Jess Feast's debut feature documentary centres around the hip Berlin burlesque joint, White Trash Fast Food, and explores life in post-wall East Berlin: a place where libertines and die-hard communists co-exist but not always harmoniously. The Cowboy is Wally, an artist and chef, who escaped LA to live a life of freedom in Berlin. The Communist is Horst, an intelligent ex-journalist who lives upstairs from White Trash, and mourns for the old regime. Won Best Documentary by a young filmmaker at the Kassel Documentary Festival, 2007.
Animated plasticine. Talking chickens. Dancing Cossacks. Plus old favourites bro'Town, Hairy Maclary and Footrot Flats. From Len Lye to Gollum, feast on the talents of Kiwi animators. In his backgrounder to the Animation Collection, NZ On Screen's Ian Pryor provides handy pathways through the frogs, dogs and stop motion shenanigans.
Robert Wynn had already served in the Australian Navy before returning to New Zealand to join the army and fight what were called CTs, or Communist Terrorists, during the Malayan Emergency. Of the two years he spent in the country, he estimates he clocked up 18 months on patrol in the jungle. Aside from the enemy there were other concerns, including tigers and red ants. Robert saw action, but in this Memory of Service interview he doesn’t like to talk about that. Instead he focuses on his impressions of the country, and the unbreakable bonds forged with his fellow soldiers.
Directed by Annie Goldson (Brother Number One), this 1995 TV documentary explores the story of Cecil Holmes, who won Cold War notoriety in 1948 when he was smeared as a communist agent, while working as a director for the National Film Unit. This excerpt — the opening 10 minutes — revisits the infamous snatching of Holmes' satchel outside Parliament, his Palmerston North upbringing, war service, and the founding of the Government's National Film Unit. There are excerpts from a 1980 interview where Holmes describes his inspirations (including UK film Night Mail).
This NFU newsreel begins with a potted history of Korea, from the founding of the “land of the morning calm” to the devastation wrought from the 1950 invasion of South Korea by communist North Korea. The Asian country was of interest to New Zealanders as Kiwi troops (‘Kayforce’) were stationed there, helping defend the south under United Nations command. Kiwi soldiers are shown playing footy, and on leave in Tokyo, before the gunners see action supporting an infantry advance across the 38th Parallel, and a NZ Navy frigate takes on a shore battery.
Sponsored by the Crusader Shipping Company, this 1966 National Film Unit production joins one of the firm's ships as it transports NZ products from Auckland to Asia — home to “one quarter of the human race, 900 million customers”. As milk powder, wool, mutton, apples, cheese and deer antlers are delivered to ports in the Philippines, China, Japan, and Hong Kong, director Ron Bowie observes cultural difference and economic opportunity; and a “westernising” Orient is beautifully captured by Kell Fowler. The NFU crew were rare foreign observers in Chairman Mao’s China.
This 2006 documentary is a portrait of one of New Zealand politics' most contradictory figures: unionist Ken Douglas. At the time of filming Douglas occupied numerous board positions (eg Air New Zealand, the NZ Rugby Football Union), but early on he was a truckie and Marxist. Rob Muldoon branded him 'Red Ken'. For 15 years until 1999 he led the Council of Trade Unions. Directed by Monique Oomen for Top Shelf Productions, the film is framed around interviews with Douglas and his colleagues, and asks whether he is a turncoat or a strategic realist moving with the times.
The coaster Breeze and her crew are immortalised in this much praised National Film Unit documentary. Poet Denis Glover and narrator Selwyn Toogood provide a rhythmic and lyrical commentary as the Breeze runs from Wellington to Lyttelton, then to Wanganui. Three weeks after the film's November 1948 release, director Cecil Holmes had his satchel snatched. He lost his NFU job after the resulting smear campaign accused him of communist leanings. Although reinstated after a court case, Holmes left for a successful screen career in Australia in 1949.
Gardening with Soul follows four seasons in the life of irresistible gardening nun Sister Loyola Galvin. Director Jess Feast (Cowboys and Communists) unearths sage gems from the nonagenarian on everything from compost to Catholic Church sex abuse scandals. The cycles of Wellington’s weather are charted via its influence on Loyola’s Island Bay garden, from the 2011 snow to flax-drunk tui. Feast worked with editor Annie Collins to piece together a paean to a life lived with zest and compassion. Soul won the Best Documentary at the 2013 Moa (NZ Film) Awards.
The Country GP (Lani Tupu) takes a back seat in an episode set in the first week of 1950, which centres around the arrival in Mason’s Valley of the parents of local teacher Tim Bryant (Duncan Smith). The discovery that Tim’s father Sid (played by Vigil scriptwriter Graeme Tetley) is a unionist and paid up member of the Communist Party shatters the township’s apparently relaxed way of life. Sid has come to warn his son of difficult times ahead that could see him back in prison, but his presence inflames some of the locals and leads to a questioning of the true meaning of freedom.