This collection celebrates all things equine on New Zealand screens. Since the early days of the colony, horses have been everything from nation builders (Cobb & Co) to national heroes (Phar Lap, Charisma) to companions (Black Beauty) to heartland icons. Whether work horse, war horse, wild horse, or show pony, horses have become a key part of this (Kiwi) way of life.
Jon Gadsby visits Myanmar (formerly Burma) and discovers an achingly beautiful country. But behind endless golden temples and scenes from Kipling, Gadsby finds "a place of contradiction" where many live in abject poverty, controlled absolutely by their military government (most famously the ongoing house arrest of democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi). When Gadsby visits, it is not a country to be travelled to lightly. He finds the locals to be open and willing to play host; yet he is struck overall by their "sad beauty".
In the early stages of World War I, New Zealand artist Edith Collier joined a group of women artists who left London to capture Ireland on canvas. Their destination: Bunmahon, a poverty-stricken fishing village on Ireland’s southern coast. Michael Heath’s second documentary on Collier sees him visiting Bunmahon with cameraman Stephen Latty. Guided by Collier’s paintings and sketches, they talk to locals about her visit, and life in Ireland 100 years ago. They also capture persuasive evidence of their own, attesting to the area’s often melancholy beauty.
This headline-grabbing 1979 documentary examines inequality via interviews with an unemployed student, a young widow and a Porirua family of eight; plus visits to a Fijian village and a Hong Kong housing estate. The film's arguments that business and government monopolies had caused poverty in “egalitarian New Zealand”, and that NZ trade practices had added to it elsewhere, displeased Prime Minister Robert Muldoon. State television refused to screen the Greg Stitt-directed documentary; CORSO, the charity who commissioned it, was removed from the government’s funding list.
The tagline runs: "The story of unemployment in New Zealand" and In A Land of Plenty is an exploration of just that; it takes as its starting point the consensus from The Depression onwards that Godzone economic policy should focus on achieving full employment, and explores how this was radically shifted by the 1984 Labour government. Director Alister Barry's perspective is clear, as he trains a humanist lens on ‘Rogernomics' to argue for the policy's negative effects on society, "as a new poverty-stricken underclass developed".
Peta Mathias gets off the plane at La Paz, Bolivia — and the world's — highest airport. She steps straight into poverty, altitude sickness, stunning scenery and likable people. Her Bolivian experience includes sub-zero temperatures, uninspiring food and the infamous mining town of Potosi. But as she writes in her diary, adventure travel means, "no skidding over the surfaces, no observing through Prada sunglasses, no shirking from the reality of the culture. In that sense the journey is unforgettable because it's so intense and puts you right up against the wall."
This post-war Weekly Review urges Kiwi farmers to grow more wheat in the face of a world shortage, and out of a patriotic duty to help Britain. Graphic images of global poverty (especially in the final minutes) are counterpointed with NZ wealth and agricultural ingenuity. The film features scientist Otto Frankel, who introduced new wheat varieties that were better suited to the local climate. This was director Alun Falconer's only on-screen credit while working at the National Film Unit. He and Roger Mirams soon left to found pioneering company Pacific Film Unit (later Pacific Films).
In Peru, beauty and poverty go hand in hand. Westie comedian Ewen Gilmour begins his Peruvian journey in Lima, the capital - which he describes as a "sprawling, largely chaotic urban mess". Locals offer drugs and warn of muggers, but there are lighter moments when Gilmour entertains an enthusiastic audience in the city's historic centre, despite speaking only un poco Español. Later the former stonemason is impressed by the precision stonework in the ancient hilltop city of Machu Picchu, and visits locals who live on floating islands of reeds, on Lake Titicaca.
The final Asia Downunder for 2006 is a special about the Friends of Fiji Heart Foundation, a team of Kiwi doctors who each year spend two weeks providing life-saving heart operations in Fiji. A number of the team grew up there. The inadequacies of the Fijian health system are touched on, and the effects of poverty on health are examined. A man in the street gives his assessment of how the poor are treated in Fiji, and the Health Minister provides a surprising response.
"I've never really travelled much, let alone somewhere as challenging as Kenya." Actor and paraglider Peter Elliott lands in Nairobi, and is overwhelmed after meeting inhabitants of a massive slum on the edge of the city. Then he sets off on safari across Kenya, visiting an orphanage for young elephants, camping near crocodile-infested rivers, and spying all kinds of wildlife, all the while dealing with an unfortunate run of the runs. Elliott also gets to meet the inhabitants of a Maasai village. He feels better for the whole experience.