Rotorua Lookabout

Short Film, 1969 (Full Length)

This 1969 film promotes the attractions, industry and history of “contemporary Rotorua”, from the Arawa canoe to forestry, from mud pool hangi to the Ward baths (“heavenly for hangovers”). The score is jazz, and the narration is flavoured by the impressive baritone of opera singer Inia Te Wiata (father of actress Rima), who gushes about geysers and Rotorua’s evolution from sleepy tourist backwater to modern city and conference centre. Also featured: kapa haka, meter maids in traditional Māori dress, and a rendition of classic song ‘Me He Manu Rere’ in a meeting house jive.

New Zealand Mirror No. 1

Short Film, 1950 (Full Length)

New Zealand Mirror was an National Film Unit 'magazine-film' series geared towards the UK market. Accompanied by nationalistic, upbeat narration, this first episode covers 'New Zealand Birds', and efforts to harness 'Rotorua's Natural Heat'. It visits a game park to see Kiwi ("definitely queer birds") where, in a Disney-esque scene, two children meet a one-legged Kiwi with a bamboo peg-leg; and boats over to Kāpiti Island to meet rockhopper penguin, tui, kaka and weka. In Rotorua, geothermal cooking, backyard geysers, and heated baths and pools are explored.

Hot Earth

Short Film, 1955 (Full Length)

This 1955 film looks at the “savage” geology of the North Island volcanic region, and its human settlement. Te Arawa myth introduces the steaming valleys of volcano and quake god Rūaumoko. The film then surveys geothermal activity and its exploitation by Māori and Pākehā, from cooking to heating hospital radiators. It ends with a dramatic geyser display in front of tourists. Guide Rangi cameos. It screened at the Edinburgh Film Festival, and was John Feeney’s last National Film Unit gig before directing Oscar-nominated films for the National Film Board of Canada.

Four for the Clouds

Short Film, 1964 (Full Length)

Taking viewers on a tour of the Volcanic Plateau in the central North Island, this aerial jaunt is enough to make anyone want to take to the skies. After taking off from Rotorua, the award-winning NFU short treats us to soaring shots of the Waimangu Volcanic Rift Valley, Ruapehu, and 'The Frying Pan', the world's largest hot lake. As well as the impressive scenery, the voiceover (supposedly by the pilot) offers up a brief history of the geysers and fumaroles littering the plateau, and a mention of how the Waikato River has been interrupted by "that necessary monster: progress".

Amazing New Zealand!

Short Film, 1964 (Full Length)

In this award-winning tourism promo, an easy-going narrator guides us through a land of contrasts — “where else would you find golf and geysers?”. The sights range from frozen to boiling lakes, characterful cities to odd natives (kiwi, takahē, carnivorous snails). Visual highlights include quirky road-signs (“beware of wind”, “slow workmen ahead”), toheroa digging and a flotilla of capsizing optimists. Directed by NFU veteran Ron Bowie, the film won an award at the 1963 Venice Film Festival, before headlining a special Amazing New Zealand season of shorts in NZ cinemas.

The Lion and the Kiwi

Film, 1959 (Full Length)

This National Film Unit documentary follows the British Lions 1959 rugby tour to New Zealand. Prior to live televised sports coverage, match highlights were rushed onto cinema screens; NFU tour coverage was later edited into this feature length doco. On the field the series was won by the All Blacks 3-1, including the first test where Don Clarke famously kicked six penalties to beat the Lions’ four tries. Off the field, the Lions visited farms and resorts, drove trout and tried Māori song and dance with guide Rangi. A star back for the Lions was Peter Jackson. 

Landscape in Stamps

Short Film, 1977 (Full Length)

Philatelists will delight in this artful National Film Unit production, where stamps are used as a perforated frame for showcasing a pictorial parade of NZ landscapes. The film offers an impressionistic take on the theme, with the landscapes (natural and human) further coloured by poetry and music. Coming from a time before electronic mail, Landscape in Stamps features readings from the work of international poets with scenic sympathies (Whitman, Frost, Thoreau, and more), and the music of composers Vaughan Williams, Handel, Beethoven and Mendelssohn.

Children of Fire Mountain - Tom (First Episode)

Television, 1979 (Full Length Episode)

This Feltex award-winning kidult series is set in the colonial town of Wainamu in 1900, amidst the North Island’s ‘thermal wonderland’. It follows the challenges that Sir Charles Pemberton (Terence Cooper) faces in building a spa on Māori land. In this first episode, local lad Tom, son of the hotelier, is irritated by the arrival of Sir Charles and his aristocratic entourage (particularly granddaughter Sarah Jane, also known as “Little Miss Prim”). Their train is late after being spooked by natives. Tom's gang of shanghai-toting scallywags also take on the mean local butcher.

Series

Children of Fire Mountain

Television, 1979

While convalescing down under Sir Charles Pemberton (Terence Cooper) schemes to build a thermal spa in the town of Wainamu c.1900. Conflict ensues as the spa’s planned location is on Māori land. The action is seen through the eyes of youngsters: hotelier’s son Tom, and Pemberton’s granddaughter Sarah Jane; who — along with an erupting volcano — eventually impart on Sir Charles a lesson about colonial hubris. The 13-part series was a marquee title from a golden age of Kiwi kidult telly-making: it won multiple Feltex awards, and screened on the BBC in 1980.

Warbrick

Short Film, 2009 (Full Length)

This short follows Joe Warbrick (Calvin Tuteao, from Nights in the Gardens of Spain), captain of the New Zealand Natives rugby team, as he tries to rouse his battle-weary players to head unto the breach once more, for a test against England. It’s midwinter during the trailblazing, 17 month long 1888-89 tour which left a black jersey legacy. In a changing room that resembles a casualty ward, Warbrick draws breath and leads a stirring haka. Made by brothers Pere and Meihana Durie, Warbrick inspired the All Blacks the day before they demolished Australia by 33-6 in 2009.