Filmed on a 15,000 km journey through China in 1979, this documentary captures a country in transition: one where billboards are emerging on the streets of Shanghai, while commune workers still toil in the countryside. The film compiles images of people and landscape to observe China's then-recent emergence from the repressive Cultural Revolution; including memories from long-term resident, Kiwi Rewi Alley. Named after a description by Alley of China, it was made alongside companion documentary: Gung Ho: Rewi Alley of China.
This short film is a lively animation by Fred O'Neill starring a cast of craggy characters made from that ubiquitous children's play dough of the 1960s and 70s: plasticine. Figures cavort and morph to the music in varied sight and sound gags. There's no real narrative, and contrary to the title, it is in fact a celebration of the limitless possibilities of the materials. Figures and shapes form, and transform delightfully, constantly moving, fighting, and dancing against hand painted backdrops. Dunedin-based O'Neill did almost everything on the film himself.
Director Sam Neill uses ‘Architect Man’ — a cartoon superhero trying to save Wellington’s buildings from mediocrity — to open this visual essay on contemporary Kiwi architecture. A montage of construction materials is followed by views on the high rise, woolshed, and Futuna Chapel. Renovation, DIY, prefabs and non-conformist design thinking are offered as hopes for the built environment’s future. Made by Neill when he was working at the National Film Unit, it was released in a shortened version (without the animation) in 1977, the same year he starred in movie Sleeping Dogs.
NFU-produced TV series These New Zealanders explored the character and people of six NZ towns, 60s-style. Fronted by Selwyn Toogood, it was one of the legendary presenter's first TV slots. In this episode Toogood dons the walk shorts and long socks and visits Taupō, extolling the lake district as a place of play (camping, fishing, swimming, jet-boating) and work (the development of Lochinver Station for farming). Toogood does a priceless vox pop survey of summertime visitors, including the requisite quizzing of an overseas couple about whether they like it here.
This 1967 documentary tells the story of 734 Polish children who were adopted by New Zealand in 1944 as WWII refugees. Moving interviews, filmed 20 years later, document their harrowing exodus from Poland: via Siberian labour camps, malnutrition and death, to being greeted by PM Peter Fraser on arrival in NZ. From traumatic beginnings the film chronicles new lives (as builders, doctors, educators, and mothers) and ends with a family beach picnic. Made for television, this was one of the last productions directed by pioneering woman filmmaker Kathleen O'Brien.
Members of the NZ team for the 1954 Vancouver Empire Games are profiled in this edition of the Pictorial Parade series. Yvette Williams demonstrates the long jump technique — filmed in slow motion — that had made her an Olympic champ and world record holder (and would win her the gold medal at Vancouver), and there’s a brief shot of a young Murray Halberg. Other features are a piece about the canine star of Dick Campion and the NZ Players' production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and a multi-national approach to treating children with cerebral palsy in Rotorua.
Made by feature film pioneer Roger Mirams (Broken Barrier), this 1951 film promotes New Zealand outdoor recreation. Coming decades before bungy jumps and hobbits, this was an early effort to brand NZ as an adventure sport playground, taking in snow sports, deer-stalking, pig hunting, fishing and yachting. Regular filmgoers may have found Miram's footage familiar; most of it came from items he'd shot for Sydney-based company Movietone News. Some shots dated from as early as 1948, when he left the NFU to found company the Pacific Film Unit.
The Governor examined the life of George Grey, providing a whole new angle on traditional portraits of him as the "Good Governor". The six-part historical blockbuster was hugely controversial, provoking a parliamentary inquiry and "test match sized" audiences. This episode — 'He Iwi Kotahi Tatou' (Now We Are One People)' — won a Feltex award for best script. War looms in the Waikato as Māori tribes band together; peacemaker and kingmaker Wiremu Tāmihana (the late Don Selwyn) agonises over the right course of action.
Tokelau is a New Zealand territory, spanning three small South Pacific atolls. In the 1960s the New Zealand Government expressed concern about overpopulation, and instigated the Tokelau Islands Resettlement Scheme. This National Film Unit documentary surveys Tokelau society and culture from a New Zealand perspective, and follows the journey of a group of Tokelauans who chose to migrate to Aotearoa (where they adapt to telephones and horses near Te Puke). It was one of three NFU documentaries directed by Derek Wright on Pacific Island subjects.
This Army recruiting film was made while New Zealand was still involved in the Vietnam War. While its emphasis is on the various trades, such as carpentry, engineering and radio operation, which can be learned in the army, it doesn't shy away from the purely military aspects. Soldiers are trained in unarmed combat, parachuting and jungle warfare. Exercises at the Waiouru Army Camp involving armoured support are also featured. Women are included, but in 1966 they fulfil roles in signals and nursing to free up men for combat duties.