This special edition of the National Film Unit’s monthly magazine series looks at some of the “people, places and events filmed by our cameramen during the years 1941 - 1962”. The NFU’s 21st birthday review — compiled by David H Fowler — ranges from wartime newsreels to the post-war boom (factories, dams, industrial agriculture), from salvos to Peter Snell. Other images include Kiwi soldiers playing rugby in Korea, and cigarettes hanging from the lips of firemen fighting Christchurch's Ballantyne Department Store fire in 1947.
Directed by Annie Goldson (Brother Number One), this 1995 TV documentary explores the story of Cecil Holmes, who won Cold War notoriety in 1948 when he was smeared as a communist agent, while working as a director for the National Film Unit. This excerpt — the opening 10 minutes — revisits the infamous snatching of Holmes' satchel outside Parliament, his Palmerston North upbringing, war service, and the founding of the Government's National Film Unit. There are excerpts from a 1980 interview where Holmes describes his inspirations (including UK film Night Mail).
This documentary explores resurgent interest in Anzac Day and examines the Kiwi desire to “remember them” (those who served in war) — ranging from patriotism to protest to burgeoning dawn services. The doco is framed around the return of the Unknown Warrior to a Wellington tomb in 2004; and a trip to Trieste, Italy, for Gordon and Luciana Johnston and their 24-year-old granddaughter Kushla. Gordon was a World War II gunner and Luciana an Italian nurse. Kushla learns of their war experience, and the early Cold War stand-off in Trieste following Nazi surrender.
Written by Tom Scott and Greg McGee, South Pacific Pictures-produced Fallout was an award-winning two-part mini-series dramatising events leading up to NZ’s 80s anti-nuclear stand. PM Robert Muldoon (Ian Mune) calls a snap election when his MP Marilyn Waring crosses the floor on the ‘no nukes’ bill, but his gamble fails, and David Lange's Labour Party is elected. Lange (played by Australian actor Mark Mitchell) is pressured from all sides (including a bullish US administration) to take a firm stance on his anti-nuclear platform. He finally accepts there is no middle ground.
It’s sometimes called the forgotten war, but Korea lives bright in the mind of Maurice Gasson. Volunteering at 21, Gasson found himself on the freezing battlefields of Korea as part of an artillery battery. Poorly equipped, the Kiwi soldiers swapped bottles of whisky with their American counterparts for sleeping bags and blankets. Conditions improved, but the fighting intensified. Gasson took part in the three-day Battle of Kapyong, a key episode of the conflict. His stories are chilling and some of his experiences are reflected through his poetry.
This film outlines the efforts to transform the “barren” pumice lands of the North Island’s Central Plateau into arable farmland. Once scientists discover the magic missing ingredient that will make the soil more fertile (cobalt chloride), the serious job of burning scrub, ploughing and sowing begins. The film uses a traditional 'triumph over nature' narrative, but director John Feeney makes elegant use of montage and composition. Author Maurice Shadbolt, who spent time working at the National Film Unit, regarded it as "without doubt the best film to come from the Unit".
This 2006 documentary is a portrait of one of New Zealand politics' most contradictory figures: unionist Ken Douglas. At the time of filming Douglas occupied numerous board positions (eg Air New Zealand, the NZ Rugby Football Union), but early on he was a truckie and Marxist. Rob Muldoon branded him 'Red Ken'. For 15 years until 1999 he led the Council of Trade Unions. Directed by Monique Oomen for Top Shelf Productions, the film is framed around interviews with Douglas and his colleagues, and asks whether he is a turncoat or a strategic realist moving with the times.
One of the most controversial political adverts to emerge from New Zealand, this 1975 spot only played twice on local television, but helped bring National a landslide win. National leader Rob Muldoon’s chief target was the Labour Government’s superannuation scheme, which the ad notoriously associated with communism, via a troupe of dancing Cossacks. Created by ad agency Colenso, the concept was animated by company Hanna-Barbera in Australia. After being elected, Muldoon brought in a replacement superannuation scheme.
In 1951, New Zealand temporarily became a police state. Civil liberties were curtailed, freedom of speech denied, and people could be imprisoned for providing food to those involved. This award-winning documentary tells the story of the 1951 lockout of waterside workers, and what followed: an extended nationwide strike, confrontation and censorship. There are interviews with many involved, from workers to journalists and police. At the 2002 NZ Television Awards, 1951 won awards for Best Documentary and Documentary Director (John Bates). Costa Botes backgrounds 1951 here.
This educational video was made by the NFU for the National Mountain Safety Council to promote awareness of bush safety. After a blackboard science lesson (check out a bearded Ray Henwood) things get interesting. A fictional trip into the bush turns into a Stubbies-clad 70s Kiwi version of the Blair Witch Project as we're told that one of the group will not survive the night, picked off by that fearsome killer: exposure. The message is serious, but the doom-laden tone induced titters in school classrooms and scout halls throughout NZ.