Arm yourself with jaffas and get set for debate: NZ On Screen has gone out on a limb and selected an all-time NZ feature film Top 10. Starring the icons of the Kiwi big screen — Blondini, Ada, Beth, Boy. Whet your appetite for our finest features via choice 10-minute excerpts of the movies. Cook the man some eggs, we're taking this Top 10 to Invercargill!
According to One Network News newsreader Tom Bradley, “New Zealand’s best hope for a prize” at Cannes in 1995 is Sam Neill and Judy Rymer's documentary Cinema of Unease. Neill’s personal history of Kiwi movies made its debut in the festival’s official competition. Mark Sainsbury reports from Cannes (where the awards haven’t yet been announced, but the film has won rave reviews) and interviews Neill – who reckons Kiwi film has come of age, but needs government support. He also meets Gaylene Preston, who talks sex during wartime, while promoting her documentary War Stories.
It was a Kiwi that invented the jet-boat, so it is probably unsurprising that at the time of this film’s production New Zealand teams had won Mexico's Rio Balsas Marathon three times. Directed by Derek Wright, the award-winning NFU doco showcases what was then the longest jet-boat race yet staged: a five-day 1000km race across NZ, with the locals putting their trophy on the line. The race hits the rapids and — despite the odd tree stump — speeds past scenery on six rivers (from the Whanganui to the Waimakariri), Lake Brunner, and through the surf to Sumner Beach.
This short 1979 National Film Unit documentary heads up the steep bush-clad West Coast valleys from Rūnanga, to profile the men at work at five private coal mines. Director Conon Fraser (Looking at New Zealand) showcases the remarkable DIY resourcefulness required by the small groups of miners. The rugged individuals work the seams, push bins along steep incline railways and dump the loads down vertiginously steep flumes. At the time this film was made waning prospects for the unique way of life were looking up, as high oil prices spurred demand for coal.
Philatelists will delight in this artful National Film Unit production, where stamps are used as a perforated frame for showcasing a pictorial parade of NZ landscapes. The film offers an impressionistic take on the theme, with the landscapes (natural and human) further coloured by poetry and music. Coming from a time before electronic mail, Landscape in Stamps features readings from the work of international poets with scenic sympathies (Whitman, Frost, Thoreau, and more), and the music of composers Vaughan Williams, Handel, Beethoven and Mendelssohn.
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).
This Contact documentary explores what it takes to make it as a motor racing driver: from the roar of speed to the ratio of skill, chance, sponsorship and the role of mechanics. Kiwi star Dave McMillan is followed from days of thunder downunder (where a spectacular crash leads to Formula Pacific victory) to leading the Super Vees in US before a near fatal 1980 accident. McMillan bounced back to win the New Zealand Grand Prix in 1981 and in 1982 won the North American Formula Atlantic Championship. He was inducted into the NZ MotorSport Wall of Fame in 2006.
Made to commemorate the centennial of all New Zealand women winning the right to vote, Standing in the Sunshine charted the journey of Kiwi women over 100 years since 1893. Mixing interviews, archive footage and dramatic inserts, the four-part TV3 series devoted an episode to each of these topics: Freedom, Power, Work, and Sex and Family. Writer Sandra Coney also wrote tie-in book Standing in the Sunshine - A History of New Zealand Women Since they Won the Vote. Those interviewed included artists, mothers, businesswomen — and two future prime ministers.
This documentary looks at the construction of a replica of the HMS Bounty, in Whangerei. The ship was commissioned to be built for a David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia) film of the famous mutiny. Fidelity to the original is paramount, except the 20th Century edition has a steel hull. Construction of the boat carries on regardless of uncertain fortunes of the film, as producer Dino De Laurentiis and David Lean part ways. The Lean film was ultimately unmade after financing faltered, but the boat went on to star in Kiwi director Roger Donaldson's film of the story.
Kiwi icon Lyn of Tawa (Ginette McDonald) — she of mangled vowel fame — goes on the prowl in search of the ultimate Kiwi bloke. The girl-from-the-suburb's mission takes in the gamut of masculine mythology, from Man Alone to mateship, as Lyn provides manthropological reflections ("can a woman ever be a mate?"). Made when the good keen man was facing up to the challenge from SNAGs, the documentary travels from the West Coast (for sex education) to a men's club, from rugby scrums to rabbit culls, and meets hunters, lawyers, students and gay ten-pin bowlers.