Cyril Morton's career began in the 1920s, during New Zealand's first sustained burst of filmmaking. Morton helped create Government filmmaking body the National Film Unit. The former cameraman was later second-in-command at the Unit for 13 years, until retiring in 1963. Morton passed away in 1986.
Made for the 75th anniversary of the Tourist and Publicity Department, this National Film Unit short film surveys New Zealand tourism: from shifts in transport and accommodation, to how Aotearoa is marketed. The "romantic outpost of Empire" seen in 1930s promotional films gives way to a more relaxed, even saucy pitch, emphasising an uncrowded, fun destination. Middle-earth is not yet on the horizon; instead Wind in the Willows provides literary inspiration. Directed by Hugh Macdonald (This is New Zealand), it screened alongside Bugsy Malone and won a Belgian tourist festival award.
This National Film Unit short captures the action with the RNZAF’s 75 Squadron aerobatic team. The pilots, all in their early to late 20s, fly their de Havilland Vampire jets through low and high altitude manoeuvres. NFU cameraman John Hutchinson squeezed himself and his camera into the cockpit for 14 flights over five days, to capture spectacular images from a fifth Vampire piloted by Flight Lieutenant Barry Gordon. The team was formed in 1958 for the RNZAF's 21st Anniversary Air show at Ohakea. It then toured New Zealand, giving displays at all the major airports.
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.
This 1962 film about geothermal power generation begins with animated sequences telling the Māori legend of how the North Island’s volcanoes were created. Then it explores the “crazy idea” of volcanic power, and how New Zealand might harness its potential. At Wairakei, roads have collapsed and the ground can rumble: “nothing is ever quite predictable on this battleground for power”. Nearby, steam is used for heating, hangi, bathing, and … growing pineapples. The animation was handled by Mike Walker (later producer of Kingi’s Story), of Levin-based Morrow Productions.
The Waitomo Caves are a longtime tourist magnet, thanks to their bioluminescent glow-worms and spectacular stalagmite and stalactite formations. Aside from the glories of the caves, this National Film Unit tourism film mentions the surrounding countryside as “a good reason to stay another day”. Set to a laid-back jazz score, a tour from Waitomo Caves Hotel takes in lambing, limestone outcrops, scenic driving and a picnic by the Marokopa waterfalls. But "to float down the underground river as galaxies pass silently overhead is the crowning pleasure in the valley of Waitomo.”
At 11am on 15 August 1945 news of Japanese surrender reached New Zealand, marking the end of the nation's six years in World War II. This newsreel records the public celebrations in windy downtown Wellington and on Auckland’s Queen St, where there are street parties, bagpipes and beer as tensions are released. At Wellington Town Hall on the second day of the public holiday, tributes are paid to “team spirit”; and Prime Minister Fraser hopes for social justice and that the dead have not died in vain. Then there is a mass rendition of ‘Land of Hope of Glory’.
This postwar Weekly Review joins a welfare officer from the Crippled Children’s Society on her Wellington rounds: advising parents, chaperoning children to hospitals to undergo physical and speech therapy, and overseeing the supply of specialist footwear and splints. There’s also a Kiwi take on Heidi as a boy is offered a farm holiday, walking on crutches among the cows: “No care and treatment can substitute for the uplift of two weeks in the country.” Released in September 1948, the film was made by decorated war correspondent Stan Wemyss (grandfather of Russell Crowe).
The Ballantyne's Department Store fire of 18 November 1947 was — until the 2011 earthquake — Christchurch’s biggest disaster. It claimed 41 lives and, as the narration says, was “one of the greatest civil tragedies New Zealand has known.” Shot by National Film Unit crew who happened to be in the city for another film, Christchurch Fire shows the battle to beat the blaze: from the mass of hoses on Cashel St, to a fireman swapping a ciggie for a cup of tea. After the footage was rushed to Wellington, the film debuted in cinemas the night after the fire, and was also seen overseas.
This 1949 NFU film visits Western Samoa. Director Stanhope Andrews surveys life in the “lotus land of the Pacific”, showing taro and coconut harvest, cooking in umu, and church and fale building, as “the flower-decked girls sing and dance beneath the palms”. The benefits of New Zealand’s then-administration are shown (eg. medical services, education) but the travelogue ignores earlier ignominious acts, such as the quarantine blunder that saw one in five Samoans fall to influenza. The Olemani Aufaipese (choir) provides the score. Samoa won independence in 1962.