Train enthusiast David Sims captured the dying days of steam trains in this 1968 National Film Unit short. It features arresting images of a Kb class locomotive billowing steam as it tackles the Southern Alps, en route from Canterbury to the West Coast. Kb Country was released in Kiwi cinemas in January 1968, just months before the steam locomotives working the Midland Line were replaced by diesel-electrics. Sims earned his directing stripes with the film. As he writes in this background piece, making it involved a mixture of snow, joy and at least two moments of complete terror.
In the mid 1970s the Chatham Island black robin was the world's rarest bird. With only two females left, the conservation ante was extreme. Enter saviour Don Merton and his Wildlife Service team. Their pioneering efforts ranged from abseiling the birds (including the 'Eve' of her species, 'Old Blue') down cliff faces, to left-field libido spurs. This 1988 Listener Film and TV award-winner united two earlier Wild South documentaries, and updated the robin’s rescue story to 1987. It originally screened on Christmas Day 1987, before being modified for this 1989 edition.
A wandering fortune teller parks her house truck in Hokitika on a mission to find the daughter she gave up for adoption. This is Magik. One of her first clients, a young happily married chemist's assistant, is seeking a solution to her infertility. This is Rose. Magik, too, is resolved to have another child, but without having to keep the father around. They embark on a joint odyssey for love, sex and pregnancy in writer/director Vanessa Alexander’s feature debut (made when she was 28). David Stratton in Variety praised the film’s "disarmingly sweet treatment".
By 1976 there were only seven Chatham Islands black robins left. It was the world's rarest bird. In a bid to save the species, the surviving birds were taken from one island to another more hospitable island in a desperate rescue mission. This was part of an incredible conservation success story led by Don Merton and his NZ Wildlife Service team. Seven Black Robins and Project Takahē captured viewers' imaginations as part of an acclaimed series of 'rare bird' films that screened on TV series Wild South. They helped forge the reputation of TVNZ’s Natural History Unit (later NHNZ).
Vanessa Alexander attracted attention as a rookie director with her low-budget feature Magik and Rose. Since then she has compiled an impressive list of achievements as a producer (Being Eve, Cargo), director (the opening episodes of Outrageous Fortune and Agent Anna) writer (Love Child), script editor, and lecturer. These days Alexander works in Australian television.
English-born Leo Woodhead moved downunder as a teen. In his final year of a film masters at Auckland University, he went to the Czech Republic and made Cargo, a short about human trafficking; it premiered at the Venice Film Festival. Follow-ups Zero and Cold Snap also explored troubled young protagonists, and were invited to prestigious festivals. Woodhead directs commercials in New Zealand and internationally.
Tying David Stevens' career down to a single nation or genre is a challenge. Stevens grew up in Africa and the Middle East, studied acting in the UK, then began his screen career in NZ. In 1972 he directed award-winning drama An Awful Silence, then moved to Australia. There he was Oscar nominated for co-writing movie Breaker Morant, and forged a busy career directing (A Town Like Alice) and writing (The Sum of Us).