Packed with creatures and landscapes that quite simply boggle the mind, the Nature Collection showcases New Zealand's impressive menagerie of nature and wildlife films. Many of the titles were made by powerhouse company NHNZ, which began around 1977 as the Natural History Unit, a small, southern outpost of state television. In this backgrounder, Peter Hayden — who had a hand in more than a few of these classic films — guides viewers through just what the Nature Collection has to offer.
Exhuming Adams investigates the mysterious disappearance of a species of New Zealand mistletoe plant, 50 years ago. Set among dusty museum collections, high-tech labs, and remote bush, this documentary is a natural history CSI. A canny forensic investigation, taking in preserved bellbird skins, last witnesses and CGI modelling, reveals the chain of events leading to the unique plant's extinction, and a surprising culprit. Directors Brant Backlund and Thassilo Franke won the BBC Best Newcomer Award at the prestigious British film festival Wildscreen in 2006.
NZ On Screen’s Dunedin Collection offers up the sights and sounds of a city edged by ocean, and famed for its music. Dunedin is a bracing mixture of old and new: of Victorian buildings and waves of fresh-faced students, many of them carrying guitars. As Dave Cull reflects in his introduction, it is a city where distance is no barrier to creativity and innovation.
This Coming Home episode introduces two Kiwi "pioneers in their fields": psychologist John Money and horse expert Wayne McIlwraith. Colorado-based McIlwraith works on top racehorses around the globe, then goes climbing on his rare days off. Money was celebrated and criticised for his game-changing work on gender and sexuality. Returning for a visit downunder, he sets about donating his artworks to a museum in Gore. The episode was made soon after doubts were first raised about the success of Money's most famous case of gender reassignment, David Reimer.
It's not too big a stretch to say songwriter Martin Phillipps 'is' The Chills, one of the most distinctive pop bands to have come out of New Zealand. This documentary examines the complicated talent behind some iconic pop songs and finds him at a crossroads in his life, facing very real consequences after years of alcohol and drug dependency. Phillipps opens up about his desire to leave a proper legacy, while a selection of ex-band mates lay bare their experience of being a Chill. The film debuted at US festival South by Southwest, where it won the first of many enthusiastic reviews.
Before he was a British MP Austin Mitchell spent time downunder, where he was a well known NZBC broadcaster in the 60s and published bestselling book The Half Gallon Quarter Acre Pavlova Paradise, a satirical commentary on all things Kiwi. In the first part of this three part series, he returns south to clock the changes. He begins at Otago University, where he lectured in the 60s, and notes a new Pākehā view of their history. Mitchell then talks wine with actor Sam Neill in Central Otago, and en route to Christchurch meets some uniquely 'mainland' entrepreneurs.
In this episode of the beloved education-focused magazine programme for children the trio of presenters (Ole Maiava, Amber Cunliffe, and future Amazing Race host Phil Keoghan) get touchy with tuna (māori for eel) and other sea creatures. Cunliffe visits an eel fishery at Lake Ellesmere; then Maiava and Keoghan get close to kina, crabs and anemone at Otago University’s Marine Studies Centre. In the second segment Keoghan gets kitted up and meets with some Canterbury ice hockey enthusiasts; he manages, mostly, to stay on his feet, and tries out goal tending.
In Scarfies, five Dunedin students find themselves in a free squat, and a dark place, after taking a criminal captive in their basement. The debut feature from Robert Sarkies starts as a comic tribute to Otago student days, then turns into a psychological thriller. Outside of the two Warriors movies, Scarfies was the most successful Kiwi release of the 90s on home turf. It went on to scoop best film, director and screenplay awards at the 2000 NZ Film and TV Awards. This excerpt sees the scarfies torn between dealing with the crim and a footy match at Carisbrook.
The early 80s were the apex of the local beauty pageant — Lorraine Downes won Miss Universe in 1983, and more Kiwis watched the 1981 Miss New Zealand contest on TV than Charles and Di’s wedding. This 1984 Miss World New Zealand live telecast was legendary for host Peter Sinclair announcing the wrong winner (clip six). Miss Auckland Barbara McDowell’s runner up sash is swiftly swapped for a crown and she is (eventually) made the first part-Samoan Miss NZ. A retro delight is the beauties dancing to Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ in an Oamaru quarry.
From a pre-Mythbusters but post-blackboard and pointer era, Christchurch-produced Science Express took a current affairs approach to reporting contemporary NZ scientific research. Presented by broadcaster Ken Ellis this 1984 ‘best of’ dives beneath fiords to explore mysterious black coral forests; and looks at teeth transplants, efforts to stimulate deer fawning, and the STD chlamydia. Finally the show visits Wellington and Christchurch Town Halls to profile concert hall acoustics pioneer Harold Marshall, and his mission to attain perfect sound for listeners.