The Unspoilt Land

Short Film, 1972 (Full Length)

This 1972 National Film Unit production promotes New Zealand’s national parks, from the oldest — Tongariro (established in 1887) — to Mt Aspiring (1964). Besides slatherings of scenic splendour, the film shows rangers clearing tracks, 70s après ski activity on Ruapehu, and school children at Rotoiti Youth Lodge: skylarking, river crossing, and cornflake eating en masse. When this film was made there were 10 National Parks (there are now 14). “In all their variety they’re the heritage of everyone who’s heard the call and felt the freedom of the unspoilt land.”

Series

Bidibidi

Television, 1990–1991

Like the eponymous native plant this children's puppetry programme stuck to the socks of many kiwis of a certain vintage. Produced in Dunedin by TVNZ's Natural History Unit (now independent production company NHNZ) Bidibidi followed the adventures of a sheep on a South Island station for two series. Bidibidi was adapted from the children's book by Gavin Bishop. Each programme interspersed puppet scenes and musical numbers with the expected first-rate NHU-shot footage of birds and other animals that Bidibidi meets en route, from kea to skinks and bitterns.

Bidibidi - First Episode

Television, 1990 (Full Length Episode)

Like the eponymous native plant this children's puppet programme stuck to the socks of many kiwis of a certain vintage. Produced in Dunedin by TVNZ's Natural History Unit (now NHNZ), Bidibidi followed the adventures of a sheep on a South Island station for two series. Adapted from the children's book by Gavin Bishop, the show interspersed puppet scenes and musical numbers with actual wildlife footage. This first episode sees Bidibidi chasing a rainbow with advice from Stella the kea; includes beautifully shot images of a menagerie of native birds.

Te Rauparaha

Short Film, 1972 (Full Length)

This NFU mini-biopic eulogises the 19th Century Māori leader Te Rauparaha. The Ngāti Toa chief led his people on an exodus from Kāwhia, to a stronghold on Kāpiti Island where he ruled — via musket, flax trade and diplomacy — over a Cook Strait empire extending south to Akaroa. The free-ranging film includes recreations of the 'Wairau Incident' which stirred fears of Māori uprising amidst settlers; Te Rauparaha’s ignominious 1846 arrest by Governor Grey; and the 1849 reburial on Kapiti of the "cannibal statesman" (evocatively rendered using inverted colours).

Hinekaro Goes On a Picnic and Blows Up Another Obelisk

Short Film, 1995 (Full Length)

This short, written and directed by Christine Parker (Channelling Baby) takes an allegorical look at the creative process. A writer (Rima Te Wiata) has a korero with a trickster spirit guide Hinekaro (voiced by Rena Owen), and conjures worlds from the words she inks on a page. In her imaginative struggles she’s visited by a ruru owl and her younger self, and other creatures are brought strikingly to life via special effects (beetles from a book, an eel hiding in a toilet bowl). Hinekaro was adapted from a 1991 short story by Booker Prize-winner Keri Hulme.

Journeys in National Parks: Hauraki Gulf

Television, 1987 (Full Length)

Peter Hayden travels through some of New Zealand's most awe-inspiring environments in this five part series, made to celebrate the centenary of our first national park. This episode looks at the national park closest to our largest city and contemplates that relationship, featuring stories of life on the islands of the Hauraki Gulf. A highlight is the transfer of the rare saddleback or tieke (a lively wattlebird) from Cuvier Island to the ecological time-capsule of Little Barrier Island — "with Auckland's lights twinkling in the background". Catherine Bisley writes about the Journeys series here.

Primeval New Zealand

Television, 2012 (Full Length)

This award-winning documentary from NHNZ reveals new information about the origins of the iconic kiwi. Presenter Peter Elliott travels the country investigating how "evolutionary mutants" — like giant meat-eating snails, kiwi, and tuatara — evolved over 20 million years in the face of massive tectonic upheavals and extreme isolation.  Elliott answers why Aotearoa has the "weirdest creatures", such as birds that don't fly and mammals that do. Company Weta Workshop used computer graphics to create images of extinct creatures for this TV One documentary.  

Your Most Humble and Obedient Servant, James Cook

Short Film, 1970 (Full Length)

One of the last films made by Jeremy Sykes before his death in the Antarctic in a helicopter accident, this NFU short commemorates the 1969 Cook bicentennial. It traces Cook’s first voyage to New Zealand and his charting of the coastline. Contemporary illustrations and dramatic camerawork are used to follow his six-month journey around Aotearoa. It also highlights Cook's navigational skills as he sailed the Endeavour, home to 94 men, two greyhounds and a goat, through uncharted waters, helping earn him his reputation as "explorer extraordinary and servant of the King".

Māori Arts & Culture No. 1 - Carving & Decoration

Television, 1962 (Full Length)

This 1962 National Film Unit production is a comprehensive survey of the history and (then) state of Māori carving. Many taonga are filmed on display at Wellington’s Dominion Museum, and the design aspects of ‘whakairo’ are examined, from the spiral motif to the origin of iconic black, red and white colouring. Finding reviving tradition in new “community halls”, the film shows the building of Waiwhetu Marae in Lower Hutt in 1960, recording the processes behind woven tukutuku panels and kowhaiwhai patterns, as the tapping of mallets provides a percussive presence.

The Island

Television, 1965 (Full Length)

This early children’s TV classic is a Kiwi take on a genre staple: the summer holiday adventure. Aucklanders Peter and Laura meet up with their Wellington friend Rangi and his older cousin Dan (Wi Kuki Kaa), and go on an expedition to Kapiti Island. The trio (minus Dan, who has a sprained ankle) go bush for some kids vs. wild action, peppered with a menagerie of manu (kākā, weka, kererū, tui), and tales of Te Rauparaha, whaling and ghosts. They camp, fish, skylark around cliffs and caves, summit the island, and inevitably get lost, before ... getting safely home.