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.
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 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.”
This postwar Weekly Review joins a welfare officer from the Crippled Children’s Society on her Wellington rounds: advising parents, chaperoning children to hospitals to undergo physical and speech therapy, and overseeing the supply of specialist footwear and splints. There’s also a Kiwi take on Heidi as a boy is offered a farm holiday, walking on crutches among the cows: “No care and treatment can substitute for the uplift of two weeks in the country.” Released in September 1948, the film was made by decorated war correspondent Stan Wemyss (grandfather of Russell Crowe).
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 post war newsreel features footage of Māori Battalion solders returning from WWII onboard the ship Dominion Monarch, into Wellington Harbour. The soldiers are greeted with a huge pōwhiri and ensuing hākari at Aotea Quay where the kaimoana and pia flow freely. The reel then follows the regional celebrations of men returning home in Kuku and Ngaruawahia. The narrator soberly recalls the casualty rate of the Māori Battalion (five men in seven). This footage features in the documentary, Maori Battalion - March to Victory.
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 Weekly Review pays respect to the traditional Māori art of raranga (or weaving), and looks at the industrialisation of New Zealand flax (harakeke) processing. The episode features a factory in Foxton where Māori designs are incorporated into modern floor coverings. Patterns in Flax features some great footage of the harvesting and drying of flax plants, and shots of immense (now obsolete) flax farms.
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.