In Gaylene Preston's documentary, seven elderly women recall their personal experiences of World War II. Their intimate, unadorned stories are filmed talking heads style, interspersed with personal photographs and period newsreel clips. From tragic love stories to long-suppressed revelations of sex and death, War Stories is a revealing touchstone of New Zealand history. It received international acclaim. LA Times writer Kevin Thomas enthused that Preston takes "a simple idea and turns it into a rich, universal experience".
This documentary tells the stories of the New Zealand soldiers who were part of the identity-defining Gallipoli campaign in World War I. In the ill-fated mission to take a piece of Turkish coastline, 2721 New Zealanders died with 4752 wounded. As part of research, every one of the then-surviving Gallipoli veterans living in New Zealand was interviewed, with 26 finally filmed. Shot at a barren, rocky Gallipoli before the advent of Anzac Day tourism, this important record screened on Easter Sunday 1984, and won a Feltex Award for Best Documentary.
Solo is a story about three people on the edge of nowhere, struggling to decide how much of themselves to share with those they care about. Young Australian hitchhiker Judy romances solo Dad Paul, who finds peace flying fire patrol planes above the forest. Paul's precocious son reacts badly to losing pole position to Judy, and takes to the air. Inspired partly by the oft-painful times when we are "more acutely in touch” with our emotions, Tony Williams' romance helped launch the Kiwi movie renaissance. But as he writes in the backgrounder, there was no fun in filming it three times.
Valley of the Stereos is a comic face-off that starts tinny, but gleefully escalates to bass heavy, as a not-so-zen hippy (Danny Mulheron) gets caught up in a vale-blasting battle with the noisy bogan next door (Murray Keane). Made by many key Peter Jackson collaborators, the near-wordless pump up the volume tale was directed by George Port, shortly before he became founding member of Jackson's famed effects-house Weta Digital. Ironically Weta's computer-generated miracles would help render the stop motion imagery seen in the finale largely a thing of the past.
While beachcombing, April (Hester Joyce) discovers an injured man and claims him as her own. She must keep him a secret, and alive, in a makeshift community called Paradise. But Paradise is under threat and the other residents are slowly moving on. Fiercely protective of the broken man in her bed, April cannot leave, nor can she stay. For April there is nowhere to go but up. Directed by Niki Caro (Whale Rider), Sure To Rise competed for the Palme d’Or at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival. Producer Owen Hughes writes here about where the film's rise led its director.
Before he achieved worldwide fame as an actor, Sam Neill directed documentary films for the National Film Unit. This film examines the philosophy, early achievements and frustrations of one of New Zealand's most innovative architects, Ian Athfield. Athfield won an international competition in 1975 to design housing for 140,000 squatters in Manila, in the Philippines, yet struggled to gain recognition back home. This film culminates in Athfield's trip to the Philippines to pursue the project. Shooter John Toon later memorably shot feature film Rain.
A National Film Unit cameraman for 36 years, Brian Cross worked on a large number of films, ranging from royal tours and rugby tours to industrial progress in forestry and electricity transmission, some as cameraman and director. He is particularly remembered for his record of the maiden voyage of HMNZS. Otago, and for his many films of New Zealand railways.Image credit: Archives New Zealand, ref AAQT 6421 B18889
During his 34 years as a National Film Unit cameraman, Kell Fowler filmed throughout New Zealand, and travelled as far afield as China and the South Pole. Career highlights included his work as cameraman and director of Oscar-nominated Antarctic film One Hundred and Forty Days Under the World (1964), and the filming of the sweeping three-screen vistas that featured in Expo 70 hit This is New Zealand.
Hugh Macdonald began his long, award-studded career at the National Film Unit, where at 25 he directed ambitious three-screen spectacular This is New Zealand (1970), which was seen by 400,000 New Zealanders. In the 80s he produced Oscar-nominated short The Frog, the Dog, and the Devil and established his own company, continuing a busy diet of commercial films, train documentaries and animation.
A pioneer of the commercial use of 16mm film in post-war New Zealand, Robert Steele is arguably a lost name in the local screen industry. A portrait photographer who was making amateur films in 1930, he spent several years in his native Australia before returning to NZ for good in 1937. Steele screened his films at workplaces and trade fairs, and was a major producer of commercials in the first decade of Kiwi television.