It started with grunge and ended with Spice Girls; Di died, Clinton didn't inhale and the All Blacks were poisoned. On screen, Ice TV and Havoc were for the kids and a grown-up Kiwi cinema delivered a powerful triple punch. Tua's linguistic jab proved just as memorable, Tem got a geography lesson and Thingee's eye popped and reverberated around our living rooms.
Directed by David Sims, A Train For Christmas follows the Kingston Flyer as it chugs through the farmland of Southland from Lumsden to Kingston, where on the shores of Lake Wakatipu it meets with the steamer TSS Earnslaw. With the driver as narrator, this poetic, and sometimes fantastical (the train talks at one point) celebration of steam transportation evokes a bygone era when the train “would stop at every crossing, hedge and house.” The steam train is cast as an integral part of a vast landscape and the communities that it travels through.
This NFU film goes for a ride on the ferries of the Waitematā. Shots of mooring ropes and rusted chains precede a steamer chugging under the object that made many of its companions obsolete: the Auckland Harbour Bridge. By 1973 steam power had been superseded by petrol power. Archive footage and stills stoke nostalgia as old-timers reminisce about bygone days on the harbour; a time when ferries were the main mode of transport from downtown to the North Shore and beyond. The soundtrack is a compilation of early 20th Century dixieland standards.
In this documentary, Tā moko artist and kapa haka teacher Sacha Utupoto Keating rode the Whanganui River on a journey to discover his whakapapa. Director Howard Taylor followed Sacha's personal story and the wider histories of the awa, weaving reconstructions, archival footage and lush river images into a rich story of people and place. "Taylor's investigation of the mythical, historical, ecological and spiritual aspects of the Whanganui River is deeply moving." said Grant Smithies in the The Sunday Star-Times."You're left entertained, enlightened and politicised."
This 1952 tourism film promoted New Zealand as a destination to Australians. In the 1950s the Kiwi tourist industry lacked accommodation and investment. But new opportunities were offered by international air travel — like the Melbourne to Christchurch route shown here, flown by TEAL (which later became Air New Zealand). Produced by the National Film Unit, this promo touts the South Island as an antidote to crowded city life in Melbourne and Sydney. Road trips offer glaciers, lakes, snow sports, motoring, angling, racing, and scenic delight aplenty.
Train enthusiast David Sims captured the dying days of steam trains in this 1968 National Film Unit short. It features arresting images of a Kb class locomotive billowing steam as it tackles the Southern Alps, en route from Canterbury to the West Coast. Kb Country was released in Kiwi cinemas in January 1968, just months before the steam locomotives working the Midland Line were replaced by diesel-electrics. Sims earned his directing stripes with the film. As he writes in this background piece, making it involved a mixture of snow, joy and at least two moments of complete terror.
In director Garth Maxwell’s 1993 gothic horror twins Jack and Dora (late US actor Alexis Arquette and Kiwi Sarah Smuts-Kennedy) are separated while young; their adult reunion sees them battling the trauma of their past while being pursued by Jack’s sadistic step sisters. Complete with ESP, and a steam-driven hypnosis machine, Maxwell makes an exuberant and surreal contribution to the cinema of unease. New York Times’ Stephen Holden lauded the heady head-spinner as “a superior genre film” with a “feverish intensity that recalls scenes from Hitchcock and De Palma.”
This NFU tourism promo from 1986 showcases all that the north of the North Island has to offer. As holidaymakers Dave and Julia peruse the sights and sounds of Auckland, they provide a high speed guided tour of its nightlife and many attractions. After Julia exits unexpectedly for LA — possibly to moonlight on another tourist film — Dave is joined by Jacky. The two venture up to Ninety Mile Beach and, after exploring the native bush and enjoying a spot of fishing, end their stay with a bonfire by the sea, a stark contrast to the cosmopolitan delights of Auckland.
New Zealand Mirror was a National Film Unit 'magazine-film' series aimed at showcasing Aotearoa to the British market. A Whangarei clock collector is a quirky choice to open this edition of Kiwi reflections. His display includes a clock that goes backwards. The ensuing segments are more in keeping with Māoriland and Shaky Isles postcard expectations. The annual Ngāruawāhia waka regatta includes novelty canoe hurdle races. There are also dramatic shots of 6000 foot high “cauliflower clouds” from Ruapehu’s 1945 eruption, and of the crater lake turned to seething lava.
This 1948 documentary follows 24 hours of work on the railways. It was directed for the National Film Unit by Margaret Thomson, arguably New Zealand’s first female film director. The film shows the engines and commuter trains preparing to leave Wellington, and the overnight train arriving from Auckland. Workers toil on the railway lines above the remote Waimakariri Gorge, and the town of Otira gets ready for a dance. The final shots are of an engine coming through the dawn and back to the city. Selwyn Toogood (It's in the Bag) narrates.