This Wayne Leonard documentary from 2002 goes on a journey to explore what defines Māori humour. The tu meke tiki tour travels from marae kitchens to TV screens, from original trickster Maui to cheeky kids, from the classic entertainers (including Prince Tui Teka tipping off an elephant) through to Billy T James, arguably the king of Māori comedy. Archive footage is complemented by interviews with well-known and everyday Kiwis, and contemporary comedians (Mike King, Pio Terei). Winston Peters and Tame Iti discuss humour as a political tool.
Promoter Joe Brown’s Search for Stars was a popular nationwide talent quest, broadcast on radio by Selwyn Toogood. This 1970 report from Living in New Zealand sees future TV executive Ernie Leonard interviewing entrants, during rehearsals at Rotorua’s Summer Carnival (including a young Tom Sharplin). Then it’s the 12 January grand final at the city's Sportsdome. Second place getter is 16-year-old Bunny Walters (who would go on to television fame, and score hits with 'Brandy' and 'Take the Money and Run'). Tui Fox won first prize: $2,000, and a recording contract with Brown.
New Zealand Mirror was an National Film Unit 'magazine-film' series geared towards the UK market. Accompanied by nationalistic, upbeat narration, this first episode covers 'New Zealand Birds', and efforts to harness 'Rotorua's Natural Heat'. It visits a game park to see Kiwi ("definitely queer birds") where, in a Disney-esque scene, two children meet a one-legged Kiwi with a bamboo peg-leg; and boats over to Kāpiti Island to meet rockhopper penguin, tui, kaka and weka. In Rotorua, geothermal cooking, backyard geysers, and heated baths and pools are explored.
Gardening with Soul follows four seasons in the life of irresistible gardening nun Sister Loyola Galvin. Director Jess Feast (Cowboys and Communists) unearths sage gems from the nonagenarian on everything from compost to Catholic Church sex abuse scandals. The cycles of Wellington’s weather are charted via its influence on Loyola’s Island Bay garden, from the 2011 snow to flax-drunk tui. Feast worked with editor Annie Collins to piece together a paean to a life lived with zest and compassion. Soul won the Best Documentary at the 2013 Moa (NZ Film) Awards.
Early in World War ll Barbara Rowarth was desperate to join the Navy. But what became WRENS (Women’s Royal New Zealand Naval Service) was yet to be formed, and Barbara had to wait until 1942. Initially the WRENS were only taking cooks and stewards, but she joined up anyway and ended up in signals with the rank of 4th Officer. Barbara loved the WRENS and aged 93, looks back at that time with affection. That’s despite a bout of rheumatic fever which almost certainly would have killed her if not for a dose of the first penicillin to be made in Auckland.
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.
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.
This Landscape doco looks at the muttonbirding culture of the deep south, as Rakiura (Stewart Island) Māori exercise their customary right to harvest the birds for food, oil and feather down. The hunt begins with a rugged trip to the islands where hundreds of thousands of tītī (or sooty shearwater) arrive annually to breed. The kinship of birding is evident as families (and a poodle) set up camp. Soon the salty kai is plucked from burrows and sent by wire downhill to the ‘pluckhole’. This was an early gig for director Bruce Morrison (Heartland, Shaker Run).
In this full-length Heartland episode, Gary McCormick travels to New Zealand's southernmost community: the town of Oban on Stewart Island's Half Moon Bay. Another gently discursive ramble through time and geography is held together by a focus on the island's annual Festival of The Sea, and appearances by a range of locals from fishermen to conservationists. The highlight of this marine mardi gras is the drag competition ‘Miss Catch of the Day', where hairy blokes dress like sheilas and walk on stage. Thankfully Gary keeps his pants on.
A lone boy in the wilderness and a mysterious airborne menace feature in this evocative, NZ Music Award-winning video for Avalanche City (aka musician Dave Baxter). Discovering a stag who’s fallen victim to the abstraction from the sky, the boy takes it upon himself to fight back, before it can inflict more damage on the forest’s residents. Despite the song being a last minute inclusion on Avalanche City’s second album We Are for the Wild Places, it later became the only Kiwi song to hit number one in 2015. An earlier video for the song was shot in one extended take on Raglan beach.