This collection celebrates Kiwi comedy on TV: the caricatures, piss-takes, and sitcoms that have cracked us up, and pulled the wool over our eyes for over five decades. From turkeys in gumboots and Fred Dagg, to Billy T, bro'Town and Jaquie Brown. As Diana Wichtel reflects, watching the evolution of native telly laughs is, "a rich and ridiculous, if often painful, pleasure."
The decade of fondue and flares also cooked up colour television. Our black and white living room icons — from Selwyn Toogood to Space Waltz — melted into a Kiwi kaleidoscope of Top Town, Grunt Machine, and Close to Home. And 'our stories' and rights fights — boks, hikoi, nukes and 'nam — echoed onscreen (Sleeping Dogs, Tangata Whenua). Ready to roll?
In 1968 eight Japanese teenagers won an art competition; their prize was a week long visit to the country they'd imagined on canvas. It's a busy itinerary — the students land in Wellington and take an obligatory cable car ride before visiting Parliament and the museum. The steamy wonderland of Rotorua is next, a dairy farm visit is a big success and Sir Edmund Hillary joins the teens for an authentic Kiwi barbeque. Shy smiles abound when one student meets her Kiwi pen pal for the first time. This is a rare example of a New Zealand television documentary from the 1960s.
This National Film Unit documentary follows the British Lions 1959 rugby tour to New Zealand. Prior to live televised sports coverage, match highlights were rushed onto cinema screens; NFU tour coverage was later edited into this feature length doco. On the field the series was won by the All Blacks 3-1, including the first test where Don Clarke famously kicked six penalties to beat the Lions’ four tries. Off the field, the Lions visited farms and resorts, drove trout and tried Māori song and dance with guide Rangi. A star back for the Lions was Peter Jackson.
In this full-length Intrepid Journey, Paul Henry brings his straight-talking style to Tibet. Entering Tibet after three days in Kathmandu, Henry encounters dodgy plumbing and the occasional surveillance camera, though he finds a certain romance in the dirt. Henry makes no effort to hide his feelings on yak butter tea, fights altitude sickness en route to Mount Everest base camp, and visits Potala Palace — ex home to the Dalai Lama, now "a mausoleum to old Tibet". For Henry, now is the best time to visit, because "Tibet is being snuffed out. This is just going to be another corner of China."
In this feisty late 1976 The Friday Conference interview, host Gordon Dryden holds Prime Minister Muldoon to account over his 1975 election pledges. Dryden challenges Muldoon’s touting of freedom (amidst price freezes, wage controls and an All Blacks tour to apartheid South Africa), and the PM's description of himself as a liberal (with heated talk about insults traded during the Colin Moyle affair). Dryden evokes the spectre of the McCarthy era, and a pugnacious Muldoon invokes “the ordinary bloke”. Muldoon later refused to be interviewed by Dryden again for the show.
This 1970 documentary surveys New Zealand’s dairy industry — “probably the most advanced in the world” — from pasture to export. Dairying then produced a quarter of NZ’s income, but with Britain due to join the EEC, NZ was forced to seek new markets. This film proclaims the industry’s readiness, thanks to an artificial breeding centre (with ‘calf-eteria’), room-sized computers, and cheeses designed for the Asian market. The country's 25,000 dairy farms were each owner-operated, and averaged 90 cows. The Dairy Industry won top prize at an agricultural film competition in Berlin.
Sponsored by the Crusader Shipping Company, this 1966 National Film Unit production joins one of the firm's ships as it transports NZ products from Auckland to Asia — home to “one quarter of the human race, 900 million customers”. As milk powder, wool, mutton, apples, cheese and deer antlers are delivered to ports in the Philippines, China, Japan, and Hong Kong, director Ron Bowie observes cultural difference and economic opportunity; and a “westernising” Orient is beautifully captured by Kell Fowler. The NFU crew were rare foreign observers in Chairman Mao’s China.
In 1969 Kiwi music legend John Rowles was in his early 20s, and flush with UK success: appearing on Top of the Pops and celebrating a single – ‘If I Only Had Time’ – which got to number three in the British charts. This fly on the wall documentary records his homecoming tour, complete with cigars, turtlenecks, rehearsals, press interviews, dancing, hongi and a civic reception in Kawerau (where he’d been fired from a mill job five years before, for arriving late). Rowles launches single ‘M’Lady’, soon to top the NZ charts, and reflects on how he's changed since leaving Kawerau.
No Ordinary Sheila unfurls the life story of the adventurous, multi-talented Sheila Natusch: from first opening her eyes to nature while growing up on Stewart Island, as the daughter of a ranger and an artist; through befriending Janet Frame during teacher training, to the many books Natusch went on to write and/or illustrate. Filmmaker Hugh Macdonald (This is New Zealand) directs this portrait of a lover of nature and life, her joy unbowed by age. Natusch died on 10 August 2017, just days after watching the film as part of a packed house at the 2017 Wellington Film Festival.