David Bellamy told Kiwis their old man’s beard had to go, Spike Milligan advised “Just put up a windmill Daddy!” … in 1977 the international celebrity counselling New Zealanders was Puerto Rican-born musician José Feliciano, telling Godzoners to “go easy” on power consumption. With the second oil shock looming, this was one of a series of 70s public service announcements produced to encourage energy conservation. The blind virtuoso — famous for songs like ‘Feliz Navidad’ and his cover of ‘Light My Fire’ — was filmed on 3 October, a few days before his Auckland show.
This NFU documentary showcases the hydroelectric power-generating might of the Waikato River. The ‘man harnesses nature’ narrative — shown via concrete, steel and earthmoving for dam building — highlights the path of the power: to drive farms, factories and Wellington’s electric trains. Director Cecil Holmes later wrote that post-war NZ was "a desperately poor country"; the film aimed to highlight Government efforts to overcome power shortages. After the 'satchel snatch' smear campaign of 1948, Holmes left for a highly regarded screen career in Australia.
In the mid-70s New Zealand was on the edge of recession, and the petroleum-dependent economy was reeling from the first oil shock (the cost of importing oil had ballooned due to restricted supply). To help conserve power, Television One and the Government-run New Zealand Electricity teamed up for a series of public service announcements. In this 1975 slot, English actor Edward Woodward — fresh from starring as secret agent Callan, and playing the uptight sergeant in cult horror The Wicker Man — raises a toast to NZ, and counsels Kiwis to ‘save power’ in his inimitable style.
The bid to raise the level of Fiordland’s Lake Manapōuri (to provide hydro-electricity for an aluminum smelter) resulted in controversy between 1959 and 1972. This film charts a (still-timely) debate as arguments for industrial growth and cheap energy vie with views advocating for ecological values. New Zealand’s first large-scale environmental campaign ensued, and its “damn the dam” victory was a spur for the modern conservation movement — drawing an unprecedented petition, Forest and Bird, and figures like farmer Ron McLean and botanist Alan Mark into the fray.
Made by Philip McDonald (Such a Stupid Way to Die) for the National Water and Soil Conservation Authority, this award-winning short explores the impact of people on New Zealand’s water cycle. Shots of irrigation, industrial waste and run-off from dairy farming show Godzone’s 1972 waterways to be far short of 100% pure — the closing national anthem played over polluted rivers underlines the point. A young Sam Neill (then working at the National Film Unit) cameos as an eau-so-suave drinker in a scene showing the disconnection between water use and where it comes from.
Opera in the Outback offers a wry, fly on the wall view of the lead-up to a most unusual event: the first concert by Kiri Te Kanawa in the Australian outback. Kiwi director Stephen Latty and writer Michael Heath realise the people are the story, from affable locals to those preparing for 9000 joyful, sometimes drunken arrivals. The inhabitants of Beltana — population roughly 12 — risk building a new racetrack for visitors less operatically inclined, while Australian National Railways send all the rolling stock they can. Some of the Kiwi film crew were awake for 52 hours, trying to capture it all.
Made by the NZ Broadcasting Corporation in the mid 1960s, this half hour TV documentary sets out to summarise New Zealand. More than a promotional video, it takes a wider view, examining both the country’s points of pride and some of its troubles. In a brief appearance Barry Crump kills a pig, although the narration is quick to point out that the ‘good keen man’ image he epitomises is also a root of the country’s problem alcohol consumption. The result is patriotic, but certainly not uncritical. Writer Tony Isaac went on to make landmark bicultural dramas Pukemanu and The Governor.
In this 2011 series Te Radar re-teams with company JAM TV (Off the Radar, Radar’s Patch) to meet people making a difference to sustainability issues. This first episode sees the comedian exploring green motoring: he visits a Kiwi project to make potato starch wing mirrors for a Nottingham F3 racing team; checks out the Trekka (the only NZ designed and mass-produced car) with journalist Todd Niall; rides a battery-powered Citroën in Whangarei, and tinkers with his Dad’s Land Rover. The first season won a 2012 NZ Television Award for Best Information Series.
Coverage of a major event in the history of the NZ music industry — the pressing of Ruru Karaitiana’s timeless classic ‘Blue Smoke’ — is the highlight of this NFU newsreel. It was the first recording of a local composition performed by local musicians to be manufactured in NZ (in a very exact and highly labour intensive exercise involving men in white coats). The country’s biggest airlift of sheep, sharp shooting army cadets, high flying painters redecorating a Wellington church and heavy machinery being moved across Auckland by barge also feature.
In this two-part Lookout documentary from 1983, critic Hamish Keith explores how New Zealanders have housed themselves over the 20th Century. This first part builds to 1935: it begins in Auckland War Memorial Museum, with Keith asking how Kiwis would represent themselves if they were curators in the future. He presents the state house as the paramount Kiwi icon, and examines the journey from Victorian slums and Queen Street sewers to villas, bungalows and suburbia; plus the impact on housing of cars, consumerism, influenza, war, depression, and new ideas in town planning.