Royal Albatross

Short Film, 1980 (Full Length)

This award-winning National Film Unit production soars on thermals with the world's largest seabird, the toroa or royal albatross. Director Grant Foster captures the majesty of the flyer with a three metre-plus wingspan (“as wide as two volkswagen cars parked side by side”); laments historic slaughter; celebrates conservation efforts (hat tipping legendary toroa custodian Dr Lance Richdale); and surveys the albatross's life cycle at its only mainland breeding colony on Otago Peninsula, from courtship and nesting to taking off on an epic oceanic OE.

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.

A Whale Out My Window

Television, 1996 (Full Length)

Naturalist Ramari Stewart never tires of the view from a subantarctic hut. "This is the only place I know where I can see a whale out my window and it’s never let me down." The documentary follows Stewart as she spends a summer and winter monitoring wildlife at remote Northwest Bay in Campbell Island. Southern right whales, Hooker's sea lions and elephant seals all feature. Stewart, who later became a whale expert, displays a jaw-dropping bond with the animals. At the end of the programme, the whales cause a stir when they play perilously close to Stewart's boat.

Wildtrack - Otago Harbour

Television, 1990 (Full Length Episode)

Wildtrack was a highly successful nature series for children, running from 1981 through several series to the early 90s. The series was produced from Natural History New Zealand’s (then TVNZ’s Natural History Unit) Dunedin base and this final episode for 1990 looks at the natural world of the Otago Peninsula and harbour, from unique inhabitants: royal albatross, fur seals, and yellow-eyed penguin; to myth-busting explanations of the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, lichen, and mudflat cricket. It includes the year’s bloopers reel.

The Lost Whales

Television, 1997 (Full Length)

For 150 years, southern right whales (tohorā) were hunted to the brink of extinction. But the discovery of a “lost tribe” in the Southern Ocean sparked hope that their numbers are increasing. This documentary — made by veteran nature filmmaker Max Quinn for The Discovery Channel — follows a research expedition to learn about the pod. Breathtaking and intimate underwater footage, including a fabled white whale and new-born calf, reveals the behavior of these gentle giants. The award-winning film also captures soaring royal albatross, vomiting sea lions, and a flightless duck.

The Crown in New Zealand

Television, 1970 (Full Length)

There have been many royal visits since Prince Alfred first came to NZ in 1867 for pig hunting and picnicking. Made for TV (it screened in March 1970), this NFU title surveys tours from George V in 1901 to Queen Elizabeth II in 1963, via archive footage and photos. It also looks at NZ’s changing relationship to the “distant mother country”. Tours include the Prince of Wales in 1920 (he is said to have shaken 20,000 hands), the Duke and Duchess of York in 1927 (the footage is silent so there’s no speech from the future King George VI), and Queen Elizabeth II’s 1953-54 Coronation Tour. 

Series

Land of Birds

Television, 1969–1981

Land of Birds was a series of 10 films looking at Aotearoa’s manu or native birds. Produced by the National Film Unit, the series was written, directed and largely photographed by Grant Foster. It was New Zealand’s first natural history film series, showing on NZ TV and internationally. The first instalment — Bird of a Single Flight (presented by Dr Robert Falla, on the kōtuku colony at Ōkārito) — won a 1973 Feltex Award for Best Natural History Programme. Other topics included Royal Albatross (toroa), and The Honeyeaters (tui, bellbird/korimako, stichbird/hihi).

Derek Wright

Camera, Director

Dropping in on the Americans at the South Pole for afternoon tea, having driven there by tractor, was one of the most unusual events of Derek Wright's career as a National Film Unit cameraman. In his 40 years with the NFU he filled many other roles, from laboratory assistant to producer: but it is for his filming in the Antarctic that he is particularly remembered.

Caroline Girdlestone

Animal Trainer

Fed up with seeing animals unintentionally mishandled on set, former farm girl Caroline Girdlestone decided to do something about it. Now one of the most respected animal trainers in Australasia, she’s worked with almost any animal imaginable across more than 500 projects – ranging from the cute barnyard animals of Racing Stripes to the horrifying ovine creatures in Black Sheep.