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.
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.
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.
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 heads to the Bay of Islands for the 1st Underwater Fishing Champs, where a 235lb stingray is the biggest catch; and finally to 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 epic Lee Tamahori-directed promo for the 1990 Auckland Commonwealth Games imagines the stirrings of Games spirit in the mud of the Western Front, 1917. Behind the lines, soldiers from various 'British Empire' nations (Bruno Lawrence, Tony Barry and a young Joel Tobeck) lay bets to see who is the fastest. After racing they pledge to "do this again sometime eh brother" (referring no doubt to the shared joy of competition, as opposed to 1,115,597 Commonwealth war dead). The first Commonwealth Games were held in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada), in 1930.
On the eve of the 1976 Montreal Olympics, this Keith Quinn-scripted profile traces the career of athlete John Walker, from being a training averse teen at the Manurewa Harrier Club to his world mile record triumph in Göteborg, Sweden. Walker still smarts from his second place to Filbert Bayi in the 1500 metres at the 1974 Commonwealth Games. What are euphemistically referred to as "political implications" (Kiwi sporting ties with South Africa) have prevented further match-ups — and they'll ultimately remove the Tanzanian from the race so keenly anticipated here.
This National Film Unit film visits Christchurch roughly four years before the main event, to promote the city’s readiness to host the Commonwealth Games. A comical potted history of New Zealand precedes a montage of young women cycling around Canterbury environs and a split screen catalogue of NZ tourist attractions, before getting into a survey of the venues. As the opening demonstrates, “there’s always a traditional welcome awaiting our friends!” In 1973 the NFU completed a second film called Christchurch 74, before covering the games themselves in the feature-length Games 74.
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".