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Looking at New Zealand - White Island

Television, 1967 (Full Length Episode)

This edition of the 60s Sunday night magazine show travels to New Zealand’s most active volcano: White Island, situated offshore in the Bay of Plenty. The thermal activity on the privately owned scenic reserve is vividly captured as the camera roams the roaring, shuddering landscape and ventures past seething fumaroles into the crater. The tenuous history of human engagement with ‘Whakaari’ is covered: from Maui and Māori myth to the derelict remains of sulphur mining; including a 1914 eruption that killed 11 miners (with their black cat the only survivor). 

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Gateway to New Zealand

Short Film, 1952 (Full Length)

“Only 40 hours by air from San Francisco and six from Sydney, Auckland New Zealand is on your doorstep.” In 1952, NZ tourism was also a long way from a core contributor to the national economy. A flying boat and passenger ship deposits visitors in the “Queen among cities” for this National Film Unit survey of Kiwi attractions. The potted tour takes in yachting, the beach, postwar housing shortage, school patrols, dam building and the War Memorial Museum, before getting out of town into dairy, racing and thermal wonderlands, where “you can meet some of our Māori people”.

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Series

Children of Fire Mountain

Television, 1979

While convalescing down under Sir Charles Pemberton (Terence Cooper) schemes to build a thermal spa in the town of Wainamu c.1900. Conflict ensues as the spa’s planned location is on Māori land. The action is seen through the eyes of youngsters: hotelier’s son Tom, and Pemberton’s granddaughter Sarah Jane; who — along with an erupting volcano — eventually impart on Sir Charles a lesson about colonial hubris. The 13-part series was a marquee title from a golden age of Kiwi kidult telly-making: it won multiple Feltex awards, and screened on the BBC in 1980.

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New Zealand Mirror No. 24

Short Film, 1953 (Full Length)

This was the 24th edition of New Zealand Mirror, a National Film Unit series promoting NZ to British audiences in the 1950s. The first clip, on rugby's Ranfurly Shield, was deemed “too topical” by the UK distributor, and cut from later editions. The clip in question captures the colour of the national obsession (knuckle bones, livestock parades) at Athletic Park, where Taranaki challenge shield holders Wellington. It was later seen in NZ theatres as a short, playing with 1982 rugby tale Carry Me Back. The latter segments show Kaiapoi ploughing, and Wairakei thermal energy. 

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Children of Fire Mountain - Tom (First Episode)

Television, 1979 (Full Length Episode)

This award-winning kidult series is set in the colonial town of Wainamu, amidst the North Island’s ‘thermal wonderland’, c.1900. It follows the challenges that Sir Charles Pemberton (Terence Cooper) faces in building a spa on Māori land. In this episode local lad Tom, son of the hotelier, is piqued by the arrival of Sir Charles and his aristocratic entourage, (particularly granddaughter Sarah Jane aka “Little Miss Prim”), whose train is late due to being spooked by natives. His gang of shanghai-toting scallywags also take on the mean local butcher.

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Amazing New Zealand!

Short Film, 1964 (Full Length)

In this award-winning tourism promo, an easy-going narrator guides us through a land of contrasts — “where else would you find golf and geysers?”. The sights range from frozen to boiling lakes, characterful cities to odd natives (kiwi, takahē, carnivorous snails). Visual highlights include quirky road-signs (“beware of wind”, “slow workmen ahead”), toheroa digging and a flotilla of capsizing optimists. Directed by NFU veteran Ron Bowie, the film won an award at the 1963 Venice Film Festival, before headlining a special Amazing New Zealand season of shorts in NZ cinemas.

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Savage Islands

Film, 1983 (Excerpts)

This pirates of the South Seas tale stars Tommy Lee Jones (Men in Black, The Fugitive) as rogue Bully Hayes, who helps a missionary save his kidnapped-by-savages wife. Produced by Kiwis Rob Whitehouse and Lloyd Phillips (12 Monkeys, Inglorious Basterds), the film was made in the 80s ‘tax-break’ feature surge and filmed in Fiji and New Zealand (with an NZ crew and supporting cast). John Hughes (Breakfast Club) and David Odell (Dark Crystal) scripted the old-fashioned swashbuckler from a Phillips story. It was released by Paramount in the US as Nate and Hayes.

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Haka - A Musical and a History

Short Film, 1988 (Full Length)

In Haka Māori myth is re-told through a series of stirring haka performances. Men stomp, invoke, and do pūkana (tongue out, eyes wide) amidst spitting mud and fire and ... in Paremoremo Prison and under a motorway. These scenes are intercut with archive imagery of post-pākehā Māori life, from first contact to Maori Battalion, urban drift and protest. The film is a tribute to the raw power, and art, of haka. Ultimately the Once Were Warriors-like message "is positive because of the fierce, irresistible pride of the performances." Peter Calder, (NZ Herald, 1989)

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Hot Earth

Short Film, 1955 (Full Length)

This 1955 film looks at the “savage” geology of the North Island volcanic region, and its human settlement. Te Arawa myth introduces the steaming valleys of volcano and quake god Rūaumoko. The film then surveys geothermal activity and its exploitation by Māori and Pākehā, from cooking to heating hospital radiators. It ends with a dramatic geyser display in front of tourists. Guide Rangi cameos. It screened at the Edinburgh Film Festival, and was John Feeney’s last National Film Unit gig before directing Oscar-nominated films for the National Film Board of Canada.

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Rotorua Lookabout

Short Film, 1969 (Full Length)

This 1969 film promotes the attractions, industry and history of “contemporary Rotorua”, from the Arawa canoe to forestry, from mud pool hangi to the Ward baths (“heavenly for hangovers”). The score is jazz, and the narration is flavoured by the impressive baritone of opera singer Inia Te Wiata (father of actress Rima), who gushes about geysers and Rotorua’s evolution from sleepy tourist backwater to modern city and conference centre. Also featured: kapa haka, meter maids in traditional Māori dress, and a rendition of classic song ‘Me He Manu Rere’ in a meeting house jive.