On a Tuesday evening in April 1968, the ferry Wahine set out from Lyttelton for Wellington. Around 6am the next morning, cyclone-fuelled winds surged in strength as it began to enter Wellington Harbour. At 1.30pm, with the ferry listing heavily to starboard, the call was finally made for 734 passengers and crew to abandon ship. The news coverage and documentaries in this collection explore the Wahine disaster from many angles. Meanwhile Keith Aberdein — one of the TV reporters who was there — explores his memories and regrets over that fateful day on 10 April 1968.
Hosted by musician and artist Chris Knox, this series pairs Kiwi artists with communities to create epic works of art. Reuben Paterson, who is well-known for using glitter and big bold patterns, heads to Bethells Beach in West Auckland to create an optical illusion on the black sand shoreline. Locals, including mayor Bob Harvey, pick up shovels to create the masterpiece, racing against the clock before high tide arrives. A relaxed Paterson pushes on, despite plans going awry. "I’m so used to doing big art projects, we’ve got to think positive and that everything is possible.”
In this series celebrating diversity in Kiwi neighbourhoods, former Highlanders prop Kees Meeuws introduces an eclectic mix of migrants who call North Dunedin home. Meeuws muses that the student-filled suburb "on a clear day, sparkles like the jewel in the crown of Dunedin". A Japanese student enriches his life by volunteering to help an elderly woman, a German jewellery designer explores identity in her creations, an Afghani family celebrate New Year's Day with a feast, and an eighth generation Indonesian puppet master shows off his snake-shaped dagger.
As a member of the Ulster Volunteer Force, Brian Deeds (Belfast-born actor Ian McElhinney) grassed on 23 fellow terrorists in Northern Ireland. Now living in New Zealand under a new identity, Deeds has to come clean to his girlfriend (Judy McIntosh) when a hit squad arrives in town for him. This clip sees guns and car crashes on the streets of Dunedin. Made in NZ, the Anglo-Kiwi funded TV movie won solid audiences on UK television, before local release on video. Ian Mune (Came a Hot Friday) directs; Marshall Napier and Temuera Morrison are the cops playing catch up.
The Ballantyne's Department Store fire of 18 November 1947 was — until the 2011 earthquake — Christchurch’s biggest disaster. It claimed 41 lives and, as the narration says, was “one of the greatest civil tragedies New Zealand has known.” Shot by National Film Unit crew who happened to be in the city for another film, Christchurch Fire shows the battle to beat the blaze: from the mass of hoses on Cashel St, to a fireman swapping a ciggie for a cup of tea. After the footage was rushed to Wellington, the film debuted in cinemas the night after the fire, and was also seen overseas.
In the late 1980s, Kiwi John Britten developed and built a revolutionary racing motorcycle. He pursued his dream all the way to Daytona International Speedway in Florida. In 1991 the underdog inventor came second against the biggest and richest manufacturers in the world. Britten: Backyard Visionary documents the maverick motorcycle designer as he and his crew rush to create an even better bike for the next Daytona. After arriving in Florida, another all-nighter is required to fix an untested vehicle with many major innovations. Costa Botes writes about the documentary here.
Māori Battalion - March To Victory tells the story of the New Zealand Army's (28th) Māori Battalion, which fought in campaigns during World War ll. Director and writer Tainui Stephens sets out in the feature-length documentary to tell the stories of five men who served with the unit, and also "capture how they felt about it". Narration by actor George Henare, remembrances, visits to historic sites, archival footage, and graphic stills create a respectful and stirring screen testament to the men who fought in the Battalion. Stephens writes about the film in the backgrounder.
Harry Varnham was scarred both physically and mentally by his experience of World War One. In this episode of Great War Stories, his family explain why they believe the trauma of war eventually led him to take his own life decades later. Wounded during the Battle of Messines in Belgium, Varnham returned to the front and was seriously wounded again at Le Quesnoy. He was evacuated to London; he was just 19 when his leg was amputated. Back in New Zealand, Varnham married later in life and had two daughters, but he never overcame the mental scars from his time serving in WWI.
The hard-working search and rescue volunteers of Wanaka and Fiordland are profiled in South Pacific Pictures series High Country Rescue. This eighth episode looks at an elderly mountain biker who’s taken a tumble, an injured Israeli hiker who has good fortune with some kind locals, and an embarrassed young new year's reveller who underestimates the cold of Mt Roy. Despite the trying situations the volunteers keep spirits high. One rescue turns to farce when the responders get their ute stuck up a hill and require a rescue of their own.
Between 1964-1972, 4,000 young New Zealanders volunteered for service in Vietnam. Itching to get out into the world and do something exciting, the thrills were soon replaced by the grim reality of war. Things deteriorated further when they returned home to face an angry public; they were told to get out of their uniform quickly and not to tell anyone where they had been. This documentary gives the soldiers a chance to tell their stories for the first time. Interspersed with the interviews are 8mm film clips and selected official war footage.