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.
Landmarks was a major 10-part series that traced the history of New Zealand through its landscape, particularly the impact of human settlement and technology. The concept was modelled on the epic BBC series America. Here a bespectacled, Swannie-wearing geography professor, Kenneth B Cumberland, stands in for Alistair Cooke, interweaving science, history and sweeping imagery to tell the stories of the landscape's "complete transformation". It received a 1982 Feltex Award for Best Documentary and the donnish but game Cumberland became a household name.
This documentary heads to the Southern Ocean to explore New Zealand’s subantarctic islands. The Antipodes, Bounty, Snares, Campbell and Auckland Island groups are remote outposts between Aotearoa and Antarctica, home to vital breeding grounds for millions of seabirds and marine mammals – from penguins to sea lions and albatrosses – plus unique plants like giant tree daisies. Director Conon Fraser also looks at human efforts to live there from whaling depots, to the short-lived Hardwick Settlement. The hour-long NFU film is narrated by Ray Henwood (TV's Gliding On).
Made in an era before “coolest little capital” and Absolutely Positively Wellington, the title of this NFU promotional film — Promises, Promises — nods to the capricious charms of the harbour city. A reflective narration is scored by a saxophone soundtrack as the film tours from the stock market, school fair, and swimsuit shopping, to Trentham and up hillside goat-tracks. The opening of Parliament is cut together with a Lions versus France rugby match at Athletic Park, while Scorching Bay is jam-packed with sun-seekers (it must have been filmed on a good day).
This second episode of the three-part series following British MP Austin Mitchell’s return to the country where he began his career in (as a broadcaster and author of 1972 book The Half Gallon Quarter Acre Pavlova Paradise) sees a focus on politics. The former Canterbury University political scientist gives a potted political history, from the roots of a conservative Kiwi political mien to the radical changes wrought by Lange’s 80s Labour government and the rise of women ‘on the hill’. Finally he considers tourism, Treaty settlements and the aspirations of Māori.
In 1977 protesters occupied Bastion Point, after the announcement of a housing development on land once belonging to Ngāti Whātua. 506 days later police and army arrived en masse to remove them. This documentary examines the rich and tragic history of Bastion Point/ Takaparawhau — including how questionable methods were used to gradually take the land from Māori, while basic amenities were withheld from those remaining. The documentary features extensive interviews with protest leader Joe Hawke, and footage from seminal documentary Bastion Point Day 507.
Presented by Kenneth Cumberland, Landmarks looked at New Zealand history through the landscape — and at man "coming to terms" with it. In this episode Aotearoa's "last, lonely, remote" geography is framed as a stimulus for ingenuity. A narrative of "triumph over the elements" finds its flagbearer in the DIY story of jetboat inventor Bill Hamilton. Cumberland is donnish but game in pursuit of telling landmarks: exposing seashells alongside the Napier-Taupō highway (700 metres above sea level) like a downunder Darwin, or in a gas mask on an erupting White Island.
This film investigates and captures the dramatic changes to Wellington's cityscape in the 70s and 80s. "To get in before nature's earthquake we created one of our own". As a result of mass demolition of buildings deemed to be earthquake risks and the subsequent building boom, graveyards make way for motorways, and wood and stone for steel, glass and concrete. There are interviews with the boosters (Bob Jones, Sir Michael Fowler), demo workers, and laments for the loss of heritage and local culture (Harry Seresin, Aro Valley protesters, and surprisingly, Rex Nicholls).
This 1978 National Film Unit documentary provides a potted history of non-British settler groups that came to New Zealand from Europe. Archive material and narration covers the colonials. Then visits are paid to the German-descended Eggers, tobacco growers from Moutere, and newly arrived French bakers and Dutch dairy farmers. Aptly for a film directed by actor and future winemaker Sam Neill, the film drops in on an Italian play and the Babich family of Dalmatian winemakers. Neill worked at the NFU in his 20s, around the time of his breakout role in Sleeping Dogs (1977).
Made for the Post Office, this 1971 National Film Unit documentary offers a potted history of New Zealand, using postage stamps as the frame. Director David Sims ranges from Māori rock drawings, to Tasman and Cook. Once Pākehā settlers arrive, the film offers a narrative of progress (aside from two world wars) leading to nationhood and industry. Archive photographs, paintings, Edwardian-era scenes and reenactments add to the subjects illustrated on the stamps. The stamps include New Zealand’s first: a full-face portrait of Queen Victoria by Alfred Edward Chalon.