Pop Goes the Weasel was C4's twisted answer to iconic British pop quiz Never Mind the Buzzcocks, embracing a shambolic DIY approach with oversized props, lots of ribbing and an oiled up man in tights (the Weasel) handling the judging. It's fair to say that not every joke has aged well. This trans-Tasman stoush pits a young Dai Henwood and Evan Short from Concord Dawn, against Scott Owen from The Living End and a DJ called 'the Doctor'. Overseeing it all is quizmistress supreme, Jaquie Brown. Director Toa Fraser pops by to embarrass Henwood with a prank call.
“These three birds are over half the world population of their species.” Peter Hayden’s narration lays bare the stakes for the Chatham Island black robin, and the Wildlife Service team (led by Don Merton) trying to save them. Merton’s innovative methods include removing eggs from nests – to encourage the last two females to lay again – and placing them in riroriro (grey warbler) foster homes. The black robin documentaries helped forge the reputation of TVNZ's Natural History Unit. Paul Stanley Ward writes about the documentaries here, and the mission to save the black robin.
This Māori Television hit offers a down-home NZ Idol mixed with a little Fear Factor, as off the street talents sing three rounds of karaoke and try to win $1000. Hosts Te Hamua Nikora (Homai Te Pakipaki) and Luke Bird (The Stage - Haka Fusion) coax Lagitoa from Papatoetoe, Samantha from Pakuranga and Renee from Rotorua to belt out their favourite song. The show’s stripped back style allows lots of space for audience reactions (this time at Rotorua's night markets, and in Pakuranga). With encouragements in te reo and English, the contestants feel the fear and sing anyway.
When his father dies, Paul (Matthew Macfayden), a world-weary war journalist, returns to his Central Otago hometown. He strikes up an unlikely friendship with a teenage girl (Emily Barclay). Their relationship is frowned upon and when she disappears, the community holds him responsible. The events that follow force Paul to confront a tragic incident he fled as a youth, and face dark secrets. Critically-acclaimed, In My Father's Den marked the debut of a formidable fledgling talent: it was the only feature from writer-director Brad McGann, who died of cancer in 2007.
By 1976 there were only seven Chatham Islands black robins left. It was the world's rarest bird. In a bid to save the species, the surviving birds were taken from one island to another more hospitable island in a desperate rescue mission. This was part of an incredible conservation success story led by Don Merton and his NZ Wildlife Service team. Seven Black Robins and Project Takahē captured viewers' imaginations as part of an acclaimed series of 'rare bird' films that screened on TV series Wild South. They helped forge the reputation of TVNZ’s Natural History Unit (later NHNZ).
In the mid 1970s the Chatham Island black robin was the world's rarest bird. With only two females left, the conservation ante was extreme. Enter saviour Don Merton and his Wildlife Service team. Their pioneering efforts ranged from abseiling the birds (including the 'Eve' of her species, 'Old Blue') down cliff faces, to left-field libido spurs. This 1988 Listener Film and TV award-winner united two earlier Wild South documentaries, and updated the robin’s rescue story to 1987. It originally screened on Christmas Day 1987, before being modified for this 1989 edition.
Shot by photographer Brian Brake as a NFU tourism promo, Snows of Aorangi surveys New Zealand's mountain landscapes. Brake captures stunning imagery: ethereal ice forests, lightning storms, volcanic craters, glaciers, avalanches, kea. Three skiers are mesmerising as they scythe downhill from Almer Hut: "for a little while they've given themselves to the rhythm of sky and earth" runs the James K Baxter-scripted narration. It was the first NZ film to compete for an Oscar, nominated in the Best Short Subject (Live Action) category in 1959.
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.
Veteran producer and production designer Grahame McLean helped organise the shoots of a run of landmark Kiwi productions, from The Games Affair to Sleeping Dogs. Later he brought TV success Worzel Gummidge down under, and became the first — and will likely long remain one of the few — New Zealanders to direct two feature films back to back.
A proud son of the West Coast, Peter Hawes was a fixture on NZ television in the late 70s and early 80s. After writing for A Week of It, he presented Yours for the Asking, giving free rein to his irreverent wit and fondness for wordplay as he sought answers to viewer questions. Hawes has also written extensively for the theatre and authored a number of well-received novels.