In the 1930s aviatrix Jean Batten broke solo distance flying records and achieved international fame. Directed by her biographer, Ian Mackersey, Garbo of the Skies chronicles Batten's life through archive footage, interviews, narration from her unpublished memoirs and reconstructions of her epic flights. The film also reveals a lonely private world: a domineering mother, romantic tragedy, an itinerant fall into obscurity, and death in a Majorcan hotel (a mystery solved by research for the film). It screened on TVNZ, and sold to Discovery Channel and the BBC.
The second part of this 1982 series on the history of aviation in New Zealand hang glides to the 30s golden age where world famous flying feats (from the likes of Aussie Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and NZ aviatrix Jean Batten) inspired a surge in aero and gliding clubs and the beginning of commercial domestic flights and aerial mapping. War saw Kiwis flying for the RAF and modernised an ageing RNZAF, taking it from biplanes to jet aircraft. Presented by pilot Peter Clements, the series was made for TV by veteran director Conon Fraser and the National Film Unit.
Despite the misleading numbering, this October 1942 film marked the first of the National Film Unit's long-running Weekly Review series. The NFU had been established a year earlier to promote the war effort via newsreels screened in movie theatres. In a meta first clip, Kiwi soldiers watch an NFU film in a makeshift outdoor cinema. Then war readiness is demonstrated via army exercises — including on Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where “Māori and Pākehā are working together, mounting machine guns for their common defence.” Finally: Red Cross parcels are prepared for NZ prisoners of war.
This 1965 National Film Unit classic follows the working life of a young musterer, on a 145,000 acre South Island merino sheep station. He hands over his swag and gets to work (after he’s been mocked for bringing an electric blanket). He begins in the summer: training dogs and breaking in a horse. In the autumn it’s the muster: wrangling 10,000 sheep from the tops, across rivers and down to the yards before winter snow. Peter Newton’s 1947 musterer memoir, Wayleggo, was a local bestseller, and the film bolsters the book’s Kiwi mountain man mythology.
"These mountains have always been a challenge. Now there's a new type of skier facing that challenge in a new way." Across the Main Divide follows NZ mountain guide Shaun Norman, US telemark skiing champ Whitney Thurlow and German skier Babette Bodenstein, as they cross the Southern Alps in free heel skis. Flown up the Tasman Glacier from Mount Cook, a 2,000m haul up to Graham Saddle is rewarded with sweet spring snow skiing and cheesecake at Alma Hut, before the tramp down to the West Coast. The doco screened worldwide and won awards at mountain film festivals.
In this award-winning episode of the Rivers series, photographer Craig Potton visits Canterbury’s Rangitata River. The great braided river is home to the rare wrybill, and the landscape has provided inspiration for Samuel Butler (utopian satire Erewhon) and Peter Jackson (Mount Sunday is Edoras in Lord of the Rings). It’s been shaped by glaciers, the nor’wester, irrigation and farming. In this excerpt Potton and climbing mates try to reach the fabled Garden of Eden ice plateau and the river’s “pure heart”; a mission Potton and friend Robbie Burton failed to complete 30 years before.
Having exploited and offended Māori when in NZ in 1928 to make his film Under the Southern Cross, Hollywood director Alexander Markey returned two years later to make Hei Tiki, spending about four years around Taupō in the process and upsetting everyone all over again. The film, based on a Māori legend, was panned upon its New York release in 1935. This documentary tells the remarkable story of the making of Hei Tiki, and includes clips from the film, footage of the cast and crew at work, and interviews with descendants of the actors.
In this short Peter Wells makes a personal "Postcard from New Zealand" for a series for Channel Four (UK). Looking for a "Kiwi Greek god" to showcase their "Gay Lynn" garden they enlist Richard, 3rd place getter in Mr Gay Auckland. While posing Richard tells them about his costume for the Sydney Mardi Gras. "Skirt in the shape of Rangitoto, a hat like Auckland's Harbour Bridge: Dame Edna would've loved it". Richard models the costume which also features budgie smugglers with 'NZ' sequined into them, a Southern Cross singlet, and ugg-glove sheep puppets.
The ‘Young Giant’ is Kaingaroa Forest: the largest plantation in the Southern Hemisphere, and one of the largest exotic forests in the world. 1,300 square kilometres produce “50 million cubic feet of timber a year” for pulp, paper, and building. Directed by Brian Cross, and made by the NFU for the forest’s then-managers — the New Zealand Forest Service — this documentary showcases the industry in the pines: scrub clearance for forest extension, burn-offs, machine planting, pruning, felling, grafting, and kiln-drying cones to extract seeds for sowing.
Ian Cross trained as a journalist. His 1957 novel The God Boy has been hailed as a classic (and similar status afforded to the 1976 television adaptation). As Listener editor he doubled its circulation and reinvigorated its writing staff. As broadcasting chair and chief executive he had a turbulent relationship with the Muldoon government - and failed to stem what he saw as the over-commercialisation of television.