This short 1979 National Film Unit documentary heads up the steep bush-clad West Coast valleys from Rūnanga, to profile the men at work at five private coal mines. Director Conon Fraser (Looking at New Zealand) showcases the remarkable DIY resourcefulness required by the small groups of miners. The rugged individuals work the seams, push bins along steep incline railways and dump the loads down vertiginously steep flumes. At the time this film was made waning prospects for the unique way of life were looking up, as high oil prices spurred demand for coal.
This edition of the 60s Sunday night magazine show travels to New Zealand’s most active volcano: White Island, situated offshore in the Bay of Plenty. The thermal activity on the privately owned scenic reserve is vividly captured as the camera roams the roaring, shuddering landscape and ventures past seething fumaroles into the crater. The tenuous history of human engagement with ‘Whakaari’ is covered: from Maui and Māori myth to the derelict remains of sulphur mining; including a 1914 eruption that killed 11 miners (with their black cat the only survivor).
Off his own bat, Ilam art student Glenn Standring got his third-year short into competition at the Cannes Film Festival. The minimal plot — hipster private eye Lenny Minute dryly narrates, before facing his nemesis, a rampaging giant blue “sheila doll” — allows Standring to conjure up a distinctive collage-styled cityscape, mined from a grab-bag of Americana inspirations: 50s sci-fi, jazz, the hardboiled detectives of Dashiell Hammett, and star Marlene Dietrich. After this early computer-aided short, Standring joined the Gibson Group as an animator, then directed two stylish features.
Predating hit show Survivor, this early TV3 reality TV documentary saw Kiwi teens fending for themselves over eight days on Rakitu Island. Among the three females and three males facing off Lord of the Flies-style were future National MP Nikki Kaye, who later argued she was meant to represent the "private school girl who couldn't survive without a hairdryer". Instead Kaye took the leader’s role and clubbed an eel, while many of her companions showed little inclination to help with the fishing. Kaye later opposed her party’s proposal to mine on nearby Great Barrier Island.
This fondly-remembered Pictorial Parade plunges down the famously steep grade of the Denniston Incline. The cable railway was the key means of transporting ‘black gold’ from the isolated Denniston Plateau to Westport. The engineering marvel fell 518 metres over just 1670 metres. It brought down 13 million tonnes of coal and many hardy families, despite notorious brake failures. This film was made just before the mine and railway ceased operating, as “old king coal” was supplanted by oil. Director Hugh Macdonald writes about making it, and a companion film, here.