Six Māori Battalion soldiers camped in Italian ruins wait for night to fall. In the silence, the bros-in-arms distract themselves with jokes. A tohu (sign) brings them back to reality, and they gather to say a karakia before returning to the fray. Director Taika Waititi describes the soldiers as young men with "a special bond, strengthened by their character, their culture and each other." Shot in the rubble of the old Wellington Hospital, Tama Tū won international acclaim. Invited to over 40 international festivals, its many awards included honourable mentions at Sundance and Berlin.
This intense newsreel reports from the war in the Pacific in Easter 1944, as American, Fijian, and New Zealand soldiers battle the Japanese in the Bougainville jungle. Cameraman Stan Wemyss found himself isolated with a Fijian patrol, amidst casualties and under fire from 'Japs'. He later recounted being so close to the action he could hear troops talking in two languages he couldn't understand; at one point he lays down his camera to pitch a grenade. Grandfather of future actor Russell Crowe, Wemyss was awarded an MBE in 1947 for his services as a war correspondent.
This 1983 film looks at New Zealand in World War II, via a compilation of footage from the National Film Unit’s Weekly Review newsreel series, which screened in NZ cinemas from 1941 to 1946. It begins with Prime Minister Savage’s “where Britain goes, we go” speech, and covers campaigns in Europe, Africa and the Pacific, and life on the home front. The propaganda film excerpts are augmented with narration and graphics giving context to the war effort. Helen Martin called it "a fascinating record of documentary filmmaking at a crucial time in the country’s history".
Produced by Stanhope Andrews, Country Lads was used to advocate for a reorganised government filmmaking body to publicise the war effort, before screening in cinemas as the first National Film Unit production. Lads shows footage of soldiers as they leave for the front. Adolf Hitler had called the Kiwi soldiers "poor deluded country lads"; but here the description is co-opted as a compliment. A national character is expressed — pioneers who had "helped make this country what it is: happy, prosperous and free" — and is used to underpin the soldiers' mission.
Blessed with a top-notch cast, this hour long drama chronicled the final 48 hours of leave before three soldiers head to Bosnia. One soldier is forced to share a car with the man who caused his demotion; the trio go on to use their break for various encounters with lovers, families and strangers. Based on a story by Richard Lymposs, whose experiences helped inspire 1986 teen rebel movie Queen City Rocker, The Call Up was shown as part of the debut season of one-off Kiwi dramas which screened in primetime, on the Montana Sunday Theatre. This excerpt features the opening 10 minutes.
In 2007 Willie Apiata, of the NZ Army's elite SAS unit, was awarded the Victoria Cross for carrying a wounded soldier to safety while under fire in Afghanistan. This documentary had exclusive access to Corporal Apiata, from the moment he was told about the VC to his decision a few weeks later to gift the medal to the nation. The shy soldier struggles to deal with his sudden celebrity, and military bosses have to cope with the dual demand of handling media interest in the VC win while still keeping the work of the SAS relatively secret.
During WWII the Post Office photographed letters, enabling mass mailing to soldiers via rolls of film. Post Office worker Ngaire (Yvette Reid) deals with mail for soldiers serving overseas. On this small, handsomely-framed canvas, writer-director Paolo Rotondo explores how war and distance affect relationships. Dead Letters makes a persuasive case that the memories preserved in words and film contain their own magic, even when that magic is tinged with sadness and death. It won best short screenplay at the 2006 New Zealand Screen Awards.
Vietnam veteran Frank Metcalfe revisits the country he served in 35 years before as a young officer, and recollects war stories, including an incident of friendly fire. This time accompanied by his son, soldier-turned-producer Matthew Metcalfe, he is gladdened by how vibrant Vietnam has become. "I look at this place, and I can't help but think what on earth were we doing." Father and son are saddened no memorial exists for Kiwis who fought in Vietnam. In 2008 the Government formally acknowledged the Vietnam service of New Zealand forces personnel.
In early 1944 the Italian town of Cassino was the site of a devastating World War II battle. Kiwi soldiers were part of the Allied forces attacking a German-held stronghold. New Zealand General Bernard Freyberg made the decision to bomb the town, including an iconic 1,400 year-old hilltop monastery. Both sides suffered heavy losses as the Nazis utilised the ruins to their advantage. This documentary follows Kiwi veterans CJ 'Brick' Lorimer and Stewart Black (aka Tai Paraki) as they return to confront the brutality and horror of war, as part of events marking the battle's 60th anniversary.
Between 1964-1972, 4,000 young New Zealanders volunteered for service in Vietnam. Itching to get out into the world and do something exciting, the thrills were soon replaced by the grim reality of war. Things deteriorated further when they returned home to face an angry public; they were told to get out of their uniform quickly and not to tell anyone where they had been. This documentary gives the soldiers a chance to tell their stories for the first time. Interspersed with the interviews are 8mm film clips and selected official war footage.