Open Door is a community-based TV series where groups or individuals make a documentary about an issue that concerns them. This episode is about The Papermill - a charitable organisation based near Whangarei, where artists with intellectual disabilities create decorative paper products. Papermill Creative Director Trees van Ruth, along with parents of the disabled artists, and the artists themselves talk about this thriving small business and tourist attraction, and stress the positive impact it has on the self-esteem of its workers.
This NFU short features the first 'official' colour footage of the Waitomo Caves. Perhaps wary of playing its ace card too early, Waitomo finds time to showcase local beaches and hotel ping-pong tables before moving underground. A wave of Phantom of the Opera-style organ music accompanies the tour party as they enter Waitomo’s limestone grottos, then float down an eerie underground river. Meanwhile the narrator reimagines earlier cave explorations — by English surveyor Fred Mace and local chief Tane Tinorau — into a tale of one lone white man and his candle.
This National Film Unit film visits Christchurch roughly four years before the main event, to promote the city’s readiness to host the Commonwealth Games. A comical potted history of New Zealand precedes a montage of young women cycling around Canterbury environs and a split screen catalogue of NZ tourist attractions, before getting into a survey of the venues. As the opening demonstrates, “there’s always a traditional welcome awaiting our friends!” In 1973 the NFU completed a second film called Christchurch 74, before covering the games themselves in the feature-length Games 74.
Made for the New Zealand Government Tourist Bureau by independent company Neuline, this 1950 film promotes “New Zealand’s big-sea fighting fish” as an overseas tourist attraction. First stop is Mayor Island near Tauranga, then it’s off to the Bay of Islands to land mako shark and marlin. Neuline was one of a handful of independent production companies in postwar New Zealand; Neuline boss Robert Steele pioneered the commercial use of 16mm film here. Although the narration purports to be that of an overseas visitor, it is actually Selwyn Toogood, who narrated many of Steele’s films.
The Fantasy Cave is a DIY Disneyland built in the town of Dannevirke. Created by a group of older locals known as ‘Cave Dwellers’ as a Christmas-themed grotto in 1989, the cave has evolved to become a quirky tourist attraction, encompassing animatronics and astral light displays. Directed by Michelle Savill (Ellen is Leaving) and cinematographer Matt Henley, this 2015 Loading Docs short introduces us to the horse-headed retirees and their homespun wonderlands, and the happiness they find in “making stuff”.
Shot by photographer Brian Brake as a NFU tourism promo, Snows of Aorangi surveys New Zealand's mountain landscapes. Brake captures stunning imagery: ethereal ice forests, lightning storms, volcanic craters, glaciers, avalanches, kea. Three skiers are mesmerising as they scythe downhill from Almer Hut: "for a little while they've given themselves to the rhythm of sky and earth" runs the James K Baxter-scripted narration. It was the first NZ film to compete for an Oscar, nominated in the Best Short Subject (Live Action) category in 1959.
This upbeat National Film Unit award-winner is about late New Zealand artist, conservationist, and rail enthusiast Barry Brickell. Filmed at his first studio and home in the Coromandel, it follows the progress of his large-scale works from start to finish. Accompanied by a jazzy soundtrack, Brickell works his clay alone in the sun. Amidst the five-finger and harakeke of the Coromandel bush, the making of New Zealand art has never looked more picturesque. Brickell died on 23 January 2016, at the age of 80. The short documentary was made as part of the Pictorial Parade series.
This NFU tourism promo from 1986 showcases all that the north of the North Island has to offer. As holidaymakers Dave and Julia peruse the sights and sounds of Auckland, they provide a high speed guided tour of its nightlife and many attractions. After Julia exits unexpectedly for LA — possibly to moonlight on another tourist film — Dave is joined by Jacky. The two venture up to Ninety Mile Beach and, after exploring the native bush and enjoying a spot of fishing, end their stay with a bonfire by the sea, a stark contrast to the cosmopolitan delights of Auckland.
This 1969 film promotes the attractions, industry and history of “contemporary Rotorua”, from the Arawa canoe to forestry, from mud pool hangi to the Ward baths (“heavenly for hangovers”). The score is jazz, and the narration is flavoured by the impressive baritone of opera singer Inia Te Wiata (father of actress Rima), who gushes about geysers and Rotorua’s evolution from sleepy tourist backwater to modern city and conference centre. Also featured: kapa haka, meter maids in traditional Māori dress, and a rendition of classic song ‘Me He Manu Rere’ in a meeting house jive.
Ron Skelley spent 36 years with the National Film Unit’s sound department, contributing to the soundtracks of Weekly Review, Pictorial Parade, and many other NFU and independent films. He started at the NFU in 1949, and was in charge of the sound department from 1977 until his retirement in 1985. Skelley died in March 1992. Image Credit: Photo from The Evening Post, courtesy of Fairfax Media