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.
This edition of Great War Stories series revisits “a candidate for the darkest day in New Zealand war history” — 12 October 1917. The Passchendaele disaster in Belgium is explored via a letter smuggled home from 23-year-old private Leonard Hart. The front was a quagmire of mud and blood where, in a catastrophic blunder, Kiwi soldiers were shelled by their own artillery fire before being caught in barbed wire, and slaughtered by enemy machine guns. Hart called it “the most appalling slaughter I’ve ever seen.” Presenter Hilary Barry also sings the opening hymn, 'Abide with Me'.
This award-winning telefilm imagines the effects of a major earthquake on New Zealand’s capital city, and how its citizens react to chaos, death, isolation and tsunami. It was completed in 2008 — before Christchurch took Wellington’s mantle as NZ's shakiest city, and made Aftershock's imagined scenes a reality. Aftershock was produced for TV3 by The Gibson Group, and written by veteran screenwriter Graeme Tetley (Out of the Blue, Vigil). The following week saw the debut of Aftershock - Would You Survive?, which put a real-life family through a three-day survival test.
On a holiday to Mt Tarawera, teenager Jenny (Katrina Hobbs) finds an odd shard of metal. In this third episode of the kids sci-fi series she meets its owner: 'Drom' — a survivor of an alien mission to deactivate a planet-annihilating space gun (aka Tarawera itself). They find themselves under siege from a Predator-like 'Guardian' of the gun. If Drom and Jenny and local kids Tessa and Lloyd (future What Now? presenter Anthony Samuels) can't defeat the mechanoid, catastrophe is imminent! The South Pacific Pictures series found international sales and cult repute.
With his impassioned enthusiasm and trademark beard, English naturalist David Bellamy made this well known 1989 community service message for the Department of Conservation. “It’s a nasty, horrible plant and it’s smothering and killing New Zealand’s native bush, and that is a catastrophe ... a trim is not enough — we’ve got to destroy it in every way we can — old man’s beard must go!”. Bellamy is a long-term advocate for the conservation of NZ’s natural heritage, presenting the Moa’s Ark series, as well as famously promoting Woolmark carpet.
"I get around. I know everything. Except your name." Kevin Smith made his television debut (in a speaking part) on this episode from the third series of Gloss, playing smirking DJ and man-about-town Damien Vermeer. Keen to rise above his working class origins, the character sets his sights on rich brat Chelsea Redfern within moments of meeting her. Smith left work at Christchurch's Court theatre for the role, when the decision was made to up the show's male quotient. Mikey Havoc also appears in this scene, as a member of his real-life band Push Push.
Gloss was a popular Kiwi television drama series made by TVNZ that screened in the late 80s; it combined a wealthy family, the Redferns, with a lucrative high-fashion magazine business. Yuppies, shoulder-pads and méthode champenoise abound in this cult "glamour soap". New Zealanders wanted to see themselves as less bottom of the world and more "here we come and we are sailing" (as the infamous Cup campaign song warbled), and Gloss was just what the era demanded.
Born to wildlife cinematographers, Clive Neeson was capturing surf and ski adventures on film as a teenager. 45 years later Neeson’s footage makes up the bulk of his feature-length documentary Last Paradise, which follows Kiwi extreme sports innovators and the changing face of the planet. Trained as a physicist, Neeson has worked globally as a consultant in technology innovation, and catastrophe investigation.
Brad McGann's debut feature In My Father's Den won awards in Germany, China, England, Canada, the United States, and New Zealand; The Australian reviewer called it "one of the best films I have ever seen". McGann had earlier won acclaim for his moody fourth short Possum (1997). McGann passed away from cancer in May 2007. He was only 43.