Packed with creatures and landscapes that quite simply boggle the mind, the Nature Collection showcases New Zealand's impressive menagerie of nature and wildlife films. Many of the titles were made by powerhouse company NHNZ, which began around 1977 as the Natural History Unit, a small, southern outpost of state television. In this backgrounder, Peter Hayden — who had a hand in more than a few of these classic films — guides viewers through just what the Nature Collection has to offer.
A teenage boy (Lance Wharewaka) should be at school, but instead learns about the bush and the old days from his ailing grand uncle (Bill Tawhai). The friendship prepares the boy with the necessary skills for life. Written by poet Hone Tuwhare, Eel marked the drama directing debut of TV3 newsreader and Wild South presenter Joanna Paul."He [Bill] brought a mana with him and has such irreplaceable Māori knowledge," said Paul, who remembered him discussing "how he used bobs to catch eels. He remembers using flax — you can't buy knowledge like that."
Richard Nunns is a renowned expert in taonga pūoro — traditional Māori instruments like wood and bone flutes. This 2007 episode of the Māori Television arts show sits down with him as he narrates his collaboration with Brian Flintoff and the late Hirini Melbourne — “a magic coalition of separate skills” — and the journey they’ve undertaken to resurrect lost sounds. Inspired by museum objects, literature and song, the trio led the revival of the form in contemporary Aotearoa. Nunns says the pūoro would’ve functioned as “a cellphone to the divine” for tohunga (experts).
This Wild South documentary opens with the haunting call of the kōkako ringing out over the forest canopy at dawn. The film tells the story of Aotearoa’s "avian squirrel" and its struggle for survival — living with introduced cats and rats, while the remnants of its North Island rainforest home face logging. The songbird is framed as an icon of both conservation loss and hope. The script is by poet Brian Turner. The use of composer Hirini Melbourne’s score (with lyrics in te reo) was praised by award judges at British nature film festival Wildscreen.
"1-2-3, Ngāti!" This is a behind the scenes look at the Ngāti Porou East Coast Rugby team’s 2001 campaign. Beginning with a Ruatoria marae live-in, the film follows the team’s unlikely efforts to win National Provincial Championship’s 2nd Division. The classic underdog story captures grassroots rugby’s strong community ties. The secret weapon of NZ’s only iwi-founded union? "Whānau spirit". As prop Orcades Crawford says: "when you put on a sky blue jersey it’s totally different to anything else - it’s probably better than the All Blacks [jersey]!"
Paul Wolffram's film melds sounds from noted musicians Richard Nunns and Horomona Horo, recorded in spectacular locations around New Zealand, to demonstrate that the sounds of the natural world are a form of music too. Nunns is a renowned expert in taonga pūoro - traditional Māori instruments like wood and bone flutes. Debuting at the 2014 Wellington Film Festival, Voices of the Land pays tribute to Nunn's role in their revival, while Wolffram's powerhouse creative team use image and sound to show ways "landscape and the voices of the land can be heard".
Once Were Warriors opened the eyes of cinemagoers around the globe to an unexamined aspect of modern New Zealand life. Director Lee Tamahori's hard-hitting depiction of domestic and gang violence amongst an urban Māori whānau was adapted from the best-selling Alan Duff novel. The film provided career-defining roles for Temuera Morrison and Rena Owen as Jake the Muss and Beth Heke. It remains NZ's most watched local release in terms of bums on seats. Among a trio of backgrounders, Riwia Brown writes about adapting Duff's book for the screen.
This sixth episode of Mike King's exploration of the original journey of the Treaty travels to Tauranga, where the comedian finds tales of murder, cannibalism, inter-tribal conflict — and a missing Treaty sheet. King’s whodunit asks why some people signed and why some were so against it, notably Hori Kingi Tupaea. The Tauranga sheet includes 20 signatures from Ngāi Te Rangi and only one chief from Ngāti Pukenga. King also discovers an unlikely twist: an unused Treaty sheet has ended up with the (then-French-aligned) Catholic Church for safekeeping.
Described as a "Māori Twilight Zone", Mataku was a series of half-hour dramatic narratives steeped in Māori experience with the "unexplained". Two South Pacific Pictures-produced series screened on TV3; a later series screened on TV One in 2005. Each episode was introduced by Temuera Morrison Rod Serling-style. The bi-lingual series was a strong international and domestic success; producer Carey Carter: "Our people are very spiritual ... and here we are ... turning it into stories so that the rest of the world can get a glimpse of that aspect of our culture."
Ralph Hotere (Te Aupōuri) is regarded as one of New Zealand's greatest artists. This documentary by Merata Mita provides a perspective on his world, largely by way of framing his extensive body of work. Hotere remains famously tight-lipped throughout, but there are interviews with artists, friends and commentators, alongside scenes of Hotere working and of his contemporary home context. Mita's impressionistic film is set to a Hirini Melbourne-directed score of jazz, māori and pop songs, and poetry reading by Hotere's first wife Cilla McQueen.