Asthma and Your Child

Short Film, 1967 (Full Length)

This 1967 NFU instructional film demonstrates breathing exercises developed by Bernice ‘Bunny’ Thompson, to help children suffering from asthma and bronchitis. The film was based on the pioneering physiotherapist's 1963 book of the same name. Director Frank Chilton won renown for his documentaries dealing with the health and welfare needs of children. Asthma and Your Child was commissioned by the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation, and was an early example of a privately-funded socially-useful film. The animation of respiratory processes is by Morrow Productions.

Aroha: A Story of the Māori People

Short Film, 1951 (Full Length)

Aroha depicts a young Māori chief's daughter who embraces the modernity of the Pākehā world (attending university in Wellington) while confronting her place with her own people (Te Arawa) and traditions at home. The NFU-produced dramatisation is didactic but largely sensitive in making Aroha's story represent contemporary Māori dilemmas (noted anthropologist Ernest Beaglehole was the cultural advisor). Watch out for some musical treats, including an instrumental version of classic Kiwi song, 'Blue Smoke' and a performance of the action song 'Me He Manu Rere'.

Tour Magnifique

Short Film, 1982 (Full Length)

This NFU documentary gets in the saddle to follow the professional riders in the world’s southernmost road cycling race. Held in October 1981, the Tour of Southland went from lowland towns like Lumsden to the spectacular trans-Southern Alps road to Milford. Chopper shots and pre-GoPro camera mounts follow riders through Fiordland National Park rainforest. As cyclists rest aching muscles, an unusually philosophical narrator wonders “but is it worth it?”. Date stamps include cigarette sponsorship and a Cortina support fleet. The film screened in cinemas alongside Smash Palace.

The Legend of the Whanganui River

Short Film, 1952 (Full Length)

This documentary film tells the story of the Whanganui River. It recounts a Māori myth believing the river is the path carved by a god (Pukeonaki aka Mt Taranaki) in its journey from the volcanic plateau to the west coast. There is beautifully shot footage of Māori paddling a waka under tui-laden matai, and tourists cruising on steamers. In 1950 the NFU had become part of the Department of Tourism and Publicity (after accusations of political bias); and this film reflects the change, with a triumphant narrative of progress underpinning an often-bloody river history.

The Māori Today

Short Film, 1960 (Full Length)

This NFU documentary reviews Māori in New Zealand in 1960 through the lens of Pakeha boosterism. It depicts Māori cultural revival and Māori being channeled into the cities into schools, housing, trades and labouring work. The Maori Today is of it's time: the narration advocates that Māori land to be consolidated into a single title (a policy today considered responsible for alienation of Māori by The Crown). However it contains some classic footage, such as artist E Mervyn Taylor working on prints inspired by Māori myth and of noted politician Eurera Tirikatene.

Weekly Review No. 416 - Prelude to Aspiring

Short Film, 1949 (Full Length)

Prelude to Aspiring was the first National Film Unit title directed by legendary photographer Brian Brake, soon after he joined the Unit in 1948. It follows a group of climbers up the Matukituki Valley, west of Wanaka, towards Mt Aspiring for the opening of a new hut and a trudge through snow to resurrect a flattened shelter high up Mt French. The autumn alpine scenery is breathtaking even in black and white, and the film perfectly performs its role as one of a series of promotional ‘documentaries' made by the NFU.

Te Rauparaha

Short Film, 1972 (Full Length)

This NFU mini-biopic eulogises the 19th Century Māori leader Te Rauparaha. The Ngāti Toa chief led his people on an exodus from Kāwhia, to a stronghold on Kāpiti Island where he ruled — via musket, flax trade and diplomacy — over a Cook Strait empire extending south to Akaroa. The free-ranging film includes recreations of the 'Wairau Incident' which stirred fears of Māori uprising amidst settlers; Te Rauparaha’s ignominious 1846 arrest by Governor Grey; and the 1849 reburial on Kapiti of the "cannibal statesman" (evocatively rendered using inverted colours).

Pictorial Parade No. 183 - A Hundred Years From Gold

Short Film, 1966 (Full Length)

The Central Otago gold mining town of Cromwell celebrates its centenary in this NFU documentary. For a fortnight the townsfolk go about their ordinary business, but in colonial-era costume. They also re-enact the frontier-style life of gold rush New Zealand. Just 20 years before the film was shot, Cromwell banks were still receiving deposits of gold dust from customers. But the Cromwell of 1966 is also just a memory. While the old main street still exists, much of the town was flooded with the completion of the Clyde dam in 1993.

Moana Roa

Short Film, 1951 (Full Length)

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.

A Great Day to Go

Short Film, 1971 (Full Length)

Made by the NFU for the NZ Water Safety Council this film enlists shock to provoke punters to consider water safety. On a summer’s day a fisherman, surfer and boatie all reckon it's “a great day for it”. But thoughtlessness results in tragedy. Directed by Hugh Macdonald (This is New Zealand), the disjunct between the jaunty song on the soundtrack and sunken bodies onscreen anticipates the graphic horror of the late 90s/early 00s road safety ads (sharing kinship with 1971 bush safety PSA Such a Stupid Way to Die). Grant Tilly cameos as a radio DJ.