In the 20th Century forests of fast-growing exotic pines were established in the North Island, making one of the world’s largest timber plantations. This short explores timber work in Kinleith and Kawerau: from planting to felling to finished product. Directed by NFU veteran Hugh Macdonald, Logger Rhythms is notable as the first Kiwi film to record sound using Dolby Stereo. Sound men Kit Rolling and Tony Johnson’s efforts capturing chainsaw and machine ambience, along with Steve Robinson’s score, compelled Dolby in London to use the film as a demonstration reel.
The ‘Young Giant’ is Kaingaroa Forest: the largest plantation in the Southern Hemisphere, and one of the largest exotic forests in the world. 1,300 square kilometres produce “50 million cubic feet of timber a year” for pulp, paper, and building. Directed by Brian Cross, and made by the NFU for the forest’s then-managers — the New Zealand Forest Service — this documentary showcases the industry in the pines: scrub clearance for forest extension, burn-offs, machine planting, pruning, felling, grafting, and kiln-drying cones to extract seeds for sowing.
This 2012 documentary explores the economic and creative potential of one of the icons of New Zealand’s forest: the kauri. Logging and fire have destroyed 95% of Aotearoa’s great kauri forests (this film was made before kauri dieback disease became a major threat). Director Mathurin Molgat poses a solution to the tree’s survival: commercial harvest. He frames the film around Laurie Williams, who makes guitars from the wood. In this excerpt, musician Tiki Taane talks about Tāne Mahuta, and a tree is prepared for felling. The film screened at a number of festivals in the United States.
A National Film Unit cameraman for 36 years, Brian Cross worked on a large number of films, ranging from royal tours and rugby tours to industrial progress in forestry and electricity transmission, some as cameraman and director. He is particularly remembered for his record of the maiden voyage of HMNZS. Otago, and for his many films of New Zealand railways.Image credit: Archives New Zealand, ref AAQT 6421 B18889
Welsh-born James Harris played an important role in the founding of the National Film Unit in 1941. A well-educated, versatile filmmaker equally at home behind the camera, operating a splicer or wielding a pen, he spent 26 years with the NFU, mostly as a senior director. Photo credit: Archives New Zealand, reference AAQT 6401 A23,729
Claude Wickstead started working at the Government Film Studios in 1938. After serving in WWll, he joined the National Film Unit’s sound department, where he contributed to the soundtracks of a great many films including the long-running series Weekly Review and Pictorial Parade. He was in charge of the NFU Sound Department from 1951 until his retirement in 1977.
The late Margaret Thomson is arguably the first New Zealand woman to have directed films. Thomson spent much of her film career working in England, plus two years back in New Zealand at the National Film Unit. Her NFU short Railway Worker (1948) is regarded as a classic.
Ada (Holly Hunter) has been mute since she was six. She travels from Scotland with her daughter (Anna Paquin) and her grand piano to colonial New Zealand, for an arranged marriage. When her husband, a stoic settler (Sam Neill) sells the piano to Baines (Harvey Keitel), Ada and Baines come to a secret agreement. She can win her piano back key by key by playing for him, as he acts out his desire for her. An especially big hit in Europe, Jane Campion's Oscar-winning tale of sexual emancipation in the bush is the only NZ film to have won the top award at the Cannes Film Festival.