first flyer Richard Pearse aptly leads off this three-part 1982 series on the history of aviation in New Zealand. Presented by pilot Peter Clements, the survey of the pioneers of the “birdman’s art” covers daredevil balloonists, World War I fighter pilots, flying bishops, and frontrunners like the Walsh bros and George Bolt. A forgotten silver treasure from the archives is footage of Percy Fisher’s monoplane, filmed on a hand-cranked movie camera in the Wairarapa in 1913. The series was made for TV by veteran director Conon Fraser and the National Film Unit.
The Central Otago gold mining town of Cromwell celebrates its centenary in this 1960s National Film Unit documentary. For a fortnight the townsfolk go about their ordinary business, but in colonial-era costume. They also reenact 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. The Cromwell put on film in 1966 is also now 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.
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.
This 1948 documentary follows 24 hours of work on the railways. It was directed for the National Film Unit by Margaret Thomson, arguably New Zealand’s first female film director. The film shows the engines and commuter trains preparing to leave Wellington, and the overnight train arriving from Auckland. Workers toil on the railway lines above the remote Waimakariri Gorge, and the town of Otira gets ready for a dance. The final shots are of an engine coming through the dawn and back to the city. Selwyn Toogood (It's in the Bag) narrates.
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.”