Tuberculosis and the Māori People of the Wairoa District was screened for the first time in 1952. It is one of many health education films made, but was unique in that it was a collaborative production involving the New Zealand Department of Health, the Ngāti Kahungungu Tribal District Committee and the National Film Unit. At this time, the death rate for Māori from TB was 10 times that of Pākehā. Turi Carroll (knighted in 1962) a respected Ngāti Kahungunu leader, narrates much of the film.
This 1951 National Film Unit production looks at the Cook Islands, and marks the 50th anniversary of the islands’ annexation in 1901. Unusually long (half an hour) for an NFU film, it shows history ("Vikings of the Pacific" through Captain Cook to New Zealand administration) and island life: spear-fishing, catamaran sailing, breadfruit gathering, weaving, dancing and singing. The islands are depicted as paradise guided by NZ paternalism, with the Islanders grateful recipients of modern communication, technology, health services, education, and... tinned meat.
This NFU film looks at the challenges of delivering health services to the large, sparsely populated Hokianga district after World War II. The Weekly Review doesn’t flinch from facing the poverty and poor housing of the mostly Māori population. District nurses carry much of the burden, and doctors and nurses from Rawene Hospital travel by car, foot, boat and horseback to attend clinics and emergencies; including the legendary Dr George McCall Smith — responsible for setting up the Hokianga Special Medical Area. The film’s score was composed by Douglas Lilburn.
Made to mark 100 years of women's suffrage in New Zealand, Bread & Roses tells the story of pioneering trade unionist, politician and feminist Sonja Davies (1923 - 2005), who rose to prominence in the 1940s and 50s. Directed by Gaylene Preston and co-written by Graeme Tetley, the acclaimed three-hour production played on television screens, and also got a limited cinema release. Australian actor Geneviève Picot (as Sonja Davies) and Mick Rose (as her husband) won gongs for their roles at the 1994 NZ Film and TV Awards. Bianca Zander writes about Bread & Roses here.
Using the power of documentary film Frank Chilton made a difference to the lives of disabled children in New Zealand and around the world. The films he directed for the National Film Unit won many awards and he was honoured by the Queen with an OBE for services to the handicapped.
The late Margaret Thomson is arguably the first New Zealand woman to have directed films. Thomson spent much of her film career working in England, plus two years back in New Zealand at the National Film Unit. Her NFU short Railway Worker (1948) is regarded as a classic.
If the measure of success for a casting director is the subsequent success of the actors they pluck from the crowd, then Diana Rowan has certainly done time at the top of her field. She is the casting director who helped Anna Paquin, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Kerry Fox and Lucy Lawless on their way to international careers, while developing her own talents as a writer and director of short films.
Robin Scholes is one of New Zealand’s most experienced and respected producers. Her credits range from feature films (Once Were Warriors, Mahana, Mr Pip) to iconic TV shows (Magic Kiwis) and documentaries (Colin McCahon: I Am). In 1997 she was made an OBE for services to the film and television industry.
Welsh-born James Harris played an important role in the founding of the National Film Unit in 1941. A well-educated, versatile filmmaker equally at home behind the camera, operating a splicer or wielding a pen, he spent 26 years with the NFU, mostly as a senior director. Photo credit: Archives New Zealand, reference AAQT 6401 A23,729