Bandits of the Beech Forest

Television, 1996 (Full Length)

The devastating effects of introduced wasps in New Zealand, particularly on kaka (the forest parrot, here beautifully filmed) remain a serious issue. The horde of yellow and black marauders has left scientists struggling to protect animal and human victims. This film looks at the effect on the ecosystem of wasps, who compete with natives for honeydew and prey upon insects. Bandits of the Beech Forest won the Environment Prize for Best Film Illustrating Protection, Preservation or Conservation of Bird Life at the Festival du Film de l'Oiseau.

Collection

The Nature Collection

Curated by Peter Hayden

Packed with creatures and landscapes that quite simply boggle the mind, the Nature Collection showcases New Zealand's impressive menagerie of nature and wildlife films. Many of the titles were made by powerhouse company NHNZ, which began around 1977 as the Natural History Unit, a small, southern outpost of state television. In this backgrounder, Peter Hayden — who had a hand in more than a few of these classic films — guides viewers through just what the Nature Collection has to offer.

Deer Wars

Television, 2007 (Full Length)

This documentary tells the epic story of helicopter deer culling in the Southern Alps. Introduced deer had become destructive environmental pests; in the 60s entrepreneurs shifted culling from ‘man alone’ to machine-driven hunting, as deer were shot then later captured alive from helicopters. Deer Wars — Top Gun in choppers, over the beech forest — revisits the heady ‘gold rush’ days, when heli-cowboys calculated often fatal pay-offs between risk and reward. It features interviews with survivors and fearsome footage of men hanging from helicopters and leaping onto deer.

Hunting Aotearoa - Series Five, Episode Six

Television, 2009 (Full Length Episode)

In this episode from the fifth season of Māori Television’s long-running hunting show, presenter Howie Morrison Junior meets Department of Conservation ranger Eddie Te Kahika — then choppers into the Kaweka ranges in the Hawkes Bay with veteran pilot Spencer Putwain, for some aerial culling. Eddie discusses the win-win kaupapa of the culling: protect the beech forest from collapse caused by browsing, and keep the deer in fit shape for hunting. Then Howie stalks sika deer with Spencer’s partner, Sam Rust. The tip of the week is having an EPIRB (emergency locator beacon).

J.D. Goes Hunting

Short Film, 1960 (Full Length)

This 1960 tourism film, produced by the National Film Unit, is aimed at a particular market niche: hunter holidaymakers. It follows a visitor from Omaha, USA, ‘JD’, who flies down to the “land of countless deer”: Dart Valley in the Southern Alps. A folk song extols the joys of answering the call of the wild — “The very best thing for a man: To hunt and fish and sleep out of doors, eat his tucker where he can” — as JD and his guide climb via bird-filled beech forest onto scree slopes to nab a 14-point stag; before a ciggie on the ridge and a squiz at the scenery.

Norwester - Wind of Contrasts

Television, 1990 (Full Length Episode)

This documentary, made by TVNZ’s Natural History Unit (now NHNZ), charts the progress of the nor'west wind from its formation in the Tasman Sea across the Southern Alps to the Canterbury Plains and the east coast of the South Island. Along the way it dumps metres of precipitation on West Coast rain forest and snow on the Alps, then transforms to a dry, hot wind racing across the Plains. The film shows the wind's impact on the ecosystem and farming and muses on the mysterious effect it can have on humans. It screened as part of the beloved Wild South series.  

Song of Protest

Television, 1986 (Full Length Episode)

This Wild South documentary opens with the haunting call of the kōkako ringing out over the forest canopy at dawn. The film tells the story of Aotearoa’s "avian squirrel" and its struggle for survival — living with introduced cats and rats, while the remnants of its North Island rainforest home face logging. The songbird is framed as an icon of both conservation loss and hope. The script is by poet Brian Turner. The use of composer Hirini Melbourne’s score (with lyrics in te reo) was praised by award judges at British nature film festival Wildscreen.

Battletruck

Film, 1982 (Excerpts)

In a lawless fuel wars future, marauders roam the wasteland looking for oil. Their malevolent leader Straker threatens his daughter Corlie; she’s rescued by loner Hunter and they harbour with eco-sensitive folk in the Clearwater Commune ... but not for long: there will be blood on the Central Otago plains! Following in the exhaust of Mad Max, the cult film was made during the 80s tax-break feature surge, with US director (Harley Cokliss) and leads flocking south during a Hollywood writers’ strike, and Kiwis as crew (“artists with chainsaws”) and supporting cast.

Tongariro National Park

Short Film, 1951 (Full Length)

This promotional film showcases Tongariro National Park, New Zealand's oldest (and the world's fourth oldest) national park. The film covers the park's four seasons, from dandy spring days at the Chateau ("holiday headquarters") for the romance of bowls and moonlit mountain jazz; to the scenic and snow-sport thrills of the volcanoes in winter: Ketatahi springs, the crater lake, beech forest, trout fishing, and skiing on the slopes of Mount Ruapehu where "the only sound in the white stillness is the hiss of the tips streaking into the snow".   

Weekly Review No. 416 - Prelude to Aspiring

Short Film, 1949 (Full Length)

Prelude to Aspiring was the first National Film Unit title directed by legendary photographer Brian Brake, soon after he joined the Unit in 1948. It follows a group of climbers up the Matukituki Valley, west of Wanaka, towards Mt Aspiring for the opening of a new hut and a trudge through snow to resurrect a flattened shelter high up Mt French. The autumn alpine scenery is breathtaking even in black and white, and the film perfectly performs its role as one of a series of promotional ‘documentaries' made by the NFU.