The coaster Breeze and her crew are immortalised in this much praised National Film Unit documentary. Poet Denis Glover and narrator Selwyn Toogood provide a rhythmic and lyrical commentary as the Breeze runs from Wellington to Lyttelton, then to Wanganui. Three weeks after the film's November 1948 release, director Cecil Holmes had his satchel snatched. He lost his NFU job after the resulting smear campaign accused him of communist leanings. Although reinstated after a court case, Holmes left for a successful screen career in Australia in 1949.
This post-war Weekly Review boards a RNZAF Dakota flying “the longest air route in the world”: a weekly 17,000 mile ‘hop’ taking mail to Jayforce, the Kiwi occupation force in Japan. Auckland to Iwakuni via Norfolk Island, Australia (including a pub pit-stop in the outback), Indonesia, the slums of Singapore, Saigon, Hong Kong; then Okinawa, Manilla and home. Director Cecil Holmes’ pithy comments on postcolonial friction and rich and poor avoided censorship, but won a warning not to rock the boat. The next year he was controversially sacked from the National Film Unit.
This 1948 documentary follows 24 hours of work on the railways. It was directed for the National Film Unit by Margaret Thomson, arguably New Zealand’s first female film director. The film shows the engines and commuter trains preparing to leave Wellington, and the overnight train arriving from Auckland. Workers toil on the railway lines above the remote Waimakariri Gorge, and the town of Otira gets ready for a dance. The final shots are of an engine coming through the dawn and back to the city. Selwyn Toogood (It's in the Bag) narrates.
Despite the misleading numbering, this October 1942 film marked the first of the National Film Unit's long-running Weekly Review series. The NFU had been established a year earlier to promote the war effort via newsreels screened in movie theatres. In a meta first clip, Kiwi soldiers watch an NFU film in a makeshift outdoor cinema. Then war readiness is demonstrated via army exercises — including on Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where “Māori and Pākehā are working together, mounting machine guns for their common defence.” Finally: Red Cross parcels are prepared for NZ prisoners of war.
This classic wartime newsreel profiles the coal mining towns of Westland. It compares the town of Rūnanga, where mining has brought prosperity and a strong community life, with Denniston, which is set in rocky, inhospitable land high up a West Coast mountainside. Its tone is patriotic: “Here then are the men who feed New Zealand with the raw material of industrial prosperity ... They work in the darkness of the mines, buried away from the fresh splendours of the air above them.” The Weekly Reviews were screened in cinemas 1942 - 1950.
This post-war Weekly Review urges Kiwi farmers to grow more wheat in the face of a world shortage, and out of a patriotic duty to help Britain. Graphic images of global poverty (especially in the final minutes) are counterpointed with NZ wealth and agricultural ingenuity. The film features scientist Otto Frankel, who introduced new wheat varieties that were better suited to the local climate. This was director Alun Falconer's only on-screen credit while working at the National Film Unit. He and Roger Mirams soon left to found pioneering company Pacific Film Unit (later Pacific Films).
This was the very last edition of the National Film Unit’s Weekly Review, a magazine-style film series which screened in New Zealand cinemas from 1942 until 1950. The first item is winter sports fun (ice skating, ice hockey) on a high country lake; the second report examines prototype newsprint made in Texas, from New Zealand-grown pine; the last slot covers the touring British Lions rugby team’s match against the NZ Māori, at a chilly Athletic Park. The Māori play the second half a man down after losing a player to injury (this was before injury substitutions were allowed in rugby).
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.
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 short profiles the work of Gisa Taglicht. A pioneer of women's rhythmical gymnastics, Taglicht advocated the benefits of physical exercise for women. Risqué at the time for the women’s skimpy outfits, the Wellington-set film sees women escaping machine and washing line oppression via a YWCA hilltop session: limbs reaching and stretching towards a stark sky. The National Film Unit's post-war Weekly Reviews became less overtly patriotic, and some, like this Michael Forlong-directed one, were unabashedly experimental. The score was composed by Douglas Lilburn.