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 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 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.
In this TVNZ doco — made for the 1990 Auckland Commonwealth Games — Keith Quinn looks back at the last time the Games were hosted in New Zealand: Christchurch 1974. Largely an on-field survey peppered with Kiwi athletes’ memories of ‘The Friendly Games’, moments featured include Dick Tayler’s 10,000m victory sprawl, weightlifter Graham May’s face-plant, and the epic 1,500 race between a long-haired John Walker and Tanzanian Filbert Bayi. The NZBC coverage showcased colour television, which had recently launched in New Zealand.
This film comprehensively surveys Kiwi Olympic success to 1968. Footage includes triumphs from running men Lovelock, Halberg and Snell (trying a celebratory haka), and long jumper Yvette Williams; and podium efforts from Marise Chamberlain, Barry Magee and John Holland. The John O'Shea-made doco then meets athletes training for the upcoming Mexico Olympics. Reigning Boston Marathon winner Dave McKenzie runs on quiet West Coast roads and Warren Cole rows on Lake Rotoiti under snow-capped peaks. Cole would go on to win gold in the Men's Coxed Four.