Rizk Alexander found himself in a rare situation during WWI — he was an Ottoman subject who chose to fight for the British Empire. His brief life still holds a fascination for his descendants. From a Syrian Christian family, Alexander had only been in New Zealand three years, when the 17-year-old signed up for war. Hoping to fight the Turkish Ottomans, he instead ended up on the Western Front, proving himself at the Battle of Messines in 1917. Later gassed, Alexander returned to Wellington to recuperate but he never fully recovered, dying in 1924. He was 27.
In this 2014 documentary, singer Whirimako Black explores the World War II experience of her late father Stewart Black (who enlisted as Tai Paraki), and its legacy for his whānau. With her daughter Ngatapa — also a singer — Whirimako returns to Cassino in Italy. The 1944 battle helped forge the reputation of the Māori Battalion, but they suffered heavy losses, and it left survivors like Paraki with trauma and shame. The pair respond in word and song to the place — and to their koro’s memories, which were captured by director Reuben Collier for earlier doco Monte Cassino 60 Years On.
Bruce Graham, wife Lynn and son Mark are in the funeral business, serving the people in the Waikato town of Tūākau at their darkest times. This episode of First Hand takes place in the aftermath of local man Athel Parsons' death, from collecting his body to his funeral and cremation. Athel lived alone but was from a large family. He contributed to his town through his love of sports, in particular indoor bowls. As Bruce organises Athel's farewell we learn about both men's lives, and how the most common of events can affect a small community.
Kōtuku Rerenga Rua (the second flight of the heron) explores the impact of a near-death experience on Kōtuku Tibble. The teacher and media personality (from te teo Rugby World Cup commentator, to running language lessons on TV show Pūkana) talks about being reborn as the husband, father and leader he believes he is destined to be. Co-directed by Tim Worrall and Aaron Smart (The Road to Whakarae), the short documentary was made in te reo Māori for web series Loading Docs. Sadly Kõtuku Tibble died in his sleep, a few months after Kōtuku Rerenga Rua was completed.
Raised in New Zealand by parents from Tokelau, What Now? presenter Jason Fa'afoi and his brother, reporter (and future MP) Kris have made their Wellington digs a Tokelau music free zone. In this documentary they join their parents and sister on a life-changing journey home. Aged 12, Dad Amosa was one of the first locals awarded a scholarship to be educated in NZ. Mother Metita left as part of a major resettlement plan. Neither has returned to Tokelau in 35 years. The Dominion-Post called the result “a great little documentary”; The Press rated it the best NZ documentary of 2004.
Made by the NZ Broadcasting Corporation in the mid 1960s, this half hour TV documentary sets out to summarise New Zealand. More than a promotional video, it takes a wider view, examining both the country’s points of pride and some of its troubles. In a brief appearance Barry Crump kills a pig, although the narration is quick to point out that the ‘good keen man’ image he epitomises is also a root of the country’s problem alcohol consumption. The result is patriotic, but certainly not uncritical. Writer Tony Isaac went on to make landmark bicultural dramas Pukemanu and The Governor.
This tale of body-snatching botanical aliens invading 70s Wellington shared the 1973 Feltex Award for Best Drama. Dominated by Davina Whitehouse’s performance as a retired teacher-turned ET foster parent, it included early TV roles for Paul Holmes, Grant Tilly and Susan Wilson. Vincent Ley’s script won a Ngaio Marsh teleplay contest, and its realisation stylishly traverses local summertime environs — Silence was one of the first NZBC dramas filmed in colour. Director David Stevens went on to success in Australia (writing Breaker Morant, and The Sum of Us).
A beautiful Wellington day greets passengers from the Southern Cross at the start of this 1950s magazine film. Seen here on her maiden voyage around the world, the cruise ship Southern Cross was built to carry immigrants from Europe. Meanwhile, students at what was then New Zealand's only fully residential teachers' college (near Auckland) are seen studying, before taking time off for dancing and sport. A trip to New Caledonia rounds up the report with the unveiling the Cross of Sacrifice, a memorial to the 449 Kiwis who died without a grave in the South Pacific during WWII.
Epitaphs on gravestones are the starting point for presenter Paul Gittins to unravel skeletons in cupboards, lovestruck suicide pacts, and fatal love letters. The series uses compelling personal stories to retell New Zealand history and effectively combines documentary and re-enactment. An actor and history enthusiast, Paul Gittins became a household name on Shortland Street (as Dr Michael McKenna) before he devised this series for Greenstone. Epitaph ran for three series, and won Best Factual Series at the 1999 NZ TV Awards.
Four decades before starring in The Last Samurai, New Zealand’s most symmetrical volcano stole the limelight in this NFU short. Extolling a mantra of progress and change, Taranaki presents New Plymouth as regional hub and suburban paradise, surrounded by bays and gladioli. Narrator Paul Ricketts touches on a conflict-soaked past by recalling his great grandmother’s nightly refuge in a central city stockade, during the 1860s Taranaki Wars. Back in 1954, a fishing license costs two pounds, and co-operatively-run dairy factories produce over half the nation’s cheese.