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.
In the 1950s, driven by a desire to power around the shallows of the Mackenzie Country's braided rivers, inventor and "South Island sheep man" Bill Hamilton developed an improved method of jet boat propulsion. This NFU film explains the concept and Hamilton demonstrates the 'turbo craft': cruising Lake Manapouri, waterskiing Lyttelton Harbour, and heading up the Whanganui. Then it's spin outs and shooting rapids (and deer) with Commander Philip Porter from the icebreaker USS Glacier...who clearly loves the smell of the Waimakariri in the morning.
This 1949 NFU film is a whistle-stop tour of Aotearoa that, per the title, takes in the full gamut of the scenic wonderland. Splendidly filmed in Kodachrome, there are lakes (Tutira, Manapouri, Te Anau, Wakatipu), caves (Waitomo), mountains (Cook/Aoraki, Egmont/Taranaki) and forests and farms aplenty, with the occasional city sojourn and an obligatory ferry shot. In the narration indefatigable nature is harnessed for man’s needs and appreciation. Of note is a sequence on gum-collector Nicholas Yakas, who shows impressive agility as he scales a giant kauri.
The bid to raise the level of Fiordland’s Lake Manapōuri (to provide hydro-electricity for an aluminum smelter) resulted in controversy between 1959 and 1972. This film charts a (still-timely) debate as arguments for industrial growth and cheap energy vie with views advocating for ecological values. New Zealand’s first large-scale environmental campaign ensued, and its “damn the dam” victory was a spur for the modern conservation movement — drawing an unprecedented petition, Forest and Bird, and figures like farmer Ron McLean and botanist Alan Mark into the fray.
This 1952 tourism film promoted New Zealand as a destination to Australians. In the 1950s the Kiwi tourist industry lacked accommodation and investment. But new opportunities were offered by international air travel — like the Melbourne to Christchurch route shown here, flown by TEAL (which later became Air New Zealand). Produced by the National Film Unit, this promo touts the South Island as an antidote to crowded city life in Melbourne and Sydney. Road trips offer glaciers, lakes, snow sports, motoring, angling, racing, and scenic delight aplenty.
Cyril Morton's career began in the 1920s, during New Zealand's first sustained burst of filmmaking. Morton helped create Government filmmaking body the National Film Unit. The former cameraman was later second-in-command at the Unit for 13 years, until retiring in 1963. Morton passed away in 1986.
Geoffrey Scott, MBE and OBE, oversaw the Government's National Film Unit for over 20 years, until his retirement in 1973. Scott began his film career playing piano over silent movies. During his command of the unit, the organisation won 141 awards.
Claude Wickstead started working at the Government Film Studios in 1938. After serving in WWll, he joined the National Film Unit’s sound department, where he contributed to the soundtracks of a great many films including the long-running series Weekly Review and Pictorial Parade. He was in charge of the NFU Sound Department from 1951 until his retirement in 1977.
As an intrepid young cameraman for the National Film Unit, Don Oakley travelled to remote parts of New Zealand and brought to the screen scenes of the recently-rediscovered takahē, Opo the dolphin, and life in the backblocks. In a lengthy career, he also filmed in the studio and overseas, rising to be chief cameraman of the NFU.
Lynton Diggle spent almost 25 years working as a director and cameraman for the government's National Film Unit, before launching his own company. Along the way, he filmed in Antarctica and the waters of Lake Taupō, captured major salvage operations at sea, and worked alongside legendary director David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia). Diggle passed away on 23 November 2018.