Weekly Review No. 355 - Railway Worker

Short Film, 1948 (Full Length)

This 1948 documentary follows 24 hours of work on the railways. It was directed for the National Film Unit by Margaret Thomson, arguably New Zealand’s first female film director. The film 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. Selwyn Toogood (It's in the Bag) narrates.

Collection

Dunedin

Curated by NZ On Screen team

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.

Series

Off the Rails

Television, 2004–2005

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.

The Truth about Tangiwai

Television, 2002 (Excerpts)

On Christmas Eve 1953 a volcanic eruption caused a massive lahar to flow down Whangaehu River. The Wellington-Auckland express crossed the rail bridge at Tangiwai minutes later; it collapsed, and carriages plunged into the flooded river. Out of 285 people, 151 died, in New Zealand'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 attacks 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. 

Off the Rails - Good as Gold (Episode 10)

Television, 2004 (Full Length Episode)

Marcus Lush travels from the vast Kaingaroa Forest to New Zealand's busiest rail junction (at Hamilton), in this instalment of his popular show about the country'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 in the Coromandel; and a collector with more than 2,700 rail related items. There's also a visit to Waihi. Transformed into a boomtown by gold and rail in the 1870s, it was home to the might and power of the Victoria stamper battery.

Pictorial Parade No. 195 - After Ninety Years

Short Film, 1967 (Full Length)

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.

By the Light of the Mune

Television, 1993 (Full Length)

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.

Whistle She Rolls

Short Film, 1996 (Full Length)

This 1996 short film is billed as "a lyrical and musical tale of love at the crossroads”. Shot through a blue filter, the dialogue-free tale follows a trumpet-playing young woman at a railway station, as she romances and dances to vinyl records with a young man. After a lively meeting with his family, an invitation to a dance forces her to choose how she rolls. Armagan Ballantyne's first short was made in the Czech Republic during studies at Prague's Famu film school. It competed at the Venice Film Festival. Ballantyne went on to direct 2009 feature film The Strength of Water.

Opera in the Outback

Short Film, 1988 (Full Length)

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.

Off the Rails - Rail Rider (Episode Nine)

Television, 2004 (Full Length Episode)

Marcus Lush goes "right up the guts" of the North Island from Wairarapa to Gisborne, in this episode of his award-winning romance with New Zealand'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; it inspires an idiosyncratic Lush demonstration of Aotearoa's then 10 worst disasters.