For a small country from the edge of the world, achievements on the Olympic stage are badges — silver fern-on-black — of national pride: precious moments where we gained notice (even if it was Mum’s anthem playing on the dais). This legacy collection draws on archive footage, some rarely seen, to celebrate the stories behind Kiwis going for gold.
Now known as the Commonwealth Games, the 1950 British Empire Games were held in Auckland, at Eden Park, Auckland Town Hall, Newmarket Olympic Pool and Western Springs, with rowing at Lake Karapiro. This 75 minute NFU film starts with the arrival of the teams on silver-hulled flying boats, DC-3s and cruise ships. It features the opening at Eden Park along with athletics, boxing, swimming, rowing, fencing, the marathon and more. Future Olympic champ Yvette Williams wins the ‘broad jump’ (clip four). New Zealand finished third on the medal table, out of 11 nations.
Jack Lovelock won New Zealand’s first Olympic athletics gold medal. He did so in spectacular fashion, winning the 1500 metres at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. In front of Hitler and 110,000 spectators, the famous ‘Lovelock kick’ unfurled into NZ’s sporting and collective consciousness: from Timaru to Oxford, to Berlin triumph. Yet Lovelock was an enigmatic achiever. In this short film, the race — the supremely judged apex of a sporting career — is contrasted with his mysterious and tragic death, in front of a train on the New York subway in 1949.
After days of elaborate subterfuge, host Bob Parker, with his trademark red book, ambushes champion middle distance runner John Walker at a dinner at Trillos nightclub. A week earlier, Walker had become the first person to run 100 sub-four minute miles. Parker leads him through a career that also includes his mile world record, the epic 1974 Commonwealth Games 1,500 metres final and Olympic gold at Montreal in 1976. Those paying pay tribute in person or via satellite include athletics superstars Filbert Bayi, Sebastian Coe, Steve Scott and Peter Snell.
This Pictorial Parade visits the Auckland Athletic Champs at Eden Park, where a water-logged grass track makes the going tough. Peter Snell wins the half-mile and Murray Halberg the three-mile ("you know mother I think he'll win," deadpans the narrator). Then we head to the Bay of Islands for the first Underwater Fishing Champs, where a 235lb stingray is the biggest catch, before the last item on the Turn and Gymnastic Circle of Hamilton, an acrobatic family fundraising for a world tour by scrub-cutting and pie-baking: "no job is too small or too big."
Artist Sam Hamilton describes his experimental feature as an “independent inquiry” into 10 celestial bodies found in The Milky Way. The Arts Foundation New Generation award-winner splices together images ranging from psychedelia to performance art to physics — shot on 16mm film across NZ and Samoa. The film's centrepiece is a sequence of dancer Ioane Papali’i with his limbs tethered to a tree. Newshub's Matthew Hutching praised Apple Pie's debut screening at the 2016 NZ Film Festival: “an absorbing, playful rumination on scientific patterns across our galaxy.”
This NFU classic tells Peter Snell's story, up until just before his triumph at the Tokyo Olympics (he'd already won 800 metres gold in Rome, and beaten the world record for the mile). Snell's commentary — focused, candid — plays over footage of training and some of his key races. "It always gives a feeling of exhilaration to run in the New Zealand all black singlet." Snell offers insights into the marathon-style training of coach Arthur Lydiard (15 miles daily, 100 miles a week), and there's priceless footage of Snell running through bush and leaping fences in Auckland's Waiatarua hills.
This excerpt from a 1962 edition of the National Film Unit's magazine film series features reigning Olympic 800m champion Peter Snell participating in a charity road race on Auckland streets. "Any one of 20 charities stands to make a hundred pounds as 20 roadsters hot-foot it around Auckland's Top o' the Town course." Roadsters also include Bill Baillie and Barry Magee. National hero Snell is in the bunch early on, but coming down a crowded and wet Karangahape Road he is of course, "the man to watch".
This chronicle of the Christchurch Commonwealth Games marked one of the National Film Unit's most ambitious productions. Though a range of events (including famous runs by John Walker and Dick Tayler), are covered, the film often bypasses the pomp and glory approach; daring to talk to the injured and mentioning that most competitors lose. The closing ceremonies of the "friendly games" feature the athletes gathering to — as the official song's chorus put it — "join together". The directing team included Paul Maunder, Sam Pillsbury, and Arthur Everard.
John Barry Fenton was just 15 when he joined the New Zealand Navy in 1949. When the Korean War broke out the next year, Fenton was part of the crew aboard the frigate HMNZS Pukaki, as it headed north for patrol duties. He describes the monotony of shipboard life in a war mostly fought on land. Returning to New Zealand, Fenton undertook further training before returning to Korea for a second tour of duty, this time aboard HMNZS Hawea. The ship mainly patrolled the area around the mouth of the Han River, to stop enemy ships entering or leaving. Fenton died on 17 April 2019.