This collection looks at some of New Zealand's most significant national tragedies. Spanning 150+ years, it tells stories of drama, caution, hope and recovery — from the 1863 wreck of the Orpheus at Manukau Heads, to Tarawera, the Wahine, Erebus, Pike River and Christchurch. In the backgrounder, Jock Phillips writes about the collection, and the "common sequence" to disaster.
The Fantasy Cave is a DIY Disneyland built in the town of Dannevirke. Created by a group of older locals known as ‘Cave Dwellers’ as a Christmas-themed grotto in 1989, the cave has evolved to become a quirky tourist attraction, encompassing animatronics and astral light displays. Directed by Michelle Savill (Ellen is Leaving) and cinematographer Matt Henley, this 2015 Loading Docs short introduces us to the horse-headed retirees and their homespun wonderlands, and the happiness they find in “making stuff”.
In 1982 Eve Van Grafhorst contracted HIV via a blood transfusion she received after being born prematurely. Hysteria about the disease led to Van Grafhorst being cast as a pariah in her Australian community, and in 1986 she and her family fled to Hastings in New Zealand. She became an AIDS poster child and helped shift attitudes to the disease. This documentary, which screened on TVNZ eight months after her November 1993 death, tells her story through the eyes of her mother, who is interviewed by broadcaster Paul Holmes (a friend of Eve).
Director Karl Zohrab’s docudrama makes the case for World War I military leader Major General Sir Andrew Russell to be resurrected in Kiwi popular memory alongside the likes of Freyberg. Based on Jock Vennell's biography, the film spans Russell’s life from his Hawke’s Bay childhood to Gallipoli and the Western Front — where the New Zealand Division commander was acknowledged for his tactical nous — to the latent effect of his war experience. It screened on The History Channel for Anzac Day 2014. Colin Moy (In My Father’s Den) plays Russell in battlefield dramatisations.
The Hawke’s Bay earthquake was New Zealand’s worst civil disaster. Over 250 people died following the 7.8 quake on 3 February 1931. In this full-length documentary, director Gaylene Preston (Hope and Wire) gathers eyewitness accounts from survivors, including kuia Hana Lyola Cotter, who recounts joining the rescue effort as a teen, poet Lauris Edmond, and a student from Greenmeadows Seminary. Included is eye-opening newsreel footage of the damage. Earthquake was nominated for Best Popular Documentary at the 2006 Qantas TV Awards; it won best sound at the NZ Screen Awards.
Filmed over four years, This Way of Life documents the story of Hawkes Bay hunter and horse wrangler Peter Ottley-Karena, wife Colleen (Ngāti Maniapoto), and their six children. Intercut with Peter's articulate bush philosophy, it captures the family's romantic, dignified relationship to each other and to the natural world. Ever-present amongst the challenges their commitment to a 'simple life' faces is Peter's broken relationship with his step-father. Life received a special mention at the Berlin Film Festival; Variety called it "resonant and stunningly shot".
In this episode from the fifth season of Māori Television’s long-running hunting show, presenter Howie Morrison Junior meets Department of Conservation ranger Eddie Te Kahika — then choppers into the Kaweka ranges in the Hawkes Bay with veteran pilot Spencer Putwain, for some aerial culling. Eddie discusses the win-win kaupapa of the culling: protect the beech forest from collapse caused by browsing, and keep the deer in fit shape for hunting. Then Howie stalks sika deer with Spencer’s partner, Sam Rust. The tip of the week is having an EPIRB (emergency locator beacon).
In the third episode of this doco about a doco, Byron Coll’s Sid shows visits Uncle Clive (Tim Spite) to ask for a loan, while his gung ho film crew prepares to launch some vigilante justice if the deal doesn’t go through. He shows Clive the dramatic slow-mo trailer, featuring Mr Baker as the king of Belgium and head of the petrochemical company crushed by the small Hawkes Bay town of Woodville. Sid is reacquainted with the lovely aspiring actress Jane (musical comedienne Hayley Sproull) but makes a dodgy impression.
This 1978 National Film Unit documentary provides a potted history of settler groups that came to New Zealand from Europe. Archive material and narration covers the colonials. Then visits are paid to the German-descended Eggers, tobacco growers from Moutere, and newly arrived French bakers and Dutch dairy farmers. Aptly for a film directed by actor and future winemaker Sam Neill, the film drops in on an Italian play and the Babich family of Dalmatian winemakers. Neill worked at the NFU in his 20s, around the time of his breakout acting role in Sleeping Dogs (1977).
In this 1998 documentary, made for TV3’s Inside New Zealand slot, prisoners provide straight-talking descriptions of life on the inside. Collectively rejecting any idea of prison as a soft option, they talk about missing sunlight, closing up emotionally, and how even “the staunchest” end up crying. One long-timer argues that imprisonment is an expected part of becoming a gang member. Statistics provide food for thought about the life cycle of criminality — 78 per cent of inmates have no school qualifications; 80 per cent were abused as children.