If a single word could sum up the free-wheeling flavour of alternative music and comedy in Aotearoa during the 1970s, that word would surely be ... Blerta. The 'Bruno Lawrence Electric Revelation and Travelling Apparition' included foundation members of the NZ screen industry (Lawrence, Geoff Murphy, Alun Bollinger) plus other merry pranksters. Drawing on the Blerta TV series and beyond, Blerta Revisited (aka Blerta - The Return Trip) is an anarchic collection of comedy skits, musical interludes and films culled from the Blerta archives. Costa Botes writes about Blerta here.
The Splore summer music festival has always been as much about alternative lifestyles as live music: in other words, it's a poi twirling, hippie paradise. Presenter Jane Yee teams up with Evan Short — one half of electronica act Concord Dawn — to wander around the idyllic Waharau Regional Park setting, take a wedding snap at the 'Las Vegas Wedding Chapel', and witness the air-cracking skills of The Wild Whip Man. Yee also chats to Fat Freddy's Drop and Nathan Haines, and showcases videos for 'Don't Tell Me' (Concord Dawn), 'Hope' (Fat Freddy's), and 'Doot Dude' (Haines).
In the late 1970s a like-minded group of young people decided to live together communally on a block of land in the Coromandel, and the Mahana community was born. In this Vice documentary Arthur Van Resseghem, the last member of that original group, guides the camera around the dilapidated sites of "vandalised" commune houses. Van Resseghem believes the other residents have abandoned Mahana's original vision — but it seems he has become an outlier in the community, with other residents claiming 'undesirable' people were being promised free homes.
In the early 1970s expat broadcaster Michael Dean took Aotearoa’s pulse, as it loosened its necktie and moved from “ice-cream on mutton, swilled around in tea” conservatism, towards a more cosmopolitan outlook. Dean asks the intelligentsia (James K Baxter, Tim Shadbolt, Peter Cape, Shirley Smith, Bill Sutch, Ian Cross, Peter Beaven, Pat Hanly, Syd Jackson, Hana Te Hemara) for their take. The questions range from “what does the family in Tawa sit down to eat these days?” to the Māori renaissance. Dean had made his name in the 60s, as a high profile broadcaster with the BBC.
In this one-off documentary Te Radar takes his roving reporter skills to Takaka, and immerses himself in the groovy world of The Gathering. The New Year's dance music festival ran from 1996 to 2002. Radar proves the master of the quote, whether chatting to 'Lords of the Ping', electronic act Pitch Black or avoiding immolation from fire poi enthusiasts ("who doesn't love a fire poi", he says grimly). Watch out for Black Seed Bret McKenzie, laidback DJ star John Digweed and the earnest 'Jesus Food' crew, whose free dosh proves a bit too popular for rival food stalls.
Made by the NFU for the NZ Water Safety Council this film enlists shock to provoke punters to consider water safety. On a summer’s day a fisherman, surfer and boatie all reckon it's “a great day for it”. But thoughtlessness results in tragedy. Directed by Hugh Macdonald (This is New Zealand), the disjunct between the jaunty song on the soundtrack and sunken bodies onscreen anticipates the graphic horror of the late 90s/early 00s road safety ads (sharing kinship with 1971 bush safety PSA Such a Stupid Way to Die). Grant Tilly cameos as a radio DJ.
A wandering fortune teller parks her house truck in Hokitika on a mission to find the daughter she gave up for adoption. This is Magik. One of her first clients, a young happily married chemist's assistant, is seeking a solution to her infertility. This is Rose. Magik, too, is resolved to have another child, but without having to keep the father around. They embark on a joint odyssey for love, sex and pregnancy in writer/director Vanessa Alexander’s feature debut (made when she was 28). David Stratton in Variety praised the film’s "disarmingly sweet treatment".
Starting in the questioning times of the late 60s, many New Zealanders began leaving town to set up their own communities, in search of alternative ways to live. This then and now documentary travels to communes long gone and still active, and tracks down many of those involved. Tim Shadbolt describes a time when people questioned "everything fearlessly ... without reserve and without restraint". The back to the land approach brought both satisfaction and fatigue. Dirty Bloody Hippies played to full houses at NZ's Documentary Edge Festival.
One of the earliest films made by Roger Donaldson (Sleeping Dogs), this curio chronicles the dawning of the Age of Aquarius in Aotearoa. The made for TV film features interviews with those who've swapped walk shorts for wigwams to "start again". There's rebellion against all things straight, and rejection of the city in favour of getting back to nature. Folk songs are the soundtrack to hippies, outdoor bathing, "group touching", the Blerta bus, and DIY dome housing. Counterpointing the counterculture are 1984-style scenes of masked marchers representing the silent majority.
Wellington is given the Baraka 'time-scape' treatment in this short film by Richard Sidey, made while studying at Massey University. There's no characters or conventional narrative, but the life cycle of a city is captured in a Koyaanisqatsi-like compilation of day and night-time scenes. Clouds scud by in hyper-time-lapse and slow-motion, and Wellington landmarks (harbour, bucket fountain, turbine etc) are seen anew, cut to a soundtrack by percussion group Strike. The tone poem won best student film at the American Conservation Film Festival 2007.