John Wilkinson didn’t realise until after the end of World War ll that he’d broken his back when the plane he was piloting in North Africa was shot down. Captured and beaten up by Italian soldiers, interrogated by the Gestapo, John eventually ended up in the notorious Stalag Luft III prison camp in what is now Poland. He was involved in the Wooden Horse Escape, one of the most famous of the war. Later he would meet his future wife at the camp, a displaced person from Lithuania. Now 95, John’s memory of his wartime experiences remains undimmed.
This 1944 newsreel documents arrivals at a Wellington wharf from the Middle East: New Zealand soldiers and Polish children. For the refugees it was the conclusion of an epic wartime survival tale: an exodus from Poland via Siberian labour camps, to being greeted by Prime Minister Peter Fraser in NZ. The Poles then take the train past waving crowds to their new home: a camp in Pahīatua. Twenty years later the children were revisited in Kathleen O’Brien’s classic 1966 documentary The Story of Seven-Hundred Polish Children.
This 1967 documentary tells the story of 734 Polish children who were adopted by New Zealand in 1944 as WWII refugees. Moving interviews, filmed 20 years later, document their harrowing exodus from Poland: via Siberian labour camps, malnutrition and death, to being greeted by PM Peter Fraser on arrival in NZ. From traumatic beginnings the film chronicles new lives (as builders, doctors, educators, and mothers) and ends with a family beach picnic. Made for television, this was one of the last productions directed by pioneering woman filmmaker Kathleen O'Brien.
This Lookout special follows colourful property tycoon Bob Jones hustling on the 1984 campaign trail, and talking up his newly-formed New Zealand Party. The outspoken advocate for free market liberalisation drew crowds at halls across New Zealand. The Rocky theme music shamelessly plays as boxing fan Jones approaches the rostrum. The party was ultimately short-lived and won no seats, but achieved its goal of denying National a third term by splitting the vote. The documentary includes scenes of the libertarian attempting to dictate how television media filmed him.
This NFU production covers the Shah of Iran’s first tour downunder, and uses the occasion to showcase New Zealand to international viewers: from scenery to topdressing, dental clinics and Wellington Girls’ College. The four day visit could be seen as a symbol of globalisation: NZ had been cut adrift by Britain and was looking for markets for its lamb, cheese and wool, and to secure oil supplies. The Shah needed food for his modernising petroleum exporting country. (The booming trade was to be curtailed by the 1979 Iranian Revolution, when the Shah was exiled.)
This Kiwi neighbours at war ‘dramedy’ pitted the Rush family — newly arrived in Ponsonby —against the Shorts, who are long-time renters next door. Arthur Short (Patrick Wilson) is a Kiwi battler solo Dad, with two teenage daughters; Dimity Rush (Danielle Cormack) the right wing HR manager whose partner is an anaesthetist, with two teen sons. In this first episode, Dimity aspires to climb the property ladder by scheming to get the Shorts’ house as an investment doer-upper. The satire of gentrification screened on TV One on Friday nights. The cast includes Rose McIvor (iZombie).
Wellington's Today Tonight began, along with other regional news shows in Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin, after the amalgamation of TV One and SPTV in 1980. Its catchment was diverse, covering the wider Wellington area, Taranaki, Hawkes Bay, the Wairarapa and extending to Nelson, Marlborough and the West Coast in the South Island. Presenters over the years included Roger Gascoigne, Leighton Smith, Mike Bodnar and Mark Leishman. The regional news shows bowed out in Auckland and Wellington in 1989, having yielded to the Holmes era.
Taika Waititi's 80s extravaganza wouldn't have been complete without the man himself arriving on set in a DeLorean — the time-travelling car from Back to the Future. The clip for The Phoenix Foundation is another homage-packed example of lo-fi genius from the Oscar nominated director. Note how Eastern European-derived keyboardist Luke Buda is playing a 'Poland' synthesizer. Said Waititi: "I spotted the DeLorean parked near our flat in Mt Cook, and left a note under the wiper saying 'what year are you from?' Turns it was one of two owned by a local doctor."
Niki Caro's near wordless Sure to Rise was nominated for best short film at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival. Four years later her debut feature Memory and Desire was invited to Cannes. Caro followed it with Whale Rider, winner of more than 27 awards, and still one of New Zealand's most successful films abroad. Since then Caro has directed everywhere from vineyards in France to mining towns in Minnesota.
Vincent Ward has won an international reputation as an original and visionary filmmaker. Vigil and The Navigator played in competition at the Cannes Film Festival (the first New Zealand features to do so). Docudrama Rain of the Children (2008) revisited people from his 1980 documentary In Spring One Plants Alone. Ward also directed Robin Williams afterlife drama What Dreams May Come.