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."
Low-tech legend Chris Knox is an accomplished musician, cartoonist, critic, filmmaker, and jandal wearer. As this collection demonstrates, his genius takes flight in the DIY aesthetic of his music videos. As Flying Nun founder Roger Shepherd says in his backgrounder, “this is a unique and important collection of work perfectly illustrating what is possible with the barest of resources and a free-wheeling imagination”. Russell Brown adds his view here. Alongside music videos, the collection also includes interviews with Knox and profiles of bands Toy Love and Tall Dwarfs.
Don McGlashan has played drums, horns, guitars and PVC pipes, created memorable songs with Blam Blam Blam, The Mutton Birds and as a solo artist, and won a run of awards for his soundtrack work. As Nick Bollinger puts it in this backgrounder, his songs are good for occasions big and small.
In 2000 the Employment Relations Act was passed into law in New Zealand, replacing the Employment Contracts Act. The bill proved controversial: some suggested it placed unfair obligations on employers, while others claimed it restored much-needed rights to workers that had been undermined. This Assignment episode explores both angles. Among them, business owner John Holm argues that he shouldn’t be told how to treat his employees, while union leaders and Alliance Party MP Laila Harré all argue that without the bill, workers will continue to be exploited.
The Patea Māori Club whare was in desperate need of repair when the Marae DIY team stopped by to give it a revamp. The catch — there’s only four days to do it. The renovations are given a personal note as the show’s regular builder Hare Annef is a Patea local. Also lending a hand are soldiers from the nearby School of Military Engineering. The pressure builds as mid-construction changes are made to the plans, while elsewhere local kuia reflect on the storied history of the club. As the clock ticks down, the race is on to finish, lest the iconic club go without a whare.
This documentary follows the fight to save Christchurch’s “other” earthquake damaged cathedral, the Roman Catholic basilica. A team led by a heritage consultant and a structural engineer struggles to keep pace with fresh damage inflicted on the basilica by ongoing quakes. Drones and a Defence Force robot aid investigations into the interior of the now dangerous building. There are hard questions about the venture’s costs. But, as parishioners tell their stories, there’s also reminders that the basilica isn’t just an architectural treasure — it has been the heart of a community.
In the late 1980s, Kiwi John Britten developed and built a revolutionary racing motorcycle. He pursued his dream all the way to Daytona International Speedway in Florida. In 1991 the underdog inventor came second against the biggest and richest manufacturers in the world. Britten: Backyard Visionary documents the maverick motorcycle designer as he and his crew rush to create an even better bike for the next Daytona. After arriving in Florida, another all-nighter is required to fix an untested vehicle with many major innovations. Costa Botes writes about the documentary here.
The Colombo Plan was a Commonwealth “federation of neighbours” which aimed to counter communism in Asia by providing development aid in the area's poorer countries. This National Film Unit short, directed by future NFU manager David H Fowler, ranges across Asia as it surveys New Zealand’s contributions to the postwar plan: funding hospitals, agriculture and education in Indonesia, Malaya, Sarawak, North Borneo, Pakistan and India. The film also visits Colombo students in their home countries, passing on skills that they learned while studying at NZ universities.
This Army recruiting film was made while New Zealand was still involved in the Vietnam War. While its emphasis is on the various trades, such as carpentry, engineering and radio operation, which can be learned in the army, it doesn't shy away from the purely military aspects. Soldiers are trained in unarmed combat, parachuting and jungle warfare. Exercises at the Waiouru Army Camp involving armoured support are also featured. Women are included, but in 1966 they fulfil roles in signals and nursing to free up men for combat duties.
Evan Short, one half of drum and bass duo Concord Dawn, talks about electronic music making in this episode from a series made for high school students. Appropriately, he first met future collaborator Matt Harvey in school music lessons and they later reconnected as drum and bass fans while studying audio engineering. To the thundering accompaniment of Concord Dawn’s student radio hit 'Morning Light', Short discusses hardware, software for beginners, the importance of developing good "ears", and the international recognition they have received.