This special edition of the National Film Unit’s monthly magazine series looks at some of the “people, places and events filmed by our cameramen during the years 1941 - 1962”. The NFU’s 21st birthday review — compiled by David H Fowler — ranges from wartime newsreels to the post-war boom (factories, dams, industrial agriculture), from salvos to Peter Snell. Other images include Kiwi soldiers playing rugby in Korea, and cigarettes hanging from the lips of firemen fighting Christchurch's Ballantyne Department Store fire in 1947.
Mai Time was an influential magazine show for Māori youth, screening for a decade on Saturday mornings on TV2. This episode looks at the place of ta moko (tattoo), interviewing Robert Ruha, a 27-year-old with a full-face moko. Mai Time crew visit Otara Music Arts Centre, a Matariki exhibition at Whaingaroa (Raglan), and then artist Lisa Reihana finds “more mean art by the sea”: Brett Graham and Rachel Rakena’s Aniwaniwa exhibition at the 52nd Venice Biennale. Aptly, the artwork explores the 1947 flooding of the village of Horahora for a hydroelectric scheme.
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 edition of the National Film Unit’s long-running monthly magazine series features a diverse line-up. The first report covers the opening ceremony of the meeting house at Waiwhetu Marae, Lower Hutt, where Prime Minister Walter Nash and Sir Eruera Tirikatene receive the pōwhiri and haka. Then it’s a canter to Auckland’s 1960 Pony Club Championships; before flowing down south for the diversion of the Waitaki River in the Otago town of Otematata, as part of the Benmore hydroelectric scheme: a massive earth dam destined to be the “powerhouse of the South Island”.
This 1978 National Film Unit documentary provides a potted history of settler groups that came to New Zealand from Europe. Archive material and narration covers the colonials. Then visits are paid to the German-descended Eggers, tobacco growers from Moutere, and newly arrived French bakers and Dutch dairy farmers. Aptly for a film directed by actor and future winemaker Sam Neill, the film drops in on an Italian play and the Babich family of Dalmatian winemakers. Neill worked at the NFU in his 20s, around the time of his breakout acting role in Sleeping Dogs (1977).
“Only 40 hours by air from San Francisco and six from Sydney, Auckland New Zealand is on your doorstep.” In 1952, NZ tourism was also a long way from a core contributor to the national economy. A flying boat and passenger ship deposits visitors in the “Queen among cities” for this National Film Unit survey of Kiwi attractions. The potted tour takes in yachting, the beach, postwar housing shortage, school patrols, dam building and the War Memorial Museum, before getting out of town into dairy, racing and thermal wonderlands, where “you can meet some of our Māori people”.
People of the Waikato makes frequent pitstops along the 425 km path of NZ's longest river. Made in an era of post-war electricity shortages, the film balances requisite beautiful scenery with excursions into the Waikato's extensive hydroelectric system: including then-unfinished fourth dam Whakamaru, whose development was slowed by the discovery of clay in the foundation rock. Alongside brief glimpses of those who live and work on the river, there is footage of stunt-filled canoe races, Turangawaewae Marae, and a veteran boatman tugging coal.
This NFU documentary showcases the hydroelectric power-generating might of the Waikato River. The ‘man harnesses nature’ narrative — shown via concrete, steel and earthmoving for dam building — highlights the path of the power: to drive farms, factories and Wellington’s electric trains. Director Cecil Holmes later wrote that post-war NZ was "a desperately poor country"; the film aimed to highlight Government efforts to overcome power shortages. After the 'satchel snatch' smear campaign of 1948, Holmes left for a highly regarded screen career in Australia.
Rowley Habib — also known as Rore Hapipi — was one of the first writers to bring a genuinely Māori perspective to New Zealand stage and screen. His play Death of the Land is seen as a landmark in the development of Māori theatre. In 1983 Habib won a Feltex Award for land rights drama The Protestors, part of a trio of pioneering one-off plays for television. Habib passed away on 3 April 2016.
New Zealand’s first left-wing documentary filmmaker, Cecil Holmes achieved notoriety in the late 1940s through the highly publicised exposure of his communist activity as a Public Service Association (PSA) delegate in the National Film Unit. He went on to become a significant film director in Australia.Image credit: Alexander Turnbull Library, 1/2-023573; F (detail)