Broken Barrier marked the first New Zealand dramatic feature to be made since 1940. Its production saw directors John O'Shea and Roger Mirams crowding into a Vauxhall with two silent cameras, one picked up "from a dead German in the Western Desert". Ditching dialogue for 'spoken thoughts', the pioneering film examines cultural complications in a romance between a Pākehā journalist (Terence Bayler) and a Māori nurse (Kay Ngarimu, aka Keita Whakato Walker). According to O'Shea, some viewers considered it "a dirty movie" for spurring mixed race relationships.
Made by feature film pioneer Roger Mirams (Broken Barrier), this 1951 film promotes New Zealand outdoor recreation. Coming decades before bungy jumps and hobbits, this was an early effort to brand NZ as an adventure sport playground, taking in snow sports, deer-stalking, pig hunting, fishing and yachting. Regular filmgoers may have found Miram's footage familiar; most of it came from items he'd shot for Sydney-based company Movietone News. Some shots dated from as early as 1948, when he left the NFU to found company the Pacific Film Unit.
John O'Shea was godfather to generations of Kiwi filmmakers; he was an inspirational force committed to bringing new perspectives to the screen. As Ngati actor Wi Kuki Kaa put it, "had he been a Māori, he would have been a kaumatua years ago". This documentary backgrounds O'Shea and his pioneering indie production company Pacific Films, ranging from his efforts to put Māori on screen, to banned 60s ads. The cast provides proof positive of O'Shea's influence — amongst the ex-Pacific staff interviewed are the late Barry Barclay, Tony Williams and Gaylene Preston.
This episode of arts show Frontseat visits the inaugural edition of the Māori Film Festival in Wairoa, with Ramai Hayward and Merata Mita making star turns, alongside a tribute to teenage filmmaker Cameron Duncan. Elsewhere, Deborah Smith and Marti Friedlander korero about their She Said exhibition, and about photographing kids and staging reality; and Auckland’s St Matthew in the City showcases spiritual sculpture. A ‘where are they now’ piece catches up with Val Irwin, star of Ramai and Rudall Hayward's interracial romance To Love a Māori (1972).
Throughout his 50 year career, John O’Shea was a pioneer and a champion of the independent New Zealand film industry. His name was synonymous with Pacific Film Productions, which he ran for over 20 years after Pacific founder Roger Mirams left for Australia. O’Shea was involved in the establishment of the New Zealand Film Commission, Ngā Taonga and the Wellington Film Society.
After starring in feature Broken Barrier — the only New Zealand feature made in the 1950s — Terence Bayler departed for England, to continue a six-decade long acting career that encompassed Monty Python, William Shakespeare and Harry Potter. Born in Wanganui on 24 January 1930, Bayler passed away in England on 2 August 2016.
Roger Mirams helped launch legendary independent company Pacific Films in 1948, and went on to co-direct Broken Barrier in 1952 with John O'Shea — the only Kiwi feature made that decade. In 1957, Mirams set up a Pacific Films branch in Melbourne. Over the next five decades he won a reputation in Australia for his children's TV shows. Mirams was still working in his 80s; he passed away in February 2004.
Ron Skelley spent 36 years with the National Film Unit’s sound department, contributing to the soundtracks of Weekly Review, Pictorial Parade, and many other NFU and independent films. He started at the NFU in 1949, and was in charge of the sound department from 1977 until his retirement in 1985. Skelley died in March 1992. Image Credit: Photo from The Evening Post, courtesy of Fairfax Media
Geoffrey Scott, MBE and OBE, oversaw the Government's National Film Unit for over 20 years, until his retirement in 1973. Scott began his film career playing piano over silent movies. During his command of the unit, the organisation won 141 awards.
After managing to introduce drama and dance into his post WWII films for the National Film Unit, filmmaker Michael Forlong spent the remainder of his career directing features in Europe. In 1972 he returned to New Zealand to shoot children's tale Rangi's Catch, discovering actor Temuera Morrison in the process.