Collection

Better Safe than Sorry

Curated by NZ On Screen team

Long before Ghost Chips, even before "don't use your back like a crane", life in Godzone was fraught with hazards. This collection shows public safety awareness films spanning from the 50s to the 70s. If there's kitsch enjoyment to be had in the looking back (chimps on bikes?!) the lessons remain timeless. Remember: It's better to be safe than sorry.

Series

Play School

Television, 1972–1990

Play School was an iconic educational programme for pre-school children, which was first produced in Auckland from 1972, then Dunedin from 1975. The format included songs, a story, craft, a calendar, a clock and a look outside Play School via the shaped windows. But the toys, Big Ted, Little Ted, Jemima, Humpty and Manu, were the real stars of the show. The title sequence ("Here's a house ...") and music were a call to action recognised by generations of Kiwis. Presenters included actors Rawiri Paratene and Theresa Healey, Russell Smith and future MP Jacqui Hay.

Such a Stupid Way to Die

Short Film, 1971 (Full Length)

This educational video was made by the NFU for the National Mountain Safety Council to promote awareness of bush safety. After a blackboard science lesson (check out a bearded Ray Henwood) things get interesting. A fictional trip into the bush turns into a Stubbies-clad 70s Kiwi version of the Blair Witch Project as we're told that one of the group will not survive the night, picked off by that fearsome killer: exposure. The message is serious, but the doom-laden tone induced titters in school classrooms and scout halls throughout NZ.

Pedestrians or Jaywalkers?

Short Film, 1952 (Full Length)

This NFU public safety film takes a jaunty approach to a serious subject as it shows road crossing dangers via bad examples. Mis-steps include walking off the footpath carelessly, crossing the road at oblique angles, 'dithering', and over-confidence. The humour may be physical and the narration pun-filled, but the lessons remain relevant, as pedestrian accidents on Wellington's and Auckland's 21st Century city bus lanes attest. Despite the big question promise of the title there is no Socratic dialogue about crossing the road or any consideration of chickens.

Old Man's Beard Must Go

Television, 1989 (Full Length)

With his impassioned enthusiasm and trademark beard, English naturalist David Bellamy made this well known 1989 community service message for the Department of Conservation. “It’s a nasty, horrible plant and it’s smothering and killing New Zealand’s native bush, and that is a catastrophe ... a trim is not enough — we’ve got to destroy it in every way we can — old man’s beard must go!”. Bellamy is a long-term advocate for the conservation of NZ’s natural heritage, presenting the Moa’s Ark series, as well as famously promoting Woolmark carpet.

Too Late to be Sorry

Short Film, 1966 (Full Length)

Made for the Forest Service by the National Film Unit this instructional film demonstrates essential firearms safety. Like later cautionary tales (eg. cult bush safety film Such a Stupid Way to Die) the film dramatises what can happen when things go wrong, before a hunter imparts "the five basic safety rules" (with obligatory ciggie hanging from lower lip). The rendering of the lesson might be hokey (compared to the explicit traffic safety ads of the '90s and '00s) but the message is deadly serious, as ongoing hunting tragedy headlines attest.  

A Great Day to Go

Short Film, 1971 (Full Length)

Made by the NFU for the NZ Water Safety Council this film enlists shock to provoke punters to consider water safety. On a summer’s day a fisherman, surfer and boatie all reckon it's “a great day for it”. But thoughtlessness results in tragedy. Directed by Hugh Macdonald (This is New Zealand), the disjunct between the jaunty song on the soundtrack and sunken bodies onscreen anticipates the graphic horror of the late 90s/early 00s road safety ads (sharing kinship with 1971 bush safety PSA Such a Stupid Way to Die). Grant Tilly cameos as a radio DJ.

How to Drown

Short Film, 1951 (Full Length)

In colonial times drowning was so rife it was known as 'the New Zealand death'. This jaunty 1951 educational film is an effort to rid our lakes, rivers and seas of the unfortunate tag through cunning reverse psychology, as swimmers, fishermen and skylarking lads learn "how to drown". It eschews the confrontational realism of many a later PSA for the light-hearted approach: mixing lessons on water safety with silent film-style tomfoolery, gallows humour and the odd bit of sexual innuendo. Features footage of surf lifesavers using the now-archaic rope and reel.

Life On Ben - Series One Compilation

Television, 2003 (Full Length Episodes)

Life on Ben is a partly-animated series for kids exploring the intricacies of skin life. Gordon and Gloob (voiced by Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement and Boy director Taika Waititi) are two symbiotic creatures who go on an unexpected stop motion journey. When their host, 10-year-old Ben, gets an itch in his butt, the plasticine duo find themselves exiled to his nostril. On their quest to get home they meet a petri dish of other microbial folk. Created by Luke Nola (Let’s Get Inventin’), the 10 two-minute episodes — in full here — were distributed internationally.

White for Safety

Short Film, 1952 (Full Length)

This isn't an apartheid manual or minimalist design code, but a 1952 road safety film from the National Film Unit. The film follows 'Mrs White' and 'Mrs Black' leaving their respective homes (on foot) for a bridge evening. Mrs White wears visible clothing and faces the traffic (would a modern colour remake see a Mrs Fluoro?). Mrs Black dresses eponymously and walks with her back to the traffic. Predictable results ensue. Modern viewers who associate such character names with Reservoir Dogs will not be disappointed by the suspenseful denouement.