A group of young tourists charter a yacht and go cruising in the South Pacific. In a dense fog, they come across an old, sick Greek man on a sinking boat and rescue him. They have no idea of how evil he is and how brutal their night is to become. Thanks to the special weapon he is holding, this man has the power to inhabit other people's bodies. The Ferryman approaches - he's after the old Greek as the path to the afterlife is close and there is a payment to be made.
This impressionistic, late 1960s survey traces Auckland from volcanic origins to a population of half a million people. Produced by the National Film Unit, it finds a city of "design and disorder" growing steadily but secure in its own skin as its populace basks in the summer sun. A wry, at times bemused, Hugh Macdonald script and an often frenetic, jazzy soundtrack accompany time honoured Queen City images: beaches and yachting, parks and bustling city streets, and an unpredictable climate given to humidity and sudden downpours.
Between 1942 and 1944 thousands of American servicemen were 'in camp' in New Zealand, either before or after seeing action in the Pacific. This early National Film Unit documentary captures life in an Auckland military hospital, where wounded US soldiers went to recuperate. Servicemen take part in occupational therapies like 'Māori carving' and boat building, and frolick about in the harbour. There are shots of Auckland industries, a woollen mill and a weapon factory, and footage of a military parade in front of the Auckland War Memorial (now the Museum).
In the early hours of 1 January 1998 Ben Smart and Olivia Hope, two young partygoers in the Marlborough Sounds, were in a water taxi looking for a place to crash. They vanished and were never seen again. The investigation transfixed the nation, and led to the conviction of Scott Watson for murder. Directed for TV3 by John Keir (Flight 901: The Erebus Disaster), this 2002 documentary revisits the case from the perspective of two fathers — Gerald Hope and Chris Watson — and brings them together for the first time to talk about whether Scott Watson is guilty.
In late 1769 Captain James Cook first reached New Zealand, charged with charting the area. Peter Elliott chronicles Cook's journey in this award-winning four-part series. This first episode looks at his first encounters with local Māori, on the east coast of the North Island. While some greeted Cook with pōwhiri, others took exception to the murder and kidnapping the Europeans brought in spite of their declarations of peace. Amongst the locals Elliott meets on the coast is a young sailor in Tauranga who bears a striking resemblance to America’s Cup winning sailor Peter Burling.
In the late 1980s, Kiwi John Britten developed and built a revolutionary racing motorcycle. He pursued his dream all the way to Daytona International Speedway in Florida. In 1991 the underdog inventor came second against the biggest and richest manufacturers in the world. Britten: Backyard Visionary documents the maverick motorcycle designer as he and his crew rush to create an even better bike for the next Daytona. After arriving in Florida, another all-nighter is required to fix an untested vehicle with many major innovations. Costa Botes writes about the documentary here.
This post-war film was made to showcase New Zealand to UK audiences. Directed by Michael Forlong, the NFU film is a booster’s catalogue of contemporary NZ life. The message is that NZ is a modern pastoral paradise: open for business but welfare aware. Nature is conquered via egalitarian effort; air and sea links overcome the tyranny of distance; and science informs primary industry. Māori are depicted assimilating into the Pākehā world. Sport, suburbia and scenic wonder are touted, and an NZSO performance shows that the soil can grow culture as well as clover.
The Adventure World TV series saw Sir Ed lead an A-Team of mates on a run of adventures. The concept was dreamt up by Bob Harvey, who enlisted Roger Donaldson to direct The Kaipo Wall and an (unproduced) Everest trip. Sir Ed and his climbing mate Mike Gill then went DIY and made two half hour films. This mission to climb The Needles — a rock stack off Great Barrier Island — was the first. Peter Mulgrew sails them over, Murray Jones goes parkour on the rocks and scales a kauri, Graeme Dingle surfs a dingy, and Sir Ed is the self-described “peppery co-ordinator”.
This 1999 documentary goes behind the scenes with veteran Antarctic filmmaker Mike Single, as he films icebergs in the Southern Ocean. To Single they’re "ice creatures" and his mission is to get to their dynamic "essence". He and his crew face time pressure, storms, cabin fever, and challenges shooting underwater. Some of Single's shots of epic ice sculptures, calving glaciers, crabeater seals, gentoo penguins, humpback whales and trademark time-lapse cloudscapes also appeared in his documentaries Crystal Ocean (a 2000 Emmy Award-winner), and Katabatic.
Made for the UN's first 'Earth Summit' in Stockholm in 1971, the film explores what the future holds for NZ’s environment. Director Hugh Macdonald (This is New Zealand) presents an impressionistic ecosystem: mixing shots of native natural wonder, urbanisation, and pollution with abstract montages and predictions from futurologists — such as Cousteau’s “underwater man”. Before climate change heated up 21st Century Doomsday debates, this film (made for the Ministry of Works!) places stock in individual responsibility. The score aptly enlists the French nursery rhyme ‘Are You Sleeping?’.