Mixing three separate strands, On an Unknown Beach is a so-called “‘speculative documentary" about journeys into landscapes of ruin. Sonic artist Bruce Russell explores the ruined Christchurch CBD, scientist Di Tracey captures compelling underwater footage while examining coral damage on the seabed, and poet David Hornblow undergoes hypnotherapy to explore his consciousness and past experiences with addiction. The film was made by Adam Luxton and Summer Agnew, whose 2005 documentary Minginui (2005) focussed on an ex-forestry town in the North Island.
Reuben Sutherland directs a hair-raising tour through a wretched laboratory in this music video — his second Shihad clip in a row to take away the Best Video Award, at Aotearoa's yearly music award ceremonies. Frenetically paced and skillfully edited, the video adheres to the feverish temperament of the song, while layered graphics add a sinister and unsettling sci-fi edge. Singer Jon Toogood nails his performance as a demented pharmacist bent way out of shape. Aside from making videos and commercials, director Sutherland is also one half of sound plus visuals group Sculpture.
New Zealand’s Antarctic presence is still in its infancy as this striking Academy Award-nominated NFU documentary chronicles the six month polar summer of 1963/64. Sled teams pulled by teams of huskies are despatched to explore far flung corners, nothing is too small — or too great — to be analysed by a battery of scientists, and the base at Cape Hallett is resupplied (it suffered a serious fire shortly afterwards). However, all of this activity seems to make little impression on a remarkable polar landscape constantly threatening to reassert itself.
Climate change is not just a theory for the people of Takuu, a tiny atoll in Papua New Guinea. Floods and climate-related impacts have forced Teloo, Endar and Satty to consider whether they should stay on their slowly-drowning home, or accept a proposal that would see them move to Bougainville, away from the sea. In this award-winning documentary they also learn more about the impact of climate change from two visiting scientists (an oceanographer and geomorphologist). Director Briar March’s second feature-length doco travelled to over 50 film festivals.
In director Geoff Murphy's cult sci fi feature, a global energy project has malfunctioned and scientist Zac Hobson (Bruno Lawrence) awakes to find himself the only living being left on earth. At first he lives out his fantasies, helping himself to cars and clothes, before the implications of being 'man alone' sink in. As this awareness sends him to the brink of madness — see the excerpt above — he discovers two other survivors. One of them is a woman. The Los Angeles Daily News called the movie “quite simply the best science-fiction film of the 80s”. Read more about it here.
The devastating effects of introduced wasps in New Zealand, particularly on kaka (the forest parrot, here beautifully filmed) remain a serious issue. The horde of yellow and black marauders has left scientists struggling to protect animal and human victims. This film looks at the effect on the ecosystem of wasps, who compete with natives for honeydew and prey upon insects. Bandits of the Beech Forest won the Environment Prize for Best Film Illustrating Protection, Preservation or Conservation of Bird Life at the Festival du Film de l'Oiseau.
The humble letterbox is targeted in this Aotearoa award-nominated science show, as radio DJ James Colman and music video director Greg Page attempt to “turbo” an everyday object. Their challenge is to move the mail 50 metres from postbox to household as quickly as possible. Coleman glimpses nirvana when he scores a rocket scientist for his team. Battle lines are soon drawn between big bang theory, and slower and steadier. In the pyrotechnics and rocket love that follow, Page sounds almost plausible when he claims his big truck solution as the cleaner, greener option.
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".
Kim Hill interviews Australian-born and British-based writer Clive James. They discuss the nature of intelligence and whether you have to be tormented to be really clever. James says he doesn't think so. He names scientist Stephen Hawking as the cleverest person he has ever seen, and playwright Tom Stoppard as the cleverest person he knows. James also tells Hill that he has no plans to ever retire (or "hang up his pen", as he puts it), and discusses his love of tango dancing.
Allan Wilson was the Pukekohe-raised scientist who revolutionised the study of evolutionary biology. Inspired by birds, he developed molecular approaches to 'clock' evolutionary change, and raised the hypothesis that humans evolved from one 'Eve' in Africa about 200,000 years ago. He is the only New Zealander to win a pretigious US MacArthur “genius” Award. The Listener called the film, a "shrewd insight into the man himself: the quintessential pioneering expat Kiwi individualist." It was made in partnership with UC Berkeley where Wilson was based for 35 years.