Hugh Macdonald began his long, award-studded career at the National Film Unit, where at age 25 he directed ambitious three-screen spectacular This is New Zealand (1970). It was seen by 400,000 New Zealanders. In the 1980s he produced Oscar-nominated short The Frog, the Dog, and the Devil and set up his own company, continuing a busy diet of train documentaries, commercial films and animation.
Hugh Macdonald’s long filmmaking career encompasses historical epics, Oscar-nominated shorts, and lots of time on the road. Macdonald is probably best-known for three-screen spectacular This is New Zealand, which got crowds queueing at World Expo in Japan, before playing for months back home. A two-decade long stint at the National Film Unit also saw him directing two episodes of historical epic The Governor, and producing the first of many animated shorts.
No Ordinary Sheila unfurls the life story of the adventurous, multi-talented Sheila Natusch: from first opening her eyes to nature while growing up on Stewart Island, as the daughter of a ranger and an artist; through befriending Janet Frame during teacher training, to the many books Natusch went on to write and/or illustrate. Filmmaker Hugh Macdonald (This is New Zealand) directs this portrait of a lover of nature and life, her joy unbowed by age. Natusch died on 10 August 2017, just days after watching the film as part of a packed house at the 2017 Wellington Film Festival.
One morning, as kids are stealing apples from an old man’s orchard high above a seaside town, an earthquake hits. No one is hurt, and the townsfolk are non-plussed, but the old man is agitated: he alone is aware of the imminent tsunami and tries to warn the village. Based on a classic Japanese fable, The Orchard was made by one-man band Bob Stenhouse, who had been nominated for an Academy Award the previous decade for pioneer tale The Frog, The Dog and The Devil. Fans of the animator will recognise his lush, luminous hand-drawn style.
In the beginning — of both movies and books — is the word. Many classic Kiwi films and television dramas have come from books (Sleeping Dogs, Whale Rider); and many writers have found new readers, through being celebrated and adapted on screen. This collection showcases Kiwi books and authors on screen. Plus check out booklover Finlay Macdonald's backgrounder.
This 1970 documentary surveys New Zealand’s dairy industry — “probably the most advanced in the world” — from pasture to export. Dairying then produced a quarter of NZ’s income, but with Britain due to join the EEC, NZ was forced to seek new markets. This film proclaims the industry’s readiness, thanks to an artificial breeding centre (with ‘calf-eteria’), room-sized computers, and cheeses designed for the Asian market. The country's 25,000 dairy farms were each owner-operated, and averaged 90 cows. The Dairy Industry won top prize at an agricultural film competition in Berlin.
Manapōuri hydroelectric power station is New Zealand’s largest. This 1970 NFU film — made for the Electricity Department — follows workers clearing a path for power through epic Fiordland mountains and rainforest, building roads and power pylons, and stringing a cable along the “hard and dirty” 30 miles to the aluminium smelter at Bluff. Sixteen men were killed constructing ‘the line’ before power was first generated in 1969. At the same time the scheme generated mass protests (the ‘Save Manapōuri’ campaign) at the proposal to raise Lake Manapōuri's level.
This animated short follows a film editor being driven around the bend by the domino effect of various intrusions, which prevent him from getting on with his work. Animator Bob Stenhouse (later Oscar-nominated for The Frog, The Dog and The Devil) dramatises the challenge of maintaining creative focus while facing Kafkaesque bureaucracy, noisy interruptions and form-filling. Aside from exploring the psychology of creativity, the short is also a primer for how productions were edited in the pre-digital age: showing film physically cut and pasted together with a splicer.
This 1981 promotional short snaps the clapperboard on the National Film Unit’s new filmmaking facilities at Avalon. The Unit had moved from its Miramar birthplace to the Lower Hutt complex in 1978 (it was officially opened on 18 October that year). Narrated by Bob Parker and scored to a funky soundtrack, the film is a guide through NFU production processes. A montage of production scenes is followed by a look at film processing once the film is ‘in the can’. Tricks of the trade depicted include rear projection, film colouring and foley (sound effects).
“I’d no idea what I’d been missing!” This 1985 film pitches Aotearoa as a destination to our Aussie cobbers. Long haul air travel had led to a tourism boom, and promo campaigns were becoming increasingly sophisticated. This effort tries to overcome expectations of NZ as a place for oldies where “nothing is ever open”. A dinky-di Sydney family go on a tour of “Kiwiland” for a smorgasbord of sun, sea and snow. There’s crayfish and wine on the sand, and Barry Crump tells a less than 100% Pure tale at the pub. Australian John Sheerin (McLeod's Daughters) plays Dad.