For a small country from the edge of the world, achievements on the Olympic stage are badges — silver fern-on-black — of national pride: precious moments where we gained notice (even if it was Mum’s anthem playing on the dais). This legacy collection draws on archive footage, some rarely seen, to celebrate the stories behind Kiwis going for gold.
Sponsored by the Crusader Shipping Company, this 1966 National Film Unit production joins one of the firm's ships as it transports NZ products from Auckland to Asia — home to “one quarter of the human race, 900 million customers”. As milk powder, wool, mutton, apples, cheese and deer antlers are delivered to ports in the Philippines, China, Japan, and Hong Kong, director Ron Bowie observes cultural difference and economic opportunity; and a “westernising” Orient is beautifully captured by Kell Fowler. The NFU crew were rare foreign observers in Chairman Mao’s China.
This debut feature from director Niki Caro follows a Tokyo woman and her fiance who elope to New Zealand. A stunted beginning to their sexual relationship is overcome in a cave on an isolated West Coast beach. Shortly afterwards he drowns. She returns to a suffocating Tokyo before being drawn back to the cave. The restrained study of eroticism and grief was based on a short story by Peter Wells (itself inspired by a true story). Desire was selected for Critics' Week at Cannes (1998), and won best film at 1999's NZ Film Awards and a special jury prize for Caro.
This edition of the 1987 Inspiration series on Kiwi artists looks at potter James (Jim) Greig, and his search for the “spark of life” found in clay. The Peter Coates-directed documentary visits Greig’s Wairarapa studio to interview him and his wife Rhondda, also an artist. Greig’s influences are surveyed: the work of Kiwi potter Len Castle, nature, orphanhood, and Japan (where his work achieved renown). The film captures the visceral process of making large works for a Wellington City Gallery exhibition. Greig died of a heart attack, aged 50, while this film was being made.
In September 2000 New Zealand's greatest athlete was surprised with the 'Big Red Book'. Paul Holmes reunites Snell with figures in his life, from the Rome 800m silver and bronze medallists, to Opunake locals, and influential coach Arthur Lydiard. The tribute to his peerless career includes footage of Olympic triumphs and world records, and revelation of a performance enhancing drug: Fanta. Snell expresses pride in his academic achievement, where — despite a faltering start at Mt Albert Grammar — he is now director of the Human Performance Lab, University of Texas.
Like many of his generation in the United Kingdom, Ray Green was called up for National Service. But it wasn’t until he and his mates were almost on the troopship heading to Korea in 1951, that they realised they were going to fight. Green’s Welsh regiment spent a full year in the combat zone. Danger was ever-present as they patrolled on pitch black nights with the enemy just two thousand metres away, or over the next hill. As he recounts in this interview, Green escaped death or injury on several occasions. He relives it every night, but says it was an adventure he wouldn’t have missed.
This NFU newsreel begins with a potted history of Korea, from the founding of the “land of the morning calm” to the devastation wrought from the 1950 invasion of South Korea by communist North Korea. The Asian country was of interest to New Zealanders as Kiwi troops (‘Kayforce’) were stationed there, helping defend the south under United Nations command. Kiwi soldiers are shown playing footy, and on leave in Tokyo, before the gunners see action supporting an infantry advance across the 38th Parallel, and a NZ Navy frigate takes on a shore battery.
This March 1976 Encounter item catches up on athlete Peter Snell while studying human performance at University of California, Davis — 12 years after his double Olympic triumph in Tokyo. When world champion mile runner John Walker turns up, Snell takes him for a jog, and puts Walker through his paces in the Human Performance Laboratory. The pair muse over life, sport, success, choosing your future, and which of them is the best. The master counsels his heir on the upcoming Montreal Olympics, after Walker expresses fear at becoming the “biggest failure in history".
The trucks of NZ Army Service Corps were a familiar sight in 1950s Korea, according to this short National Film Unit newsreel. The focus is on New Zealand’s military involvement in the Korean War (1950-1953) — the narrator also says that in just over a year NZ guns fired over 250,000 rounds. Footage highlights the contrast between city life in Tokyo, Japan, where NZ soldiers went on leave; and the ruins of war-torn Korea. There’s also footage of NZ servicemen performing a haka before a footy game.
This NFU classic tells Peter Snell's story, up until just before his triumph at the Tokyo Olympics (he'd already won 800 metres gold in Rome, and beaten the world record for the mile). Snell's commentary — focused, candid — plays over footage of training and some of his key races. "It always gives a feeling of exhilaration to run in the New Zealand all black singlet." Snell offers insights into the marathon-style training of coach Arthur Lydiard (15 miles daily, 100 miles a week), and there's priceless footage of Snell running through bush and leaping fences in Auckland's Waiatarua hills.