The Colombo Plan was a Commonwealth “federation of neighbours” which aimed to counter communism in Asia by providing development aid in the area's poorer countries. This National Film Unit short, directed by future NFU manager David H Fowler, ranges across Asia as it surveys New Zealand’s contributions to the postwar plan: funding hospitals, agriculture and education in Indonesia, Malaya, Sarawak, North Borneo, Pakistan and India. The film also visits Colombo students in their home countries, passing on skills that they learned while studying at NZ universities.
Musician, DJ and accomplished sailor Andrew Fagan heads to Indonesia with guitar in hand — plus some miniature sail boats. The trip includes an active volcano, a dodgy riverboat, the peaceful vibe of an Islamic festival, and some catchy Fagan tunes. The result is a standout episode, thanks partly to an enthusiastic and straight-talking host: a man who makes the most of each moment, without turning his head away from the realities of poverty, or the after-effects of terrorist bombing. Warning: animal lovers may want to avoid certain scenes.
This 1945 newsreel reports on the repatriation of New Zealand prisoners held in Japanese camps during the war in the Pacific. Cameraman Stan Wemyss (grandfather of Russell Crowe) ranges across Asia with the RNZAF — from Changi in Singapore, to camps in Java (Indonesia), and Siam (Thailand). The narration notes grimly that “the movie camera does not record the stench of death”; and returned PoW, Dr Johns of Auckland, implores for the sake of the children: “that the experiences that we have gone through at the hands of the Japanese shall never, never again be possible.”
This post-war Weekly Review boards a RNZAF Dakota flying “the longest air route in the world”: a weekly 17,000 mile ‘hop’ taking mail to Jayforce, the Kiwi occupation force in Japan. Auckland to Iwakuni via Norfolk Island, Australia (including a pub pit-stop in the outback), Indonesia, the slums of Singapore, Saigon, Hong Kong; then Okinawa, Manilla and home. Director Cecil Holmes’ pithy comments on postcolonial friction and rich and poor avoided censorship, but won a warning not to rock the boat. The next year he was controversially sacked from the National Film Unit.
After her son Kamal Bamadhaj — a New Zealand Malaysian student of history and Indonesian politics — was shot dead in the Dili massacre in East Timor in 1991, New Zealander Helen Todd decided to pursue a law suit against the Indonesian general she believed was responsible. Her personal and political campaign for justice would eventually span five continents and four years. The documentary from director Annie Goldson (An Island Calling) won acclaim, and a number of awards at international film festivals.
This 1982 Kaleidoscope report interviews artist Theo Schoon, on his return to New Zealand after a decade in Sydney and Bali. Schoon was a pioneer as a Pākehā engaging with Māori design, melding modernist and Māori motifs (e.g. moko and kowhaiwhai patterns). He discusses his earlier estrangement from the New Zealand art world ("talking to the deaf"), his eight years documenting Māori cave drawings ("art galleries of a sort, art galleries that I'd never been conscious of"), growing and carving gourds, and being inspired by Rotorua’s geothermal activity. Schoon died in 1985.
The iconic all-things-rural show is the longest running programme on New Zealand television. With its typical patient observational style (that allows stories of people and the land to gently unfold) it’s an unlikely broadcasting star, but New Zealanders continue, after 50 plus years, to tune in. Amongst the bucolic tales of farming, fishing and forestry, there are high country musters, floods, organic brewing, falconry, tobacco farming, as well as a fencing wire-playing farmer-musician, a radio-controlled dog, and Fred Dagg and the Trevs.
Using plenty of his own photographs to illustrate his story, Errol Schroder takes us back to the 50s, 60s and 70s to provide his memories of being a photographer with the New Zealand Air Force (Schroder also spent three years in the navy). His Air Force career saw him posted through the Pacific and South East Asia. In Vietnam, there are tales of nervous times on American bases, and a hair-raising patrol in an OV-10 Bronco aircraft. Even in retirement, action came Errol’s way — his home was wrecked in the September 2010 Christchurch earthquake.
Gamelan music has been taught and played at Victoria University (and later the NZ School of Music) since the mid 70s, when lecturer Allan Thomas purchased a set of gamelan instruments on the Indonesian island of Java. This magazine piece from arts show 10AM showcases Victoria’s gamelan orchestra in action. Thomas and fellow lecturer Jack Body provide eloquent testimony to the popularity of this age-old music, and the access point it offers into Asian culture for New Zealanders. Body also provides his own spin on a gamelan composition.
Annie Goldson, NZOM, is probably New Zealand's most award-laden documentary filmmaker. She is known for her thought-provoking feature-length documentaries Punitive Damage, Georgie Girl, An Island Calling, and Brother Number One. Goldson’s recent documentary He Toki Huna: New Zealand in Afghanistan (made with Kay Ellmers) looks at New Zealand’s longest millitary engagement.