Solo is a story about three people on the edge of nowhere, struggling to decide how much of themselves to share with those they care about. Young Australian hitchhiker Judy romances solo Dad Paul, who finds peace flying fire patrol planes above the forest. Paul's precocious son reacts badly to losing pole position to Judy, and takes to the air. Inspired partly by the oft-painful times when we are "more acutely in touch” with our emotions, Tony Williams' romance helped launch the Kiwi movie renaissance. But as he writes in the backgrounder, there was no fun in filming it three times.
Made by the NZ Broadcasting Corporation in the mid 1960s, this half hour TV documentary sets out to summarise New Zealand. More than a promotional video, it takes a wider view, examining both the country’s points of pride and some of its troubles. In a brief appearance Barry Crump kills a pig, although the narration is quick to point out that the ‘good keen man’ image he epitomises is also a root of the country’s problem alcohol consumption. The result is patriotic, but certainly not uncritical. Writer Tony Isaac went on to make landmark bicultural dramas Pukemanu and The Governor.
The rich scenery around Lake Wakatipu has inspired painters, postage stamps and director Peter Jackson. Shortly before leaving NZ in 1954, photographer Brian Brake headed south for the NFU to capture images of lake, mountain, tourist and miner. Amid the postcard perfection, Brake films mist-shrouded hills sliced open by mining, and a trio of skiers on Coronet Peak, travelling hand in hand. Tourists swap lake steamers for open top buses, en route to the Routeburn track; and one old-timer sets out on horse to pan for gold, via the abandoned mining village of Macetown.
In 1982 bad weather left Mark Inglis and Phil Doole trapped for 13 days in a crevasse, close to the summit of Aoraki/Mt Cook. No Mean Feat chronicles the path taken by Inglis since — from rescue, and the discovery he would lose his lower limbs, to his reinvention as research scientist, winemaker, and paralympic cyclist. In 2001 cameras followed Inglis back to Cook, where he attempted another climb using custom-designed prosthetic legs. Topped off by stunning aerial footage of Mt Cook, No Mean Feat won best documentary at the 2003 NZ TV Awards.
Islands of the Gulf was (narrowly) New Zealand’s first locally made TV documentary series — written, presented and produced by the country’s first female producer, Shirley Maddock. Intended as a one-off programme about the islands of the Hauraki Gulf, it ran to five half-hour episodes examining everyday life in the area, at a time when Kiwi faces were still a novelty on screen. Aviation legend Fred Ladd provided aerial footage. Maddock’s tie-in book was extensively reprinted and, in 1983, she revisited the area in a documentary for TVNZ. in 2018 Maddock's daughter presented an updated series.
On 10 April 1968 the Lyttelton–Wellington ferry Wahine ran aground and sank at the entrance to Wellington Harbour. Fifty-three people died as a result of the accident, 51 on the day. These news features include aerial footage of the ship after the storm, and NZBC reporters conducting dramatic interviews with survivors, police and the head of the Union Steam Ship Company. Coverage was only seen by mainlanders after a cameraman rushed to Kaikoura and filmed a TV set that could receive a signal from Wellington, then returned to Christchurch so the footage could be broadcast.
English cameraman John Earnshaw moved downunder in 1975, just as the local screen industry was hotting up. A director of photography on hundreds of commercials, he shot two feature-length projects: cult movie Angel Mine, one of the earliest entries in the Kiwi movie renaissance, and TV movie A Woman of Good Character. He passed away on 3 March 2014, leaving behind him a passion project involving a mysterious Boeing aircraft.
Off the Edge was director Michael Firth's ode to the exhilaration of adventuring on the spine of New Zealand's Southern Alps. Something of a snowy Endless Summer, the film follows an American and a Canadian as they ski, hang glide, climb and delve beneath glaciers, in the Aoraki-Mt Cook area. Thrilling footage amidst spectacular scenery was shot over two seasons, where extreme weather and geography meant few chances for second takes. The film was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary in 1977. The Los Angeles Times called it "beautiful and awesome".
Veteran cameraman Waynne Williams, MNZM, has shot everything from the Vietnam War and French nuclear testing to the Christchurch quake, TV drama Pukemanu and Australian movie The Box. Over more than half a century, Williams has worked on over 10,000 news stories. The Christchurch-based lensman runs Port Hills productions with partner Anne Williams.