“You forget about the rough times” says old soldier Steve Danes. Instead, the veteran of the Italian Campaign during World War ll focuses on the funny side. There are plenty of tales of the laughter and hijinks to be had when resting behind the lines, or on leave. Conscripted at age 18 and sent to Europe just short of his 21st birthday, Danes spent most of his war in Italy and there wasn’t much of the country he didn’t see. Along the way he encountered fanatical young Nazis, and older German soldiers who were sick of war and wanted it to end.
This wartime edition of the NFU's newsreel series opens with a one and a half mile Wellington harbour swim at Evans Bay. Then it's up to Dannevirke for an A&P show for sheep dog trials and show jumping spills. The reel ends with a visit to the NZ Expeditionary Force's Christmas celebrations while fighting in Italy. There's mail from home, hospital romance, malarky in the snow as poultry and wine is chased, and Māori Battalion soldiers roast a pig. Ambulances are a reminder that war goes on; and on the frontline machine gun crews help keep "Jerry below ground".
In this The Years Back episode Bernard Kearns charts New Zealand's 6th Brigade and Maori Battalion as they fight their way through Italy between 1943 and 1945. Reaching Monte Cassino in 1944, the force suffered 1600 casualties in 12 weeks of bitter fighting. Using NFU pictures, the documentary traces the advance north after Cassino falls, and includes the bloodless capture of Padua and the setting up of the New Zealand Forces Club in the best hotel in Venice. The documentary ends with Kiwi forces facing down Tito's Yugoslav partisans in Trieste.
John Wills joined the New Zealand Army as soon as he could when war broke out in 1939. He ended up serving in North Africa and Italy until war’s end in 1945. Now 96, Wills looks back at his time as a driver for an artillery battery. Taken prisoner and held by the Italians in Libya, he was liberated by Indian troops in time to see action at the battle of El Alamein. He was also present, behind the lines, at the brutal Battle of Cassino, north of Naples. Tales of fighting, hardship and bravery are balanced with humour.
This documentary follows Auckland-based, Italian-born pianist Flavio Villani as he prepares to play Sergei Rachmaninoff’s demanding Piano Concerto No. 2 in Italy — his debut performance as a soloist with an orchestra. Director Rebecca Tansley, who funded much of the documentary herself, tails Villani from four months before the recital that will challenge the prodigal son to affirm his career choice and sexuality, in front of his Italian ex-military father. When it debuted at the 2015 Auckland Film Festival, Crossing Rachmaninoff won a standing ovation.
This documentary follows the "seven headed soul monster direct from the shores of Wellington" — Fat Freddys Drop — as they rumble their dub-rich sound through Europe like a Houghton Bay roller. Touring to showcase album Based on a True Story, it features rehearsals and performances, eating Italian kai moana, playing concrete ping pong in Berlin, and (in the fifth clip) a jam with Cliff Curtis. Radio 1 DJ Zane Lowe lauds the 'fullas' and Mu explains whanau to German journos. True Story sold 120,000+ copies and dominated the 2005 New Zealand Music Awards.
The ‘OE’ is a Kiwi rite of passage, but for those travelling in a Kombi van, the trip can feel “like mixed flatting in a space the size of a ping-pong table” (Peter Calder). In Kombi Nation, Sal sets off to tour Europe with her older sister and friend; they’re joined by a dodgy male and a TV crew, recording the shenanigans. Shot guerilla style after workshopping with the young cast, Grant Lahood’s well-reviewed second feature anticipated the rise of observational ‘reality TV’, but its release was hindered by the collapse of production company Kahukura Films.
On land, sea and air during World War II, and from Korea to Vietnam, this group of old soldiers remember their years of service. Close calls are common place but often laughed off, but the horror of war is often close to the surface. The third series of interviews from director David Blyth (Our Oldest Soldier) and RSA museum curator Patricia Stroud provide a valuable archive of a time now almost beyond living memory — particularly World War II, as the veterans enter their 90s and beyond.
This 1978 National Film Unit documentary provides a potted history of settler groups that came to New Zealand from Europe. Archive material and narration covers the colonials. Then visits are paid to the German-descended Eggers, tobacco growers from Moutere, and newly arrived French bakers and Dutch dairy farmers. Aptly for a film directed by actor and future winemaker Sam Neill, the film drops in on an Italian play and the Babich family of Dalmatian winemakers. Neill worked at the NFU in his 20s, around the time of his breakout acting role in Sleeping Dogs (1977).
Here to Stay uses New Zealand personalities to examine key settler groups that make up the Kiwi tribe. Each show mixes personal stories with a wider view, as the presenter sets out to discover what traits and icons their ethnic group contributed to the NZ blend. In the first (of two) series Michael Hurst, Theresa Healey, Ewen Gilmour, Jackie Clarke, Frano Botica and Bernadine Lim explore the English, Irish, German, Scot, Croatian, and Chinese stories respectively. Each episode includes identity reflections from a chorus of well-known Kiwis.