This film outlines the efforts to transform the “barren” pumice lands of the North Island’s Central Plateau into arable farmland. Once scientists discover the magic missing ingredient that will make the soil more fertile (cobalt chloride), the serious job of burning scrub, ploughing and sowing begins. The film uses a traditional 'triumph over nature' narrative, but director John Feeney makes elegant use of montage and composition. Author Maurice Shadbolt, who spent time working at the National Film Unit, regarded it as "without doubt the best film to come from the Unit".
This documentary, made by TVNZ’s Natural History Unit (now NHNZ), charts the progress of the nor'west wind from its formation in the Tasman Sea across the Southern Alps to the Canterbury Plains and the east coast of the South Island. Along the way it dumps metres of precipitation on West Coast rain forest and snow on the Alps, then transforms to a dry, hot wind racing across the Plains. The film shows the wind's impact on the ecosystem and farming and muses on the mysterious effect it can have on humans. It screened as part of the beloved Wild South series.
This doco looks at the relationship between dogs and shepherds in Kiwi sheep farming. It covers the history of dog and man, and reveals Dog Show-worthy secrets behind the dogs' training and personalities, from ‘heading dogs' who stare sheep (and geese!) "into submission" to the "loudmouth" ‘huntaways' who drive flocks on vast high country stations. This Swanndri-saturated doco is shot, scored and narrated in an old-fashioned Disney style (shepherds are "the very substance of romance"). As the title states, the canines are the stars.
This 1978 National Film Unit documentary chronicles the daily lives of New Zealanders in various places: factory, beach, hospital, oil rig, country town, sheep farm, market garden, Auckland produce market, art gallery and primary school. Narration-free, the film features montages of stills by photographer Ans Westra. The impression is of New Zealand as a busy nation of makers and growers, alongside singing ‘Oma Rapiti’ at the bach and visiting the art gallery. Terry towelling, walk shorts, and denim shirts are date stamps. The script is by onetime Variety film reviewer Mike Nicolaidi.
This made-for-the-wee-kids series follows SpottyWot and DottyWot, two playful aliens exploring life on earth. In this episode, a chase around the farm sees the two stumbling upon a sheepdog helping a farmer herd his sheep, which gives DottyWot an idea about how cleaning up could be turned into a game. The CGI-animated WotWots appeared on more than 70 episodes, and screened in many countries. The show was produced by Pūkeko Pictures, a partnership between children’s author Martin Baynton, and Weta co-founders Richard Taylor and Tania Rodger.
This Philip Temple-scripted episode of Our People, Our Century covers stories of New Zealanders and their turangawaewae: a piece of land they call their own. The importance of the land to farming families, and to the economy of NZ is explored through the eyes of three families. Elworthy Station in South Canterbury is being farmed by a 5th generation Elworthy. Two elderly ladies reminisce on their childhood in remote Mangapurua, near Raetihi in the central North Island. And a Māori family in Taranaki reflects on their decision to sell the family farm.
The line “where the bloody hell are you?” generated controversy when used in a 2006 Aussie tourism campaign; so who knows what 1980 audiences made of this promo’s exhortation to “Come on to New Zealand.” But as the narration assures: “It’s a safe country. You can walk without being molested.” Aimed at the US market, the film was made as long haul air travel was opening up NZ as a destination. Māori culture, sheep and pretty scenery are highlighted, alongside skinny dipping and weaving (!). Narrated by Bob Parker, the NFU promo marked an early gig for editor Annie Collins.
The rich scenery around Lake Wakatipu has inspired painters, postage stamps and director Peter Jackson. Shortly before leaving NZ in 1954, photographer Brian Brake headed south for the NFU to capture images of lake, mountain, tourist and miner. Amid the postcard perfection, Brake films mist-shrouded hills sliced open by mining, and a trio of skiers on Coronet Peak, travelling hand in hand. Tourists swap lake steamers for open top buses, en route to the Routeburn track; and one old-timer sets out on horse to pan for gold, via the abandoned mining village of Macetown.
This documentary comprehensively traces the history of skiing and winter sports in New Zealand. From Mannering and Dixon, who used homemade skis in an almost-successful ascent of Mt Cook and the hut-building pioneers of recreational ski clubs in their pre-Gore-tex garb, to commercial ski fields and lifts, superb archive footage shows the advances. New Zealand teams at the Winter Olympics in Oslo in 1952 and Sarajevo 32 years later had come some way from the days when carrier pigeons were used to report snow conditions from Canterbury's ski fields to Christchurch.
Like the eponymous native plant this children's puppetry programme stuck to the socks of many kiwis of a certain vintage. Produced in Dunedin by TVNZ's Natural History Unit (now independent production company NHNZ) Bidibidi followed the adventures of a sheep on a South Island station for two series. Bidibidi was adapted from the children's book by Gavin Bishop. Each programme interspersed puppet scenes and musical numbers with the expected first-rate NHU-shot footage of birds and other animals that Bidibidi meets en route, from kea to skinks and bitterns.