The tagline runs: "The story of unemployment in New Zealand" and In A Land of Plenty is an exploration of just that; it takes as its starting point the consensus from The Depression onwards that Godzone economic policy should focus on achieving full employment, and explores how this was radically shifted by the 1984 Labour government. Director Alister Barry's perspective is clear, as he trains a humanist lens on ‘Rogernomics' to argue for the policy's negative effects on society, "as a new poverty-stricken underclass developed".
Written by Fiona Samuel (Marching Girls, Bliss, Home Movie) and produced by Ginette McDonald for television’s Montana Sunday Theatre, Face Value is a trilogy of monologues delivered by three separate women. While each woman’s story and background are vastly different, they are all united by their shared quest to find happiness amidst personal trauma. In A Real Dog, Carol Smith’s performance is spot-on as Lynette, a conflicted new-age hippie who struggles to recreate harmony when a new flatmate (and her estranged boyfriend) moves in.
By focussing on a single complaint of sexual abuse made by an 11-year-old girl against her mother’s partner, this docudrama examines the work done by social workers at the former Department of Social Welfare (now Child, Youth and Family). The victim and her family are actors but the social workers are real people who talk frankly about the confronting situations they face in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” job. The issues are canvassed sensitively by Pamela Meekings-Stewart; Former Māori Language Commissioner Haami Piripi plays the victim’s father.
This headline-grabbing 1979 documentary examines inequality via interviews with an unemployed student, a young widow and a Porirua family of eight; plus visits to a Fijian village and a Hong Kong housing estate. The film's arguments that business and government monopolies had caused poverty in “egalitarian New Zealand”, and that NZ trade practices had added to it elsewhere, displeased Prime Minister Robert Muldoon. State television refused to screen the Greg Stitt-directed documentary; CORSO, the charity who commissioned it, was removed from the government’s funding list.
Winner of multiple awards, this 40 minute film aims to teach families how to manage communication with a deaf child. Narrator Peter Brian guides young families through the steps they can take to ensure their deaf child is able to develop speech and communication as effectively as possible. The documentary includes interviews with two deaf adults living full lives. In an early example of crowdfunding, a sponsorship body was set up to fund A Deaf Child in the Family. It was one of a number of shorts written and directed by Frank Chilton which focussed on people living with disabilities.
New Zealand politics was a gentler art in the pre-Muldoon early 70s when superstar English TV interviewer David Frost made the first of two series down under. Here, he talks to Prime Minister Norman Kirk, and opposition leader Jack Marshall. Kirk is assured and statesmanlike (an act that proves hard for Marshall — or NZ politics since — to follow) as he discusses topics ranging from supporting beneficiaries, to opposing French nuclear testing. ‘Big Norm’ purposefully talks about being in the job for another 25 years. Tragically, he died in office 13 months later.
Bernard Kearns presents a survey of NZ life in the 30s in this episode of the National Film Unit series The Years Back (“people and events that shaped the New Zealand of today”). The documentary includes a wealth of footage taken from NFU stock: the aftermath of the 1931 Napier earthquake, the Depression (as Kearns bluntly states, “there was a lot of misery in the 30s”), and runner Jack Lovelock’s gold medal triumph at the Berlin Olympics. There’s also editorial flair as King George VI’s lavish coronation ceremony is juxtaposed with the A&P show back home.
This post-war film was made to showcase New Zealand to UK audiences. Directed by Michael Forlong, the NFU film is a booster’s catalogue of contemporary NZ life. The message is that NZ is a modern pastoral paradise: open for business but welfare aware. Nature is conquered via egalitarian effort; air and sea links overcome the tyranny of distance; and science informs primary industry. Māori are depicted assimilating into the Pākehā world. Sport, suburbia and scenic wonder are touted, and an NZSO performance shows that the soil can grow culture as well as clover.
Someone Else’s Country looks critically at the radical economic changes implemented by the 1984 Labour Government - where privatisation of state assets was part of a wider agenda that sought to remake New Zealand as a model free market state. The trickle-down ‘Rogernomics’ rhetoric warned of no gain without pain, and here the theory is counterpointed by the social effects (redundant workers, Post Office closures). Made by Alister Barry in 1996 when the effects were raw, the film draws extensively on archive footage and interviews with key “witnesses to history”.
This episode of the Kiwi social history series explores the importance of the ‘cradle to grave' beliefs about education, health and social welfare that have underpinned NZ governance since the 1930s. But radical reforms toward the end of the 20th century were more focused on individual opportunity than the wider social contract. Excerpts here use influential unionist James ‘Big Jim’ Roberts and generations of his family to chart social change. Written by feminist Sandra Coney, this episode also provides an overview of the monumental change in the lives of women.