Kiwi avant-garde artist and musician Phil Dadson is the subject of 80-minute documentary Sonics from Scratch. Dadson has conjured sounds and experimental films from all manner of objects and locales. The documentary charts his love affair with sound, including performances with From Scratch, who created percussive music from PVC pipes. Among those appearing are some of the group's rotating ensemble of members, including Don McGlashan and cinematographer Leon Narbey. Sonics from Scratch screened at the 2015 New Zealand International Film Festival.
Exhuming Adams investigates the mysterious disappearance of a species of New Zealand mistletoe 50 years ago. Set among dusty museum collections, high-tech labs, and remote bush, this documentary is a natural history CSI. A canny forensic investigation, taking in preserved bellbird skins, last witnesses and CGI modelling, reveals the chain of events leading to the unique plant's extinction, and a surprising culprit. Directors Brant Backlund and Thassilo Franke won the BBC Best Newcomer Award at the prestigious WildScreen film festival 2006.
Composed of one-off episodes, each by a different director, First Hand was an opportunity for up-and-coming filmmakers to try their hand at making documentaries. This instalment from director Alan Erson looks at ‘dusties’ — the men who collect Auckland’s rubbish. Their rewards and career pathways are considered, alongside the hard physical nature of the work. Just as important is what happens during time off. There are visits to local pub The Bellbird, and the café where they stop for cups of tea — plus sucker for punishment Manu heads to rugby league training.
This 1960 tourism film, produced by the National Film Unit, is aimed at a particular market niche: hunter holidaymakers. It follows a visitor from Omaha, USA, ‘JD’, who flies down to the “land of countless deer”: Dart Valley in the Southern Alps. A folk song extols the joys of answering the call of the wild — “The very best thing for a man: To hunt and fish and sleep out of doors, eat his tucker where he can” — as JD and his guide climb via bird-filled beech forest onto scree slopes to nab a 14-point stag; before a ciggie on the ridge and a squiz at the scenery.
Presented by Kiwi TV pioneer Shirley Maddock, Islands of the Gulf was New Zealand’s first locally made documentary series. In this episode Maddock makes the 50 mile seaplane flight from Auckland to Great Barrier. Accompanied by ever present birdsong, she proves an eloquent, attentive guide to ‘The Barrier’. She recounts the SS Wairarapa tragedy and pigeon post, tramps to old kauri dams, and surveys the quirks of transport for the 240 people then living on the rugged bush-clad island, from the Land Rover-driving nurse, to a Chrysler taxi once owned by Al Capone.
This documentary heads to the Southern Ocean to explore New Zealand’s subantarctic islands. The Antipodes, Bounty, Snares, Campbell and Auckland Island groups are remote outposts between Aotearoa and Antarctica, home to vital breeding grounds for millions of seabirds and marine mammals – from penguins to sea lions and albatrosses – plus unique plants like giant tree daisies. Director Conon Fraser also looks at human efforts to live there from whaling depots, to the short-lived Hardwick Settlement. The hour-long NFU film is narrated by Ray Henwood (TV's Gliding On).
This 1962 National Film Unit short uses the relationship between Māori and manu (birds) as a platform to celebrate New Zealand bush birds — from food source and key roles in myth, to their general character. Legend of Birds was filmed on Kāpiti and Little Barrier Islands. Many of the images were captured by noted nature photographers Kenneth and Jean Bigwood, and the score is by composer Larry Pruden. The narration includes a rap-style tribute to the kākā parrot: “squarks about his indigestion, population and congestion … politics the current question”.
Nearly mammal free, pre-human New Zealand was a land of birds, many of them found nowhere else. In Birdland, Jeremy Wells (Eating Media Lunch) explores all things avian in Aotearoa. In this opening episode he visits Hauraki Gulf island sanctuary Tiritiri Matangi and Christchurch’s Peacock Springs. Putting the wry into wrybill, Wells muses on manu matters from twitching to tākahe poop. Dominion Post’s Linda Burgess praised Mike Single's "marvellous camera work", and Wells’ celebration of ordinary people "who work to protect and enhance what we still have".
This 1973 film sees poet Alistair Te Ariki Campbell explore the history of Kāpiti Island — from being a stronghold for Māori chief Te Rauparaha, to whaling station and its present form as a bird sanctuary. The film chronicles Campbell’s first visit to the legendary motu, where he feeds a kākā parrot a date from his mouth, and witnesses a remarkable scene where a weka kills a Norway rat. With impressionistic sequences set to verse, director Peter Coates’ ‘poetic realisation’ of the island was called “a remarkable contribution to NZ television” by Listener critic David Weatherall.
This award-winning short film explores Te Waikoropupū Springs. The springs fully live up to New Zealand’s 100% Pure brand, with some of the clearest water known (a 1993 study measured visibility to 63 metres). After visiting the springs' ‘dancing sands’, three divers take a down river run: going with the flow of the 14,000 litres per second discharged from the springs (here the classical score funks up the tempo). One of the divers was sound recordist Kit Rollings. The waters are now closed off, to preserve their purity. The NFU short played in cinemas with Return of the Pink Panther.