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.
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'.
Coverage of a major event in the history of the NZ music industry — the pressing of Ruru Karaitiana’s timeless classic ‘Blue Smoke’ — is the highlight of this NFU newsreel. It was the first recording of a local composition performed by local musicians to be manufactured in NZ (in a very exact and highly labour intensive exercise involving men in white coats). The country’s biggest airlift of sheep, sharp shooting army cadets, high flying painters redecorating a Wellington church and heavy machinery being moved across Auckland by barge also feature.
This award-winning short film explores Te Waikoropupū Springs. The springs fully live up to New Zealand’s 100% Pure brand, with some of the clearest water known (a 1993 study measured visibility to 63 metres). After visiting the springs' ‘dancing sands’, three divers take a down river run: going with the flow of the 14,000 litres per second discharged from the springs (here the classical score funks up the tempo). One of the divers was sound recordist Kit Rollings. The waters are now closed off, to preserve their purity. The NFU short played in cinemas with Return of the Pink Panther.
This vibrant NFU travelogue takes the pulse of NZ's capital after 125 years of Pākehā settlement and finds a "colourful, casual" city that has had to impose itself on the landscape to endure. Highlights include the 90 sec opening flyover, some off-the-wall music choices in the score and vox pops that are well shy of 'coolest little capital' chutzpah. The wind puts on a requisite show but so do the city's 32 miles of beaches, with a Riviera-esque Oriental Bay beaming on a good day. The mower on a rope trick looks dodgy to a more health and safety conscious age.
This National Film Unit promotional film begins at the Aratiatia rapids on the Waikato River and heads on up to Lake Taupō, where it chucks on the waders and casts into the waters of the volcanic crater lake, to extol the virtues of fishing for rainbow trout. The narration is firmly of its time: “Here’s one man’s idea of the complete angler: complete with radio and pretty girl. Maybe the fish won’t bite, but he’s planned a good day whatever line he uses.” Lake Taupō - Paradise for Fishermen was the NFU’s first production to be shot on 35mm colour film (specifically 35mm Ansco Colour).
It’s possible that Auckland’s early 60s urban growth has never seemed bigger, brighter or bolder than it does in this breathless NFU newsreel. As the city encroaches ever further into the countryside, suburbs blossom and improved roads, motorways and the new harbour bridge keep the citizenry moving. In the CBD, construction is booming with a 23 storey civic centre on the way up and an obsession with bigger and better parking buildings. Improved infrastructure is also demanded — with upgrades to ports, railways, telephone exchanges and sewage facilities.
This excerpt from a post-war NFU newsreel begins at Eden Park for a match between Auckland and the ‘Kiwis’ (the army’s NZEF team), then goes on a jaunty ride through all-things rugby in NZ: from 1st XV (Wellington College), club and provincial (Ranfurly Shield in the Southland rain) clashes, to boot-making and badge selling on match day, with rugby’s centrality to the Kiwi psyche underlined throughout. “Rugby’s never over, though the crowds stream home from Eden Park or any place we play, to fans and players alike it will always be a part of our national life!”
This educational video was made by the NFU for the National Mountain Safety Council to promote awareness of bush safety. After a blackboard science lesson (check out a bearded Ray Henwood) things get interesting. A fictional trip into the bush turns into a Stubbies-clad 70s Kiwi version of the Blair Witch Project as we're told that one of the group will not survive the night, picked off by that fearsome killer: exposure. The message is serious, but the doom-laden tone induced titters in school classrooms and scout halls throughout NZ.
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.