This film outlines the efforts to transform the “barren” pumice lands of the North Island’s Central Plateau into arable farmland. Once scientists discover the magic missing ingredient that will make the soil more fertile (cobalt chloride), the serious job of burning scrub, ploughing and sowing begins. The film uses a traditional 'triumph over nature' narrative, but director John Feeney makes elegant use of montage and composition. Author Maurice Shadbolt, who spent time working at the National Film Unit, regarded it as "without doubt the best film to come from the Unit".
This edition of the 1987 Inspiration series on Kiwi artists looks at potter James (Jim) Greig, and his search for the “spark of life” found in clay. The Peter Coates-directed documentary visits Greig’s Wairarapa studio to interview him and his wife Rhondda, also an artist. Greig’s influences are surveyed: the work of Kiwi potter Len Castle, nature, orphanhood, and Japan (where his work achieved renown). The film captures the visceral process of making large works for a Wellington City Gallery exhibition. Greig died of a heart attack, aged 50, while this film was being made.
This post-war Weekly Review urges Kiwi farmers to grow more wheat in the face of a world shortage, and out of a patriotic duty to help Britain. Graphic images of global poverty (especially in the final minutes) are counterpointed with NZ wealth and agricultural ingenuity. The film features scientist Otto Frankel, who introduced new wheat varieties that were better suited to the local climate. This was director Alun Falconer's only on-screen credit while working at the National Film Unit. He and Roger Mirams soon left to found pioneering company Pacific Film Unit (later Pacific Films).
One of the most successful television shows shot on Kiwi soil, The Tribe was the brainchild of British-born Raymond Thompson. In a future where the adults have been wiped out by a virus, the children that remain have formed into competing tribes, some of whom live to terrorise. Running five seasons, The Tribe sold to more than 120 territories, and the cast toured performances from the soundtrack for overseas fans. The cast were almost entirely New Zealanders, as were most of the crew. Sequel The New Tomorrow, following descendants of the original characters, screened in 2005.
Animals, people and cameras can make for a wild unpredictable combination, as this set of bloopers demonstrates. First up is the legendary 1989 clip of rugby star Zinzan Brooke falling off a spooked Shetland pony in Wales. Back on Kiwi soil, Dexter the golden labrador refuses to listen to owner Mark Leishman. A hare and dog take over a trotting track and cricket pitch, while reporters doing their pieces to camera are harassed by a friendly horse and overzealous ostriches. Plus two pigs give Country Calendar reporter John Gordon the giggles.
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.
Taika Waititi's blockbuster second movie revolves around an imaginative 11-year-old East Coast boy (James Rolleston) trying to make sense of his world — and the return of his just-out-of-jail father (Waititi). Intended as a "painful comedy of growing up", Boy mixes poignancy with trademark whimsy and visual inventiveness. The film was shot in the Bay of Plenty area where Waititi partly grew up. A winner in its section at the 2010 Berlin Film Festival, Boy soon became the most successful local release on its home soil (at least until the arrival of Waititi's 2016 hit Hunt for the Wilderpeople).
This 2015 Loading Doc looks at a Japanese winemaker running a vineyard in New Zealand. Amber Easby and Henry Oliver’s short film explores the triumphs and travails of Hiro Kusuda’s search for terroir in the Marlborough soil, framed around the threat that Cyclone Pam poses to his grape harvest. “Everything is so fragile,” reflects Kusuda. Kusuda left a career as a lawyer and diplomat to study viticulture in Germany, before moving to New Zealand in 2001. Kusuda screened at the 2015 NZ International Film Festival, and was shared by the Japan Times and wine websites.
"New Zealand is ready" is the message in this early propaganda film made by the National Film Unit. It follows Japan's entry into World War II in December 1941. Until then the war had been a largely remote experience for many New Zealanders. Now our own soil was threatened. Using robust language and delivery, along with pictures of New Zealand defence forces in live-fire exercises, the film seeks to reassure while warning against overconfidence. New Zealand's remoteness is presented as a plus for defence and there's a subtext of self-reliance.
This documentary examines the alpine flora and birdlife in the Upper Waitaki area of the South Island. Its distinctive bird-life includes karearea (falcons), mirimiro (tomtit), kererū and kea. The native vegetation is profiled in depth. The area's introduced animals include deer, chamois, and thar, which have become pests. Beautifully shot, directed, and packed full of information, this is the kind of film the NFU was famous for. It was commissioned by the Soil Conservation Council, NZ Forest Service and the Department of Internal Affairs.