The National Film Unit was set up in 1941 to publicise New Zealand’s war effort. The unit’s output soon evolved into the Weekly Review, a weekly reel screened in cinemas. Confusingly the first Weekly Review in October 1942 was named No. 60. It was the principal NZ film series produced in the 1940s. The series ended in August 1950 with the 459th issue. The reviews were a mix of newsreel and general interest stories and occasionally, full-reel documentaries. Some were later re-issued (without the Weekly Review title) for screening in educational and overseas markets.
For a small country from the edge of the world, achievements on the Olympic stage are badges — silver fern-on-black — of national pride: precious moments where we gained notice (even if it was Mum’s anthem playing on the dais). This legacy collection draws on archive footage, some rarely seen, to celebrate the stories behind Kiwis going for gold.
November 2019 marks 30 years since New Zealand television’s third channel first went to air. As this collection makes clear, the channel has highlighted a wide range of local content, from genre-stretching drama (Outrageous Fortune, The Almighty Johnsons) to upstart news shows (Nightline), youth programming (Ice TV, Being Eve) and many landmarks of Kiwi screen comedy (7 Days, bro’Town, Pulp Comedy). As the launch slogan said, "come home to the feeling!" In this background piece, Phil Wakefield ranges from across the years, from early days to awards triumph in 2019.
Prelude to Aspiring was the first National Film Unit title directed by legendary photographer Brian Brake, soon after he joined the Unit in 1948. It follows a group of climbers up the Matukituki Valley, west of Wanaka, towards Mt Aspiring for the opening of a new hut and a trudge through snow to resurrect a flattened shelter high up Mt French. The autumn alpine scenery is breathtaking even in black and white, and the film perfectly performs its role as one of a series of promotional ‘documentaries' made by the NFU.
This NFU film looks at the challenges of delivering health services to the large, sparsely populated Hokianga district after World War II. The Weekly Review doesn’t flinch from facing the poverty and poor housing of the mostly Māori population. District nurses carry much of the burden, and doctors and nurses from Rawene Hospital travel by car, foot, boat and horseback to attend clinics and emergencies; including the legendary Dr George McCall Smith — responsible for setting up the Hokianga Special Medical Area. The film’s score was composed by Douglas Lilburn.
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.
In November 1948 New Zealand got its own Lost World story, when a population of takahē — a large flightless rail, long thought extinct — was found in a remote part of Fiordland. The rediscovery of ‘notornis’ (a cousin of the pūkeko), by Southland doctor Geoffrey Orbell, generated international interest. This episode of the NFU’s Weekly Review newsreel series treks from Lake Te Anau high into the Murchison Mountains, where the team (including naturalist Robert Falla) find sea shell fossils, evidence of moa-hunter campsites, and the dodo-like takahē itself.
This edition of the National Film Unit’s wartime newsreel series tracks the 1000s of New Zealand prisoners of war being repatriated from Germany, shortly after VE Day. “Men from all over the world are here. Waiting to get out. Waiting to get back to their homes …” The ANZACs travel to a transit centre in Brussels, where they enjoy “a first real beer in years” and go sightseeing, before crossing the North Sea to be hosted in England, where thoughts turn south. The reel ends with a rousing rendition of the Māori Battalion marching song in an English pub.
This edition of the long-running National Film Unit series documents the curriculum at Manutahi Native District School in Ruatōria in 1947. The roll of 300 primarily Māori students, travel to the rural school on bus, foot and horse to learn everything from the alphabet to preparing preserves. Set in the post-war baby boom period, the male students learn to build a cottage while the girls learn ‘home economics’ (cooking and running a household). The first principle of the schooling is “learning by doing” and for the rural kids “the whole land is a classroom.”
Packed with creatures and landscapes that quite simply boggle the mind, the Nature Collection showcases New Zealand's impressive menagerie of nature and wildlife films. Many of the titles were made by powerhouse company NHNZ, which began around 1977 as the Natural History Unit, a small, southern outpost of state television. In this backgrounder, Peter Hayden — who had a hand in more than a few of these classic films — guides viewers through just what the Nature Collection has to offer.