Collection

NZ Disasters

Curated by NZ On Screen team

This collection looks at some of New Zealand's most significant national tragedies. Spanning 150+ years, it tells stories of drama, caution, hope and recovery — from the 1863 wreck of the Orpheus at Manukau Heads, to Tarawera, the Wahine, Erebus, Pike River and Christchurch. In the backgrounder, Jock Phillips writes about the collection, and the "common sequence" to disaster.

Tarawera

Television, 2000 (Full Length)

In June 1886 Mt Tarawera spectacularly erupted, and this documentary tells the story of the people who were caught in the catastrophic events. Around 120 people lost their lives, and the internationally famous Pink and White Terraces were destroyed. The documentary features an animated re-creation of the eruption, archival images, interviews with descendants of those involved, and readings from written eyewitness accounts. The author of the book Tarawera, Ron Keam, is also interviewed.

The Hunt for the Pink and White Terraces

Television, 2011 (Full Length)

When Mount Tarawera erupted on 10 June 1886, it took over 100 lives. It was also thought to have destroyed the Pink and White Terraces on Lake Rotomahana, then hailed as the eighth wonder of the natural world. This documentary follows a team of New Zealand and American scientists — led by Kiwi geologist Cornel de Ronde — as they scour the lake floor, to see if any traces of the legendary structures remain. Also examined are the area's history, and the lead-up to the eruption. In 2018 de Ronde robustly criticised a theory that the remains of the terraces were now partly on land. 

New Zealand Mirror No. 14

Short Film, 1952 (Full Length)

This magazine newsreel mixes buried treasure with a classic Brian Brake-shot performance piece. Opener 'The Long Poi' captures a poi dance. In 'The Buried Village' tourists examine fireballs and Māori stone carvings buried in the 1886 Tarawera eruption. The final piece showcases the talents of Kiwi pianist Richard Farrell and director Brian Brake. Brake's moody studio lighting and lively compositions frame this performance of a Chopin waltz. Farrell would die after a car accident in the United Kingdom in 1958 — the same month Brake won his first big spread in Life magazine. 

Snows of Aorangi

Short Film, 1955 (Full Length)

Shot by photographer Brian Brake as a NFU tourism promo, Snows of Aorangi surveys New Zealand's mountain landscapes. Brake captures stunning imagery: ethereal ice forests, lightning storms, volcanic craters, glaciers, avalanches, kea. Three skiers are mesmerising as they scythe downhill from Almer Hut: "for a little while they've given themselves to the rhythm of sky and earth" runs the James K Baxter-scripted narration. It was the first NZ film to compete for an Oscar, nominated in the Best Short Subject (Live Action) category in 1959.

John Gibson

Composer

John Gibson composed his first major work at the age of 16. By the age of 24 he had done time as musical director at theatres in Dunedin and Auckland, and acted on-screen as one of the musical quartet in TV drama Heroes. Since then Gibson has composed music for a wide range of mediums, including television, theatre and dance, and co-composing Rain of the Children.

John Day

Cinematographer, Director

John Day rolled film on a wide range of screen projects before establishing company Matte-Box Films in 1980. He went on to mix a busy trans-Tasman commercials career with directing gigs on a number of non-fiction titles (The Power of Music, The Hunt for the Pink and White Terraces), plus ghost movie The Returning. Day passed away on 7 January 2015.