For this screen showcase of NZ visual arts talent, critic Mark Amery selects his top documentaries profiling artists. From the icons (Hotere, McCahon, Lye) to the unheralded (Edith Collier) to Takis the Greek, each portrait shines light on the person behind the canvas. "Naturally inquisitive, with an open wonder about the world, they make for inspiring onscreen company."
This Country Calendar episode profiles Billy Riddell, one of the few remaining drovers who was still moving herds the old fashioned way in the mid 1970s: “on the hoof” (the art of droving was being supplanted by rail and livestock trucks). The episode accompanies Riddell on a ‘drive’, as he moves a herd of cattle along the East Coast. Riddell’s narration recalls stampedes, river crossings, losing dogs and stock out to sea, the joys of butter, and why townies shouldn’t be on the roads: “the roads were there before cars were even blimmin' thought of”. He also reflects on a drover’s life.
A pocket survey of the diversity of Kiwi farming circa 1952, this film serves as a booster’s reminder that thanks to self-reliance and research, New Zealand ranks as “one of the world’s great farming countries”. Cameraman Brian Brake captures arresting high contrast imagery: cattle move in silhouette against the sky; dust-caked fertiliser trucks emerge from clouds of lime; shirtless WWII veterans load silage onto harvesters. Meanwhile an upbeat, nationalistic voiceover pays homage to the holy trinity of good pasture, stock and climate.
This film outlines the efforts to transform the “barren” pumice lands of the North Island’s Central Plateau into arable farmland. Once scientists discover the magic missing ingredient that will make the soil more fertile (cobalt chloride), the serious job of burning scrub, ploughing and sowing begins. The film uses a traditional 'triumph over nature' narrative, but director John Feeney makes elegant use of montage and composition. Author Maurice Shadbolt, who spent time working at the National Film Unit, regarded it as "without doubt the best film to come from the Unit".
Jon Neilson and Bob Parker host the 13th annual Young Farmer of the Year final, broadcast live from Trillos nightclub in Auckland in 1981. The show includes pre-recorded items showing the seven finalists on their farms, as well as competing in the "rural activities" part of the contest, which consists of such tests as hanging a gate, changing a tyre, and determining defects in sheep carcasses. The presentation of the "cloak of knowledge" to the winning farmer at the end of the night is delightfully cheesy.
This 1965 National Film Unit classic follows the working life of a young musterer, on a 145,000 acre South Island merino sheep station. He hands over his swag and gets to work (after he’s been mocked for bringing an electric blanket). He begins in the summer: training dogs and breaking in a horse. In the autumn it’s the muster: wrangling 10,000 sheep from the tops, across rivers and down to the yards before winter snow. Peter Newton’s 1947 musterer memoir, Wayleggo, was a local bestseller, and the film bolsters the book’s Kiwi mountain man mythology.
This post-war film was made to showcase New Zealand to UK audiences. Directed by Michael Forlong, the NFU film is a booster’s catalogue of contemporary NZ life. The message is that NZ is a modern pastoral paradise: open for business but welfare aware. Nature is conquered via egalitarian effort; air and sea links overcome the tyranny of distance; and science informs primary industry. Māori are depicted assimilating into the Pākehā world. Sport, suburbia and scenic wonder are touted, and an NZSO performance shows that the soil can grow culture as well as clover.
This best of special culls history and highlights from 40 seasons of the longest running show on NZ television. Farming, forestry and fishing are all on the roster, but this edition is as much about observing people and the land. There is footage of high country musters, helicopter deer capture, floods and blizzards, as well as radio-controlled dogs and mice farmers. Longtime Country Calendar figures like John Gordon and Tony Trotter share their memories, and the show sets out to catch up again with some of the colourful New Zealanders that have featured on screen.
In this fifth season episode of Māori Television’s hunting show, presenter Howie Morrison Jnr slings his rifle over his shoulder and heads to Taranaki to accept Matt Newton’s invitation to sample the region’s hunting experiences. First up, he sidesteps the bush bashing and heads into the skies with Precision Helicopters. After whakapapa stories over tea — World War II fighter pilots and deer recovery — the pair are inspired to go out and shoot down goats and stags. Then it’s wild bull in the scrub. ‘Today’s tip’ looks at bowhunting with Kevin Watson.
This 1949 NFU film is a whistle-stop tour of Aotearoa that, per the title, takes in the full gamut of the scenic wonderland. Splendidly filmed in Kodachrome, there are lakes (Tutira, Manapouri, Te Anau, Wakatipu), caves (Waitomo), mountains (Cook/Aoraki, Egmont/Taranaki) and forests and farms aplenty, with the occasional city sojourn and an obligatory ferry shot. In the narration indefatigable nature is harnessed for man’s needs and appreciation. Of note is a sequence on gum-collector Nicholas Yakas, who shows impressive agility as he scales a giant kauri.