This 1948 documentary follows 24 hours of work on the railways. It was directed for the National Film Unit by New Zealand’s first female film director, Margaret Thomson. It shows the engines and commuter trains preparing to leave Wellington, and the overnight train arriving from Auckland. Workers toil on the railway lines above the remote Waimakariri Gorge, and the town of Otira gets ready for a dance. The final shots are of an engine coming through the dawn and back to the city.
NZ On Screen’s Dunedin Collection offers up the sights and sounds of a city edged by ocean, and famed for its music. Dunedin is a bracing mixture of old and new: of Victorian buildings and waves of fresh-faced students, many of them carrying guitars. As Dave Cull reflects in his introduction, it is a city where distance is no barrier to creativity and innovation.
Off the Rails was a 12-part journey through the railway memories of New Zealand, with raconteur Marcus Lush at the wheel. With a trainspotter's reverence for ways rail, the beautifully shot, and gently wry travelogue guided viewers around (with thanks to the Raurimu Spiral) the heart of Aotearoa. Off the Rails’ award-winning achievement was to show that energetic storytelling (Super 8 footage, contemporary pop score and snappy editing), combined with the homespun charms of local subject matter, could make for high-rating television.
On Christmas Eve 1953 a volcanic eruption caused a massive lahar to flow down Whangaehu River. When the Wellington-Auckland express crossed the rail bridge at Tangiwai minutes later, it collapsed and carriages plunged into the flooded river. 151 people died out of 285, in NZ's worst rail accident. This 2002 documentary examines events and the board of inquiry finding that the accident was an act of God. This excerpt demolishes the story that Cyril Ellis could have warned the train driver what lay ahead, and argues there was a railways department cover-up at the board of inquiry.
Marcus Lush travels from the vast Kaingaroa Forest to NZ's busiest rail junction (at Hamilton), in this installment of his popular and award-winning telly love affair with NZ's railways. Along the way, he meets a legless train accident survivor turned motivational speaker; potter Barry Brickell and his 3km narrow gauge railway at Driving Creek; and a collector with more than 2,700 rail related items. There's also a visit to Waihi, turned into a boomtown by gold and rail in the 1870s, which was home to the might and power of the Victoria stamper battery.
This fondly-remembered Pictorial Parade plunges down the famously steep grade of the Denniston Incline. The cable railway was the key means of transporting ‘black gold’ from the isolated Denniston Plateau to Westport. The engineering marvel fell 518 metres over just 1670 metres. It brought down 13 million tonnes of coal and many hardy families, despite notorious brake failures. This film was made just before the mine and railway ceased operating, as “old king coal” was supplanted by oil. Director Hugh Macdonald writes about making it, and a companion film, here.
Opera in the Outback offers a wry, fly on the wall view of the lead-up to a most unusual event: the first concert by Kiri Te Kanawa in the Australian outback. Kiwi director Stephen Latty and writer Michael Heath realise the people are the story, from affable locals to those preparing for 9000 joyful, sometimes drunken arrivals. The inhabitants of Beltana — population roughly 12 — risk building a new racetrack for visitors less operatically inclined, while Australian National Railways send all the rolling stock they can. Some of the Kiwi film crew were awake for 52 hours, trying to capture it all.
This Work of Art documentary follows veteran actor and director Ian Mune as he works with NZ Drama School graduates, to write and shoot a 15 minute film in just two days. Many of the actors (who include future bro'Town voice David Fane and Saving Grace's Kirsty Hamilton) have little experience acting for the camera. Mune passes on lessons learned in a career that began long before such tuition was available locally. Shot at Wellington Railway Station, Rush Hour, the resulting film, is included in its entirety during this fascinating insight into the creative process.
Marcus Lush goes "right up the guts" of the North Island from Wairarapa to Gisborne in this episode of his award-winning telly romance with NZ's railways. He meets railcar restorers and recounts the murders by rail porter Rowland Edwards in 1884. Particular praise is reserved for the "spectacular and beautiful" Napier to Gisborne line (now mothballed) with its viaducts at Mohaka and Kopuawhara. The latter is on the site of a flash flood that killed 21 workers in 1938 and it inspires an idiosyncratic Lush demonstration of NZ's then 10 worst disasters.
The tagline to director Armagan Ballantyne’s 1996 short film runs, "a lyrical and musical tale of love at the crossroads”. Shot through a blue filter and dialogue free, the impressionistic film follows a trumpet-loving young woman at a Czech railway station, as she’s courted (pashing, dancing to vinyl records) by a young man. After meeting his parents, an invitation to the ball presses her to choose how she rolls. Whistle was selected for the Venice Film Festival in 1996. Ballantyne went on to direct 2009 feature The Strength of Water.