The Adventure World TV series saw Sir Ed lead an A-Team of mates on a run of adventures. The concept was dreamt up by Bob Harvey, who enlisted Roger Donaldson to direct The Kaipo Wall and an (unproduced) Everest trip. Sir Ed and his climbing mate Mike Gill then went DIY and made two half hour films. This mission to climb The Needles — a rock stack off Great Barrier Island — was the first. Peter Mulgrew sails them over, Murray Jones goes parkour on the rocks and scales a kauri, Graeme Dingle surfs a dingy, and Sir Ed is the self-described “peppery co-ordinator”.
This Land of Birds edition sees Kiwi naturalist Sir Robert Falla train his binoculars on the black-backed gull, or karoro. Familiar to most New Zealanders from stealing their hot chips, it's one of the few natives to have boomed in numbers since humans arrived in NZ, after adapting to feeding in “the effluent of human affluence”. The film follows the large bird's life cycle and examines its relationship with people, from airports (birdstrike risk) to farms (where they help control insects but also scavenge lambs). Falla died soon after the film was completed.
This documentary, made by TVNZ’s Natural History Unit (now NHNZ), charts the progress of the nor'west wind from its formation in the Tasman Sea across the Southern Alps to the Canterbury Plains and the east coast of the South Island. Along the way it dumps metres of precipitation on West Coast rain forest and snow on the Alps, then transforms to a dry, hot wind racing across the Plains. The film shows the wind's impact on the ecosystem and farming and muses on the mysterious effect it can have on humans. It screened as part of the beloved Wild South series.
The first episode of Ice Worlds explores animal life at the poles, both North and South. At the North Pole American scientist Steve Amstrup tracks polar bears, from their hibernation during winter, to seeking food out on the tundra during summer. Down south, Antarctica's emperor penguins are studied by Gerald Kooyman, physiologist Arthur Devries catches Antarctic cod, and biologist Brent Sinclair seeks the continent's largest land animal — a tiny insect called a springtail. Ice Worlds was narrated by former news anchor Dougal Stevenson.
When she made Mauri, Merata Mita became the first Māori woman to write and direct a dramatic feature. Mauri (meaning life force), is loosely set around a love triangle and explores cultural tensions, identity, and changing ways of life in a dwindling East Coast town. As with Barry Barclay film Ngāti, Mauri played a key role in the burgeoning Māori screen industry. The crew numbered 33 Māori and 20 Pākehā, including interns from Hawkes Bay wānanga. Kiwi art icon Ralph Hotere was production designer; the cast included Zac Wallace (star of Utu) and Māori activist Eva Rickard.
Eager to join the television industry, Janine Morrell-Gunn started off as an intern with TVNZ in 1985. She began by directing news and current affairs stories, before taking on various production roles on shows such as McPhail and Gadsby, Fast Forward, Spot On, and Beauty and the Beast. Morrell-Gunn was appointed Executive Producer of TVNZ’s Children’s Unit, but when this was moved to Wellington in the late 90s she opted to stay in Christchurch. With husband Jason Gunn, she set up Whitebait TV and has subsequently produced a myriad of children’s TV shows such as Bumble, Wannabes, and the re-launched What Now?.
This film tells the story of the world’s rarest wading bird, the black stilt (kakī). With its precise beak and long pink legs the stilt is superbly adapted to the stony braided riverbeads of the McKenzie Country, but it is tragically unable to deal with new threats (rats, ferrets, habitat loss). An early doco for TVNZ’s Natural History Unit, the magnificently filmed drama of the stilt’s struggle for survival makes it “stand out as a classic of its genre” (Russell Campbell). It won the Gold Award at New York’s International Film & TV Festival (1984).
In Gaylene Preston's documentary, seven elderly women recall their personal experiences of World War II. Their intimate, unadorned stories are filmed talking heads style, interspersed with personal photographs and period newsreel clips. From tragic love stories to long-suppressed revelations of sex and death, War Stories is a revealing touchstone of New Zealand history. It received international acclaim. LA Times writer Kevin Thomas enthused that Preston takes "a simple idea and turns it into a rich, universal experience".
National Film Unit staffer Ron Bowie was a dedicated and cosmopolitan filmmaker, who overcame obstacles (including five years internment for his pacifist convictions) to pursue his chosen career. Among dozens of NFU films he contributed to, Bowie directed award-winning tourist romance Amazing New Zealand!, helped produce beloved Expo epic This is New Zealand, and edited the Oscar-nominated One Hundred and Forty Days Under the World.
Vanessa Alexander attracted attention as a rookie director with her low-budget feature Magik and Rose. Since then she has compiled an impressive list of achievements as a producer (Being Eve, Cargo), director (the opening episodes of Outrageous Fortune and Agent Anna) writer (Love Child), script editor, and lecturer. These days Alexander works in Australian television.