“These three birds are over half the world population of their species.” Peter Hayden’s narration lays bare the stakes for the Chatham Island black robin, and the Wildlife Service team (led by Don Merton) trying to save them. Merton’s innovative methods include removing eggs from nests – to encourage the last two females to lay again – and placing them in riroriro (grey warbler) foster homes. The black robin documentaries helped forge the reputation of TVNZ's Natural History Unit. Paul Stanley Ward writes about the documentaries here, and the mission to save the black robin.
Director Nic Gorman won best short at the 2013 NZ Film Awards for zombie tale Here Be Monsters. With his first feature he shifts horror genres to the psychological thriller, as a mysterious new arrival (Vinnie Bennett) disturbs subantarctic island life for a husband and wife scientist team (Fantail's Sophie Henderson and Siege's Mark Mitchinson). Human Traces debuted at the 2017 NZ International Film Festival. NZ Herald reviewer George Fenwick praised the "stunning cinematography" and "impressive performances", arguing they helped produce a "fine debut" for Gorman.
Paul Callaghan (1947 - 2012) was an internationally celebrated scientist, and a passionate advocate for Aotearoa. He was a popular science communicator (including a radio show with Kim Hill), campaigned to make New Zealand “a place where talent wants to live”, and championed the idea of a predator-free New Zealand. Shirley Horrocks' documentary focuses on the field that Callaghan became a world expert in — magnetic resonance — and interviews Callaghan's family, colleagues, students and friends. The film was invited to play at the 2018 NZ International Film Festival.
Exhuming Adams investigates the mysterious disappearance of a species of New Zealand mistletoe plant, 50 years ago. Set among dusty museum collections, high-tech labs, and remote bush, this documentary is a natural history CSI. A canny forensic investigation, taking in preserved bellbird skins, last witnesses and CGI modelling, reveals the chain of events leading to the unique plant's extinction, and a surprising culprit. Directors Brant Backlund and Thassilo Franke won the BBC Best Newcomer Award at the prestigious British film festival Wildscreen in 2006.
This full-length documentary looks at the grim reality of our fast-disappearing national symbol, and the efforts of people passionate about saving it. Remarkable facts about the evolutionary oddity are framed by the point that “the nation which laments that the moa was wiped out is committing the same crime against the kiwi”. The film raises the unsettling question: do we want the stoat or kiwi as our national icon? It also makes a compelling call to action to save a unique taonga, which could be extinct from the mainland in 20 years.
This wee gem from the 60s Sunday night magazine show records a pivotal New Zealand conservation moment. Wildlife Service ranger Don Merton experiments with rescue techniques to save the endangered North Island saddleback (tieke), a wattlebird surviving on Hen Island. Aided by electronics expert John Kendrick (of National Radio bird call fame) he uses calls to lure the spry birds into mist nets before moving the precious cargo to cat-free Cuvier Island. The world-leading skills developed here were to be crucial in saving the black robin and kakapo from extinction.
This film tells the story of the world’s rarest wading bird, the black stilt (kakī). With its precise beak and long pink legs the stilt is superbly adapted to the stony braided riverbeads of the McKenzie Country, but it is tragically unable to deal with new threats (rats, ferrets, habitat loss). An early doco for TVNZ’s Natural History Unit, the magnificently filmed drama of the stilt’s struggle for survival makes it “stand out as a classic of its genre” (Russell Campbell). It won the Gold Award at New York’s International Film & TV Festival (1984).
Mortal Engines is set in a post-apocalyptic world where cities roam the landscape, devouring everything in their path. Tom (Robert Sheehan, from TV's Misfits) lives in London, a 'predator' city built on digger-like tracks. After encountering a mysterious fugitive with murder in mind, he finds himself touching bare earth for the first time. Showcasing the eye-opening imagery of Weta Digital, Mortal Engines is based on a book by Brit Philip Reeve. It marks the first feature directed by Christian Rivers (short film Feeder). The Weta veteran began as a storyboard artist for Peter Jackson.
This documentary looks at the history of the island of Motutaiko, the prominent landmark in the middle of Lake Taupō. Motutaiko is a sacred site for Ngāti Tūwharetoa. Directors Toby Mills and Moana Maniapoto use interviews and shots of island life to examine Motutaiko’s geological and mythological origins, its strategic place in Māori history (from the muttonbirds that gave the island its name, to its role as a stronghold), desecration of burial sites, and its contemporary place as a conservation bastion free of predators — and home to rare birds, insects and trees.
On a holiday to Mt Tarawera, teenager Jenny (Katrina Hobbs) finds an odd shard of metal. In this third episode of the kids sci-fi series she meets its owner: 'Drom' — a survivor of an alien mission to deactivate a planet-annihilating space gun (aka Tarawera itself). They find themselves under siege from a Predator-like 'Guardian' of the gun. If Drom and Jenny and local kids Tessa and Lloyd (future What Now? presenter Anthony Samuels) can't defeat the mechanoid, catastrophe is imminent! The South Pacific Pictures series found international sales and cult repute.