This 1945 newsreel reports on the repatriation of New Zealand prisoners held in Japanese camps during the war in the Pacific. Cameraman Stan Wemyss (grandfather of Russell Crowe) ranges across Asia with the RNZAF — from Changi in Singapore, to camps in Java (Indonesia), and Siam (Thailand). The narration notes grimly that “the movie camera does not record the stench of death”; and returned PoW, Dr Johns of Auckland, implores for the sake of the children: “that the experiences that we have gone through at the hands of the Japanese shall never, never again be possible.”
This short documentary follows refugee Mitchell Pham from a Vietnam War prison camp to a new home in New Zealand. Director Sally Tran — a 2013 Killer Films Internship Scholarship recipient — uses an interview with Pham as an adult, and live action mixed with animation to recreate the harrowing childhood journey. DIY more than CGI, the animation process was based on Vietnamese folded paper-craft. Requiring 20 volunteers, the 10,000 animated pieces of paper (and a rich score from The Sound Room) provide suggestive weight to Pham’s story of survival and courage.
Despite the misleading numbering, this October 1942 film marked the first of the National Film Unit's long-running Weekly Review series. The NFU had been established a year earlier to promote the war effort via newsreels screened in movie theatres. In a meta first clip, Kiwi soldiers watch an NFU film in a makeshift outdoor cinema. Then war readiness is demonstrated via army exercises — including on Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where “Māori and Pākehā are working together, mounting machine guns for their common defence.” Finally: Red Cross parcels are prepared for NZ prisoners of war.
Groundbreaking 1971 tele-drama The Killing of Kane tells a story of loyalty and corruption amidst the ‘New Zealand Wars’ of the 1860s. Incorporating documentary ‘interludes’, the story involves the predicament of a pair of Pākehā deserters involved in a attack by Māori resistance leader Titokowaru on a Taranaki redoubt. Stellar performances in the dramatic scenes saw Chris Thomson-directed Kane attract praise. It was the first time the controversial subject of colonial conflict had been portrayed on our TV screens. It was also the first local drama shot in colour.
At the age of 97, former Australian soldier James Easton recounts his experiences as a prisoner of the Japanese during World War II in this episode of Memories of Service. Captured at the fall of Singapore, Jim spent more than three years in captivity, including 12 months working on the infamous Burma Railway. He unflinchingly recalls illness, brutality and 16-hour working days. Suffering from dysentery and dengue fever, Easton lost about 30 kilograms in his time as a prisoner of war. More than 8000 Australians died in Japanese prison camps.
Bill Dobson was one of around 500 New Zealanders to be taken prisoner by the Germans during World War I. His grandsons, filmmakers Grant and Bryce Campbell, use Dobson’s letters home, his sketch book and contemporary photographs to describe his journey. Bill was one of 210 Kiwis captured at French village Méteren, near the Belgian border, during Germany’s 1918 Spring Offensive. Camp conditions were tough, but Dobson filled his time with prolific sketching and performing in the Camp Concert Party. Post-war, Dobson married vaudeville performer Louise Morris.
In this Memories of Service interview, World War II veteran Ernest Davenport talks about his time in the Royal Air Force. After joining the RAF in 1940 at the age of 18, he served as a warrant officer in the pathfinder force before being shot down over Germany in 1943. He shares stories of his time as a prisoner of war — attempting escape, being charged with sabotage and blackmailing German guards to aid in his eventual rescue. He also shares his various medals from service and artifacts of the war such as his pilot’s log book and the jacket he was wearing when he was shot down.
Political cartoonist Malcolm Evans tells his father's story of war in this documentary. Major Hilary Evans was exempt from conscription, but chose to fight in World War II. He was a prisoner of war who escaped and lived rough in Italy's hills and mountains, to avoid recapture. Using his father's letters and diaries as well as interviews shot in Italy, Evans builds up a picture of his father, the soldier. Il Magiorre - My Father's War in Italy played as part of the Documentary New Zealand strand on TV One, and was named Best Documentary at the 2002 Qantas Media Awards.
This 1983 feature explores desire, death, and guilt in a World War II Japanese prisoner of war camp. From Japanese art cinema star Nagisa Oshima (director of the notorious In the Realm of the Senses), its leads were musicians David Bowie (as a defiant captive) and Ryuichi Sakamoto (a conflicted camp commander). The film was mainly shot in Auckland, and partly funded by Broadbank during the tax shelter 80s. Kiwi connections include ex-Broadbank employee Larry Parr as associate producer, first assistant director Lee Tamahori, and actor Alistair Browning as a PoW.
Shot down on just his second bombing raid over Germany, James McQueen describes life as a prisoner of war in this interview. Then 93 years old, Invercargill-born McQueen recalls bailing out from a burning Wellington bomber and eventually falling into German hands. After interrogation by the Gestapo he was sent to a p.o.w. camp, where he stayed for two and a half years. McQueen describes life there, his release and the psychological impact of his experiences, including the feeling of failure prompted by his brief time in combat. McQueen passed away on 15 December 2015.