Kotuku

Short Film, 1954 (Full Length)

This short National Film Unit documentary travels to Westland to meet the kōtuku or white heron. In Aotearoa, the kōtuku is known for its beauty and scarcity (the bird’s only NZ breeding colony is near Okarito Lagoon). The black and white film joins the ranger to go whitebaiting, as kōtuku arrive in spring. Kōtuku’s special place in Māori mythology is recounted, and legendary ornithologist Robert Falla checks out chicks in a crowded ponga fern nest. Directed by John Feeney, the film premiered in Christchurch in front of Queen Elizabeth, on her Coronation Tour.

Bird of a Single Flight

Short Film, 1969 (Full Length)

Renowned ornithologist and Dominion Museum head Robert Falla goes into the field to present this first edition of National Film Unit’s Land of Birds. His subject is the kōtuku or white heron, nesting in swamp forest by Ōkārito Lagoon, Westland — the only New Zealand breeding colony. In Māori lore the heron is the sacred 'He kotuku rerenga tahi' or 'bird of single flight', owing to its rare sightings. Grant Foster’s beautifully shot survey of the kōtuku’s Ōkārito summer housing screened on TV in 1972, and won a 1973 Feltex Award for Best Natural History Programme.

Hidden Places: Ōkārito

Television, 1978 (Full Length)

Award-winner Hidden Places: Ōkārito marked an early milestone for the Natural History Unit (later to become NHNZ) — it was part of the first series made by the unit. The 15 minute episode follows birds, such as white heron, Russian godwits and royal spoonbills, all of them flocking to Ōkārito's "unique world of sea, lagoon, rivers and forests". Logging of kahikatea, the tallest endemic forest tree, also features. Robin Scholes, later to produce movie Once Were Warriors, wrote and directed this episode. It won Best Documentary at the 1979 Feltex Television Awards.

Kai Purakau - The Storyteller

Film, 1987 (Excerpts)

Gaylene Preston's documentary on writer Keri Hulme — filmed two years after Hulme shot to global fame on the back of her Booker Prize-winning novel The Bone People — is both a poetic travelogue of Okarito (the township where she resided for 40 years), and a sampler-box of affable musings on her writing process, whitebait fishing, the supernatural, and the 1200 pages of notes for her next novel, the elusive Bait. Leon Narbey's camera is aptly alert to the magical qualities of the coast, from the resident kotuku to the surf and birdsong peppering Hulme’s crib.

Legend of Birds

Short Film, 1962 (Full Length)

This 1962 National Film Unit short uses the relationship between Māori and manu (birds) as a platform to celebrate New Zealand bush birds — from food source and key roles in myth, to their general character. Legend of Birds was filmed on Kāpiti and Little Barrier Islands. Many of the images were captured by noted nature photographers Kenneth and Jean Bigwood, and the score is by composer Larry Pruden. The narration includes a rap-style tribute to the  kākā parrot: “squarks about his indigestion, population and congestion … politics the current question”.

Norwester - Wind of Contrasts

Television, 1990 (Full Length Episode)

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.  

Tilt to the Sun

Short Film, 1966 (Full Length)

Winter is going. This impressionistic take on spring in Aotearoa focuses on details of regeneration, from the mountains to the sea. Director Ron Bowie and cameraman Grant Foster capture signs of the season: ice melt like tadpoles under snow grass, gannets nesting on their Cape Kidnappers tenement, fern koru unfurling, kōtuku and royal spoonbills perched in Ōkārito trees like Dr Suess characters, willow buds and kōwhai flowers. And of course, lambs and daffodils. The camera aptly obeys the title to end. Patrick Flynn (Don’t Let it Get You) composed the score. 

Spike Milligan - Nuclear-free public service announcements

Commercial, 1976 (Excerpts)

In these never-aired commercials, comic genius Spike Milligan urges New Zealanders to sign the Campaign Half Million petition against the introduction of nuclear power. Instead he advocates wind power while standing in breezy Wellington. The ads were never shown, though they did end up in a TV news story on the decision to ban them, thus gaining prime time exposure. The petition, organised for the Campaign for a Non-Nuclear Future, eventually gained 333,087 signatures, representing 10% of New Zealand's population at the time.

John Feeney

Director

Between getting his start in filmmaking with the National Film Unit, and returning to New Zealand to retire, John Feeney made his name as a director at the National Film Board of Canada; he also spent 40 years filming and photographing in Egypt. Some of his NFU films were considered to be outstanding documentaries, and two of his Canadian films were nominated for Academy Awards.

Roy Good

Designer, Artist

Roy Good is the creative talent behind a wide range of set designs (1960s music show C'mon, Hudson & Halls, Top Half) and graphics (including iconic logos for South Pacific Television, and Television New Zealand's Southern Cross logo). Good started his television career painting sets and designing graphics for C'mon. The accomplished artist led a large design team at TVNZ for most of the 1980s.