This 1962 film about geothermal power generation begins with animated sequences telling the Māori legend of how the North Island’s volcanoes were created. Then it explores the “crazy idea” of volcanic power, and how New Zealand might harness its potential. At Wairakei, roads have collapsed and the ground can rumble: “nothing is ever quite predictable on this battleground for power”. Nearby, steam is used for heating, hangi, bathing, and … growing pineapples. The animation was handled by Mike Walker (later producer of Kingi’s Story), of Levin-based Morrow Productions.
This 1952 film ventures off the Bay of Plenty coast to New Zealand’s most active volcano: White Island. The National Film Unit production joins a team of DSIR scientists, supposedly the first humans in more than a decade to to view this “fantastic laboratory of nature”. They camp in the ruins of a sulphur mill, where the acidic fumes have disintegrated factory engines. Steam in fumeroles destroys thermometers — “mapping the land brings the party to many a scene like this: a scene from The Inferno”. Elsewhere, gannets nest, defying the inhospitable environment.
This collection looks at some of New Zealand's most significant national tragedies. Spanning 150+ years, it tells stories of drama, caution, hope and recovery — from the 1863 wreck of the Orpheus at Manukau Heads, to Tarawera, the Wahine, Erebus, Pike River and Christchurch. In the backgrounder, Jock Phillips writes about the collection, and the "common sequence" to disaster.
Some of New Zealand's most memorable screen images have come from the genre of science fiction: Bruno wandering man alone onto Eden Park in a nightie; giant slugs living under Rangitoto. From alien hunters to futuristic fuel wars to nuclear volcanoes, this collection is a showcase of film and TV that has imagined 'what if?' versions of life in the shaky isles.
Taking viewers on a tour of the Volcanic Plateau in the central North Island, this aerial jaunt is enough to make anyone want to take to the skies. After taking off from Rotorua, the award-winning NFU short treats us to soaring shots of the Waimangu Volcanic Rift Valley, Ruapehu, and 'The Frying Pan', the world's largest hot lake. As well as the impressive scenery, the voiceover (supposedly by the pilot) offers up a brief history of the geysers and fumaroles littering the plateau, and a mention of how the Waikato River has been interrupted by "that necessary monster: progress".
In Geoff Steven's Kiwi riff on the European art film, a vulcanologist (Brit character actor Nigel Davenport) roams the Volcanic Plateau accompanied by a journalist, a photographer and escapees from a cholera quarantine. Steamy philosophical musings and symbolic intent made for a marked departure from the realism of the NZ feature film renaissance (e.g. Steven’s own Skin Deep). The second feature produced by John Maynard (The Navigator), this moody allegorical tale was co-scripted by Czech writer/designer Ester Krumbachova and Czech-based Kiwi Michael Havas.
On Christmas Eve 1953 a volcanic eruption caused a massive lahar to flow down Whangaehu River. The Wellington-Auckland express crossed the rail bridge at Tangiwai minutes later; it collapsed, and carriages plunged into the flooded river. Out of 285 people, 151 died, in New Zealand's worst rail accident. This 2002 documentary examines events and the board of inquiry finding that the accident was an act of God. This excerpt attacks the story that Cyril Ellis could have warned the train driver what lay ahead, and argues there was a railways department cover-up at the board of inquiry.
No ordinary Christmas tale, The Monster’s Christmas throws viewers into a world of friendly creatures, talking hot pools and witches with gym equipment in their cave lairs. Child find Lucy McGrath revels in the role of a plucky girl who encounters a one-eyed monster with smoke billowing from his head. The monsters need her help to steal their voices back from an evil witch. The stylings of the live action creatures were influenced by the volcanic North Island locations, and designed by Janet Williamson and cartoonist Burton Silver. Yvonne Mackay (Kaitangata Twitch) directs.
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 magazine newsreel mixes buried treasure with a classic Brian Brake-shot performance piece. Opener 'The Long Poi' captures a poi dance. In 'The Buried Village' tourists examine fireballs and Māori stone carvings buried in the 1886 Tarawera eruption. The final piece showcases the talents of Kiwi pianist Richard Farrell and director Brian Brake. Brake's moody studio lighting and lively compositions frame this performance of a Chopin waltz. Farrell would die after a car accident in the United Kingdom in 1958 — the same month Brake won his first big spread in Life magazine.