Without the NZ Film Commission, the list of Kiwi features and short films would be far shorter. In celebration of the Commission turning 40, this collection gathers up movie clips, plus documentaries and news coverage of Kiwi films. Among the directors to have had a major leg up from the Commission are Geoff Murphy, Peter Jackson, Taika Waititi and Gaylene Preston. In the backgrounders, Preston remembers the days when the commission was up an old marble staircase, and producer John Barnett jumps 40 years and beyond, to an age when local stories were seen as fringe.
Mitch (Keith Aberdein) moves to Tongariro National Park to help wrangle wild horses threatening ecology and traffic. He meets Sara, who shares an obsession for a fabled silver horse. They clash with rangers and deer recovery guns-for-hire (Bruno Lawrence is the black-clad villain) determined to eradicate the horses, and a showdown on the Desert Plateau ensues. In the notoriously fraught production a stable of Kiwi acting legends perform a melange of western and freedom-on-the-range genre turns (with the conservationists oddly set up as the bad guys).
In this episode of the long-running nature programming slot on TV One, naturalist David Bellamy visits New Zealand’s “dinosaur forest” — Whirinaki. Bellamy brings his famed nature-boy enthusiasm to “a living cathedral that dates back 200 million years”. He explores the North Island forest’s “big five”: 60m+ rimu, mataī, kahikatea, miro and tōtara trees; and the ecosystem that they reign over, from kākā parrots to giant tree ferns. The intro is by Gael Ludlow and features the fondly-remembered Jean Michel Jarre synthpop track that was Our World’s signature.
This wee gem from the 60s Sunday night magazine show records a pivotal New Zealand conservation moment. Wildlife Service ranger Don Merton experiments with rescue techniques to save the endangered North Island saddleback (tieke), a wattlebird surviving on Hen Island. Aided by electronics expert John Kendrick (of National Radio bird call fame) he uses calls to lure the spry birds into mist nets before moving the precious cargo to cat-free Cuvier Island. The world-leading skills developed here were to be crucial in saving the black robin and kakapo from extinction.
The first episode of Ice Worlds explores animal life at the poles, both North and South. At the North Pole American scientist Steve Amstrup tracks polar bears, from their hibernation during winter, to seeking food out on the tundra during summer. Down south, Antarctica's emperor penguins are studied by Gerald Kooyman, physiologist Arthur Devries catches Antarctic cod, and biologist Brent Sinclair seeks the continent's largest land animal — a tiny insect called a springtail. Ice Worlds was narrated by former news anchor Dougal Stevenson.
This NHNZ documentary looks at the fierce debate between animal lovers and ecologists over the wild horses of the Kaimanawa Ranges (with striking footage of them running free). At issue: a delicate tussock land ecosystem with rare native plants dating back thousands of years, increasingly at risk from horses recognised for their uniqueness — but whose numbers have grown tenfold in 15 years. Reducing the herd size is the favoured option. But only younger horses can be sold and, with older ones going to an abattoir, the plan is opposed by the horse lobby.
This documentary advocates for the protection of one of the last pristine ecosystems on earth: The Ross Sea. Veteran cameraman Peter Young vividly captures the frozen wilderness — freewheeling penguins, fish and sealions under the aquamarine ice — and interviews scientists concerned at threats posed by commercial fishing (including from New Zealand-owned boats). The film confronts unsuspecting New York diners with the origins of their fish, exposing upmarket ‘Chilean sea bass’ as Antarctic toothfish. Last Ocean won Best Film at the 2013 Reel Earth Film Festival.
Renowned landscape photographer, publisher and conservationist Craig Potton takes viewers up New Zealand rivers in this South Pacific Pictures series, made for Prime TV. Each episode focused on a significant Aotearoa waterway, and the ecology and people connected with it. Episodes featured the Clutha River in the deep south, Clarence River near Kaikoura, Rangitata River in Canterbury, Mokihinui River on the South Island's west coast, and Waikato River in the central North Island. The Rangitata episode won Potton Best Documentary Script at the 2011 SWANZ Awards.
Described by New Zealand Geographic as the "doyen of New Zealand diving", Wade Doak is an author, marine ecologist and conservationist. Along with Kelly Tarlton he was a pioneer of underwater exploration and filming in Aotearoa. Behind and in front of the camera, he has contributed to documentaries for Wild South and production company NHNZ, and showcased Aotearoa’s undersea world to wide audiences.
The late Margaret Thomson is arguably the first New Zealand woman to have directed films. Thomson spent much of her film career working in England, plus two years back in New Zealand at the National Film Unit. Her NFU short Railway Worker (1948) is regarded as a classic.