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.
BMX bikes, motorcycles, and home computers — as the opening titles demonstrate, this children’s adventure series features all the hardware an 80s-era kid could want. In the first episode, Sandra, Mike and their father move into the city, arriving just in time for two jewel thieves to crash into their lives after a daring heist at Auckland Museum, and a chase through the city. Scripted by Kiwi kidult king-turned-novelist Ken Catran (Children of the Dog Star), Steel Riders was later shortened to movie length for American video release, as Young Detectives on Wheels.
New Zealand's much-loved comedian and entertainer Billy T James tells the story of his heart transplant operation at Greenlane Hospital, in 1989, and his subsequent recovery. The documentary, much of which is filmed at the hospital (sometimes even from bed, as Billy re-enacts his operation) also features five other patients who he became close to over the months while they waited for their hearts. Entertaining as well as educational, the film includes a musical number with Max Cryer, dressed as a surgeon, joined in song by Billy and Don Selwyn.
BMX, skateboards, spacies parlours and home computers — Steel Riders features all the hardware that an 80s-era kid could desire, with a motorcycling baddie to boot. Scripted by kidult master Ken Catran, the series follows a brother and sister who are targeted after inadvertently ending up with the spoils of a jewel heist. Pursued by mysterious (and irate) motorcyclist — The Spook — they enlist the help of a hacker and a BMX rider to help their father, who has been blamed for the theft. Ex-motorcycle racer Phil Thorogood provided The Spook’s stunts.
White Water Ride scoffs a fry-up, zips up a life jacket, straps on a helmet and joins a guided rafting trip down the Mohaka River (with extra scenes shot on the Tongaririo and Rangitikei). There’s a rafter overboard and 70s era wetsuits, but no menacing locals or duelling banjos here (à la backwoods rafting classic Deliverance) — just a jaunty guitar and harmonica soundtrack, and the thrills and spills of a white water paddling trip, with a friendly splash war to finish. The narration-free NFU short played in NZ cinemas alongside Bond movie For Your Eyes Only.
Set in the East Coast town of Whāngārā, Whale Rider tells the tale of a young Māori girl, Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes), who challenges tradition and embraces the past in order to find the strength to lead her people forward. Directed and written by Niki Caro, the film is based on Witi Ihimaera's novel The Whale Rider. Coupling a specific sense of place and culture with a universal coming-of-age story, Whale Rider became one of the most successful and acclaimed New Zealand films released internationally. It also won audience choice awards at the Sundance and Toronto Film Festivals.
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.
A continuation of the classic 70s UK TV series cherished by herds of horse-loving girls, the New Adventures follow Vicky Denning (Amber McWilliams) who has emigrated to the antipodes with her step-mother, where she is captivated by a mystic black horse. The co-production was set in New Zealand and features many Kiwi names in front of and behind the camera. This extract from the fourth episode sees Vicky striving to convince the postmasters (Bill Kerr and Ilona Rodgers) that she and Beauty can be posties; and she faces hostility from local kids (including a young Claire Chitham).
Jonathan Brough’s documentary on the making of Whale Rider travels from the East Coast town of Whangara, where the mythical whale rider Paikea landed, to Hollywood. This excerpt concentrates on the movie’s vital special effects component: nine whales, brought to the screen through a combination of life-sized models and digital effects. The models were made by Auckland company Glasshammer; the largest measured 65 feet in length. The human element was also important, with actor Keisha Castle-Hughes describing the challenges of filming the whale-riding scenes.
In 1928 Kiwi cyclist Harry Watson and three Australians headed to France, and became the first English-speaking team to compete in the gruelling Tour de France. Out of the 168 who began the race, only 41 riders made it to the finish line. More than 80 years later, cycling fanatic and Amazing Race host Phil Keoghan joined friend Ben Cornell, in an attempt to retrace the 1928 course in the same timeframe as Watson. They rode the same type of vintage bike, without gears. Keoghan chronicled another epic cycle journey (this time across the US) in his 2011 documentary The Ride.