For this screen showcase of NZ visual arts talent, critic Mark Amery selects his top documentaries profiling artists. From the icons (Hotere, McCahon, Lye) to the unheralded (Edith Collier) to Takis the Greek, each portrait shines light on the person behind the canvas. "Naturally inquisitive, with an open wonder about the world, they make for inspiring onscreen company."
By the time she died in 1947 aged 78, expat Frances Hodgkins was recognised as a key figure in British art. Subtitled 'A Painter of Genius', this 1989 Kaleidoscope portrait mixes archival material with recreations of Hodgkins working in England in the 1940s, and being interviewed by Vogue. Her "gypsy" life ranges from a Dunedin upbringing, leaving New Zealand in 1901, to painting and teaching in Europe, and struggles with poverty and health. After embracing modernism in the 1920s, her art combined still life and landscape in original ways. TV veteran (and artist) Peter Coates directs.
This documentary is a portrait of Wellington art-dealer Peter McLeavey, who spent over 40 years running his influential Cuba Street gallery. In the Leon Narbey-shot film, McLeavey talks about his life: a roving North Island railway childhood, an early love of art, discovering his New Zealand identity while living in London, and returning home to run over 500 plus exhibitions, initially from his flat — including key showcases of artists such as Toss Woollaston, Gordon Walters, and Colin McCahon.
Made for the UN's first 'Earth Summit' in Stockholm in 1971, the film explores what the future holds for NZ’s environment. Director Hugh Macdonald (This is New Zealand) presents an impressionistic ecosystem: mixing shots of native natural wonder, urbanisation, and pollution with abstract montages and predictions from futurologists — such as Cousteau’s “underwater man”. Before climate change heated up 21st Century Doomsday debates, this film (made for the Ministry of Works!) places stock in individual responsibility. The score aptly enlists the French nursery rhyme ‘Are You Sleeping?’.
This post-war film was made to showcase New Zealand to UK audiences. Directed by Michael Forlong, the NFU film is a booster’s catalogue of contemporary NZ life. The message is that NZ is a modern pastoral paradise: open for business but welfare aware. Nature is conquered via egalitarian effort; air and sea links overcome the tyranny of distance; and science informs primary industry. Māori are depicted assimilating into the Pākehā world. Sport, suburbia and scenic wonder are touted, and an NZSO performance shows that the soil can grow culture as well as clover.
TVNZ’s flagship 80s arts show looks at Sir Toss Woollaston — a pioneer of modern art in New Zealand. Topics include his development as an artist and the “struggle of painting” (contra convention), difficult years trying to support a family, the influence of his wife, and the liberation he felt in his mid-50s when he could finally earn a living from painting. Woollaston is blunt but generous with his time and opinions. There are precious riffs off his famous description of wanting to paint the sunlight in a landscape, “after it had been absorbed by the earth”.
Director Sam Neill uses ‘Architect Man’ — a cartoon superhero trying to save Wellington’s buildings from mediocrity — to open this visual essay on contemporary Kiwi architecture. A montage of construction materials is followed by views on the high rise, woolshed, and Futuna Chapel. Renovation, DIY, prefabs and non-conformist design thinking are offered as hopes for the built environment’s future. Made by Neill when he was working at the National Film Unit, it was released in a shortened version (without the animation) in 1977, the same year he starred in movie Sleeping Dogs.
This edition of the NFU's long-running magazine film series boards the Wellington to Auckland 'experimental express', to test its 11 and a half hour trip claims. Then it's south for the opening of Christchurch Airport's new modernist terminals, designed by architect Paul Pascoe. At Waitangi, ships and a submarine from the New Zealand, Australian and British navies train, and Waitangi Day is commemorated. A reel highlight is Australian Formula One champion Jack Brabham meeting jet boat inventor Bill Hamilton, and trying out a 'Hamilton turn' on the Waimakariri River.
This newsreel's subjects include: a camp being built by Lake Karapiro for rowers in the Empire Games, a garden party at St Mary's Home for Children, and a community play area in Naenae (where the sport of "paddle tennis" is featured). Students of Wellington's Architectural Centre build a pine and glass-walled modernist house in Karori, that has bunks and a utility room, "where children can play and Mother can sew". Perhaps most exciting is the demolition by army engineers of Murphy's Brickyard chimney in Berhampore, with children swarming over the fresh rubble.
This documentary looks at the life and work of New Zealand's most celebrated painter, Colin McCahon. The first excerpt looks at McCahon's beginnings in Timaru and Dunedin, and his explorations of modernist techniques in paintings that reconceived 'the promised land' in an endemic landscape. The second excerpt covers McCahon's time in Muriwai in the 60s and 70s, and the influence of the environment and Māori spirituality on his work. Sam Neill reads from McCahon's letters and writings. Directed by Paul Swadel, it won best documentary at the 2005 Qantas Awards.