A Sense of Involvement

Short Film, 1977 (Full Length)

This award-winning National Film Unit documentary looks at the craft movement in New Zealand, as this counterpoint to industrial mass production went mainstream. The sense of involvement in the title refers to the individual skills that potters, weavers, printmakers, furniture makers and sculptors bring to making their objects. Director David Sims avoids narration, instead using music from composer Tony Baker to score scenes of the makers at work, from the loom, furnace and kiln, to workshop and studio. As a flashback to the late 70s, facial hair, ceramics and wool abound.

British Isles vs New Zealand (second test, 1966)

Television, 1966 (Full Length)

Highlights from the second test of the 1966 Lions tour feature in this National Film Unit newsreel. Soundly beaten in the first test, the Lions took drastic steps for this match at Wellington’s Athletic Park: dropping six players including their captain. On a muddy ground, with the capital’s wind playing its part, the Lions are more competitive — but the All Blacks run out deserved winners with tries to Kel Tremain, Tony Steel and a rampant Colin Meads (but no on-field celebrating). Half-back (future MP and radio announcer) Chris Laidlaw also figures prominently.

Impressions of New Zealand

Short Film, 1985 (Full Length)

This 1985 New Zealand tourism promo showcases Aotearoa society and industry. As the title suggests, the NFU-made film offers an impressionistic take on the subject. Bookended by a dawn and dusk chorus, the narration-free survey cuts between primary products (milk, logs, wool etc) and their manufacturing processes, and then shows people at work and play — from futures traders to pounamu carvers, contemporary dancers to cricketers. Date stamps of the era include a mass aerobics class, hydroslide action, and saxophone and guitar solos on the soundtrack.

These New Zealanders - Motueka

Television, 1964 (Full Length Episode)

In this 60s TV series Selwyn Toogood headed to the heartland to explore six Kiwi towns; it was one of the legendary presenter's first TV slots. In this fifth episode Toogood heads to Motueka to check out the hops, orchards and tobacco crops, and the impact of the seasonal workers on pubs and policing in the Tasman district. Toogood muses on machinery, and interviews pickers about their motives. Women pickers exalt the chance to meet some "jokers" and save for an OE. Toogood also asks a couple of Australian blokes “what do you think of New Zealand girls?”

A Train for Christmas

Short Film, 1975 (Full Length)

Directed by David Sims, A Train For Christmas follows the Kingston Flyer as it chugs through the farmland of Southland from Lumsden to Kingston, where on the shores of Lake Wakatipu it meets with the steamer TSS Earnslaw. With the driver as narrator, this poetic, and sometimes fantastical (the train talks at one point) celebration of steam transportation evokes a bygone era when the train “would stop at every crossing, hedge and house.” The steam train is cast as an integral part of a vast landscape and the communities that it travels through.

Christchurch Fire

Short Film, 1947 (Full Length)

The Ballantyne's Department Store fire of 18 November 1947 was — until the 2011 earthquake — Christchurch’s biggest disaster. It claimed 41 lives and, as the narration says, was “one of the greatest civil tragedies New Zealand has known.” Shot by National Film Unit crew who happened to be in the city for another film, Christchurch Fire shows the battle to beat the blaze: from the mass of hoses on Cashel St, to a fireman swapping a ciggie for a cup of tea. After the footage was rushed to Wellington, the film debuted in cinemas the night after the fire, and was also seen overseas.

Tāhere Tikitiki - The Making of a Māori Canoe

Television, 1974 (Full Length)

This National Film Unit documentary records the 18-month-long building process of a waka taua (war canoe): from the felling of the trees — opening with an awe-inspiring shot of the giant totara selected by master carver Piri Poutapu — to the ceremonial launch. The waka was commissioned by Māori Queen, Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu, and built at Tūrangawaewae Marae. The Harry Dansey-narrated film was significant in showing the importance of the canoe-building kaupapa alongside the everyday lives of the workers (at the freezing works, the pub).

Te Rauparaha

Short Film, 1972 (Full Length)

This NFU mini-biopic eulogises the 19th Century Māori leader Te Rauparaha. The Ngāti Toa chief led his people on an exodus from Kāwhia, to a stronghold on Kāpiti Island where he ruled — via musket, flax trade and diplomacy — over a Cook Strait empire extending south to Akaroa. The free-ranging film includes recreations of the 'Wairau Incident' which stirred fears of Māori uprising amidst settlers; Te Rauparaha’s ignominious 1846 arrest by Governor Grey; and the 1849 reburial on Kapiti of the "cannibal statesman" (evocatively rendered using inverted colours).

The Kauri

Short Film, 1978 (Full Length)

Kauri stand amongst the giants of the tree world, able to grow more than 50m tall and girths of up to 16 metres, and live over 2000 years. This NFU film looks at the ancient conifer and its relationship with people. A thoughtful narrative traces the kauri's utility, and contemporary efforts to preserve remaining trees — the tree’s timber and gum fuelled colonial growth, but milling devastated the great northern forests. Archive footage evokes the pioneer days: kauri dams, woodsmen dwarfed by felled trunks, and Dalmatian gum hunters scaling sky-scraping trunks.

Māori Arts & Culture No. 1 - Carving & Decoration

Television, 1962 (Full Length)

This 1962 National Film Unit production is a comprehensive survey of the history and (then) state of Māori carving. Many taonga are filmed on display at Wellington’s Dominion Museum, and the design aspects of ‘whakairo’ are examined, from the spiral motif to the origin of iconic black, red and white colouring. Finding reviving tradition in new “community halls”, the film shows the building of Waiwhetu Marae in Lower Hutt in 1960, recording the processes behind woven tukutuku panels and kowhaiwhai patterns, as the tapping of mallets provides a percussive presence.