'No 8 wire' Kiwi ingenuity is defined by problem solving from few resources (No 8 wire is fencing wire that can be adapted to many uses, an ability that was particularly handy for isolated NZ settlers). Embodied in heroes from Richard Pearse to PJ, Kiwi ingenuity is a quality dear to our national sense of self. It has been memorably celebrated, and sometimes satirised, on screen.
This 1960 National Film Unit documentary visits the Cook Islands, a group of volcanic isles and coral atolls administered by New Zealand. Ron Bowie's film surveys the challenges of island life (sourcing fresh water, lack of timber for housing) as well as agriculture (coconuts), recreation and schooling. Though patronising — describing Rarotongan people as “the cheerful islander” — the narration confronts some impacts of modernity (eg the shift to European diet for dental health), and anticipates young people will be the islands' biggest export.
This 1949 NFU film visits Western Samoa. Director Stanhope Andrews surveys life in the “lotus land of the Pacific”, showing taro and coconut harvest, cooking in umu, and church and fale building, as “the flower-decked girls sing and dance beneath the palms”. The benefits of New Zealand’s then-administration are shown (eg. medical services, education) but the travelogue ignores earlier ignominious acts, such as the quarantine blunder that saw one in five Samoans fall to influenza. The Olemani Aufaipese (choir) provides the score. Samoa won independence in 1962.
Love Story sees director Florian Habicht finding a movie, a plot, and a beautiful Ukranian on the streets of New York. The offbeat romance is part love letter to NYC, part the story of Florian and Masha, and possibly part true: with the script to this genre-bending tryst being written before our eyes, via story ideas from real life New Yorkers. Love Story won Aotearoa awards for best film and director, and raves from Variety and the Herald’s Peter Calder, who described Auckland Film Festival audiences gasping at the "strange, surprising and wildly romantic ideas sprinkled through it".
Web series The Factory is a tale of family and music, inspired by a stage show that became one of the hits of the 2013 Auckland Arts Festival, then travelled to Australia and the Edinburgh Festival. In the fourth episode, try-hard next door neighbour Api tells Losa she ought to be singing alongside him, in the upcoming talent quest. Losa responds by comparing his haircut to a toilet brush. Meanwhile Losa's mother Lily is somewhat surprised to arrive at a party, and find her oven out on the street.
The first leg of Peter Hayden’s journey across latitude 45 south takes him across the Waitaki Plains and up to Danseys Pass. He visits the site of a moa butchery and the sunken circular umuti (cabbage tree ovens) of early Māori. Guided by colonial literature, he visits New Zealand’s tallest tree (a eucalypt, which he finds horizontal). Drought busting desperation of 1889 and the provenance of Corriedale sheep is also covered. In a riparian side trip, Hayden heads up the Maerewhenua River where gold miners succeeded only in ravaging the landscape.
Real Pasifik is a roving celebration of Pacific food and culture. Inspired by chef Robert Oliver’s acclaimed cookbook Me’a Kai, the show follows Oliver as he travels across the Pacific, aiming to inspire resort chefs to showcase indigenous cuisine. In this opening episode of the first series, Oliver heads to the Cook Islands where he visits a marae for a kai blessing, before tasting goat and taro from an an umu (earth oven). He goes lagoon spear fishing, samples pink potato salad (aka ‘mayonnaise’) and serves up a banquet of locally-cooked food to assembled VIPs.
On a two week journey through India, Pio Terei discovers that if you want to relax, you should probably visit another country entirely. From Delhi to the deserts of Rajasthan, this full-length episode sees him trying every mode of transport — including tuk tuk, camel, elephant, motorcycle and train. Along the way he floats up the sacred Ganges River, visits the Taj Mahal, buys a Pashmina shawl for his wife, and eats a meal cooked in a dung oven, traditional-Rajasthani style. He also greets a great many locals, and remains upbeat despite the challenges of travelling in a very different culture.
After concocting all manner of outlandish images on 8mm film, Bad Taste was Peter Jackson’s breakthrough; years in the making, it was the first feature to make it from his Pukerua Bay backyard to cinema screens, where it quickly began to rack up sales. An all-male cast of public service Alien Investigation and Detection Service operatives run amok with guns, food, vomit, rockets and misguided enthusiasm, to rid the earth of alien Lord Crumb and his fast-food gang — who want to turn earthlings into hamburgers. Jackson took two acting roles in this ‘splatstick’ sensation.
Peter Hudson was the dark-haired half of Hudson and Halls, whose cookery show won high ratings and a 1981 public vote for entertainer of the year. Hudson and partner David Halls' shows were marked by comic banter, and the occasional oven fire. Later they relocated to London, to make programmes for the BBC.