This collection looks at some of New Zealand's most significant national tragedies. Spanning 150+ years, it tells stories of drama, caution, hope and recovery — from the 1863 wreck of the Orpheus at Manukau Heads, to Tarawera, the Wahine, Erebus, Pike River and Christchurch. In the backgrounder, Jock Phillips writes about the collection, and the "common sequence" to disaster.
In this experimental drama shot in 1975, four young idealists escape the city for rural Foxton, and set about living off the land. But an act of violence sends the commune into isolation and extremism. Teasing tense drama from rural settings, the 90 minute tale from maverick National Film Unit director Paul Maunder shines a harsh light on the contradictions of the frontier spirit. Although state television funded it, they found it too edgy to screen; instead Landfall debuted at the 1977 Wellington Film Festival. The cast includes Sam Neill as a Vietnam vet, and Mark ll director John Anderson.
"I like to pull rabbits out of hats to surprise people". So said young director David Blyth, before unleashing Angel Mine. Inspired partly by the surrealism of Luis Buñuel, Blyth's inventive debut is one of a handful of Kiwi experimental feature films to win mainstream release. Featuring a whitebread suburban couple and their liberated alter egos, the film explores ideas of consumerism, sexuality, the media, and taboo-breaking. The film excited criticism from Patricia Bartlett, and a notorious addition to its R18 certificate: "contains punk cult material."
This documentary, made seven years after the death of legendary filmmaker and kinetic artist Len Lye, tells Lye's story: from being a young boy staring at the sun, to travels around the Pacific and life in New York. It includes excerpts from many of his films, and interviews with second wife Ann and biographer Roger Horrocks. Len Lye himself is often heard, outlining his ideas of the ‘old brain’ and how Māori and Aboriginal art influenced his work. The grandeur of his ideas are only matched by their scale, with steel sculptures designed to be "at least 20 foot high".
Cowboys of Culture is director Geoff Steven's personal perspective on the Kiwi cinema renaissance of the 1970s. It traces the development of the local film industry from the ‘she'll be right' days when filming permits were unknown, and all that was needed to get a picture up were a Bolex camera, enthusiasm and ingenuity. Raw they might have been, but the films (Wild Man, Sleeping Dogs, Goodbye Pork Pie, Smash Palace) represented a vital new cultural force. The film features interviews with the major players, and clips from their movies.
This NZ Music Month collection showcases NZ music television, spun from a playlist of classic documentaries and beloved music shows. From Split Enz to the NZSO, Heavenly Pop Hits to Hip Hop New Zealand, whether you count the beat or roll like this, there’s something here for all ears (and eyes). Plus music writer Chris Bourke gets Ready to Roll with this pop history primer.
In Geoff Steven's Kiwi riff on the European art film, a vulcanologist (Brit character actor Nigel Davenport) roams the Volcanic Plateau accompanied by a journalist, a photographer and escapees from a cholera quarantine. Steamy philosophical musings and symbolic intent made for a marked departure from the realism of the NZ feature film renaissance (e.g. Steven’s own Skin Deep). The second feature produced by John Maynard (The Navigator), this moody allegorical tale was co-scripted by Czech writer/designer Ester Krumbachova and Czech-based Kiwi Michael Havas.
Off his own bat, Ilam art student Glenn Standring got his third-year short into competition at the Cannes Film Festival. The minimal plot — hipster private eye Lenny Minute dryly narrates, before facing his nemesis, a rampaging giant blue “sheila doll” — allows Standring to conjure up a distinctive collage-styled cityscape, mined from a grab-bag of Americana inspirations: 50s sci-fi, jazz, the hardboiled detectives of Dashiell Hammett, and star Marlene Dietrich. After this early computer-aided short, Standring joined the Gibson Group as an animator, then directed two stylish features.
This collaboration between dancer Douglas Wright and director Gregor Nicholas was one of a series of music and movement-based shorts that established Nicholas’ reputation. A dramatised film noir sequence leads to a cross-dressing dance duel between Wright and Debbie McCulloch, shifting between an Orwellian cityscape and retro nightclub. Wright choreographs the bodies, and Nicholas the bold and sensual visual rhythms (shot by Stuart Dryburgh). Nicholas went on to direct high profile commercials and movie Broken English. Wright passed away in 2018.
The theatre of sport is given full-blown operatic treatment in this National Film Unit classic. Footage from the French 1979 rugby tour of New Zealand is rendered in slow-motion and cut to a Tchaikovsky score. The result is an often glorious, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, paean to rugby. Balletic lineouts, driving tackles, and the dark mysteries of the ruck, make for a ballsy Swan Lake in the mud. It includes the Bastille Day French victory over the All Blacks. Directed by NFU stalwart Arthur Everard, it won a jury prize at the Montreal World Film Festival.