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.
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.
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.
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.
This 1973 film sees poet Alistair Te Ariki Campbell explore the history of Kāpiti Island — from being a stronghold for Māori chief Te Rauparaha, to whaling station and its present form as a bird sanctuary. The film chronicles Campbell’s first visit to the legendary motu, where he feeds a kākā parrot a date from his mouth, and witnesses a remarkable scene where a weka kills a Norway rat. With impressionistic sequences set to verse, director Peter Coates’ ‘poetic realisation’ of the island was called “a remarkable contribution to NZ television” by Listener critic David Weatherall.
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.
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).
Predators (possums, rats, rabbits, deer) forced much of the cargo of 'Moa's Ark' to abandon ship and live on off-shore island lifeboats. Moa's Ark presenter David Bellamy visits them (and recently-established mainland 'islands'), and tells some of New Zealand's most dramatic conservation stories. In the fourth clip, he praises the pioneering leadership of Don Merton. The episode includes footage of kōkako and its haunting song, cheeky kaka parrots, tieke (saddleback), hoiho (yellow-eyed penguin), black robins, fierce-looking giant wētā, and the Castle Hill buttercup (the world's rarest).
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.”