Film director Roger Donaldson and motor racing legend Steve Millen both began making their mark in New Zealand, before making the move to California. The first Coming Home episode sees them at work in the USA, and visiting old haunts in Aotearoa. Donaldson shoots the effects-heavy Dante's Peak and prepares $100 million thriller Thirteen Days, while Millen hits the race track, in-between running his custom car parts company. Later he returns to the farm near Auckland, where his need for speed began on the family tractor. Donaldson heads to Auckland and Queenstown.
Three young ski instructors head south for an end of season adventure on Mt Ruapehu and the Tasman Glacier. Michael Dennis and Anne Reid both competed for NZ in the 1968 Grenoble winter Olympics. They join Swiss-born heli-ski pioneer Herbie Bleuer on the slopes in this 1969 NFU short film, replete with slightly dated, “hip” voiceover. With not another soul in sight, the three begin on Mt Ruapehu, skiing down to examine the crater. Then it’s down to Queenstown and a ski-plane flight onto the top of the Tasman Glacier for a run down its 27 kilometre length.
This 1963 film looks at how the development of high country aviation is taking on the challenges presented by the South Island’s rugged geography. Piloted by war veterans, small aircraft parachute supplies into remote locations for Forest Service hut building and service lighthouses. Meanwhile helicopters and airlines open up opportunities for industry (venison, tourism, forestry, topdressing) and recreation (fishing, hunting). Good keen men, smokos and Swannies abound in this classically-filmed National Film Unit documentary.
Australian producer Antony Ginnane brought this $6 million romp to New Zealand, after Aussie union Actors Equity objected to the four lead roles going to foreigners. Deer hunting heroes Donald Pleasance (Halloween) and Ken Wahl (six years before becoming TV's Wise Guy) race around in helicopters and jet boats, after discovering a half-sunken WWll plane. This opening excerpt indicates the film's mixture of action, comedy and Southern scenery. Zephyr helped establish Aotearoa's reputation as a place to film; Ginnane and Kiwi John Barnett produced further projects together.
This 1952 tourism film promoted New Zealand as a destination to Australians. In the 1950s the Kiwi tourist industry lacked accommodation and investment. But new opportunities were offered by international air travel — like the Melbourne to Christchurch route shown here, flown by TEAL (which later became Air New Zealand). Produced by the National Film Unit, this promo touts the South Island as an antidote to crowded city life in Melbourne and Sydney. Road trips offer glaciers, lakes, snow sports, motoring, angling, racing, and scenic delight aplenty.
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 rich scenery around Lake Wakatipu has inspired painters, postage stamps and director Peter Jackson. Shortly before leaving NZ in 1954, photographer Brian Brake headed south for the NFU to capture images of lake, mountain, tourist and miner. Amid the postcard perfection, Brake films mist-shrouded hills sliced open by mining, and a trio of skiers on Coronet Peak, travelling hand in hand. Tourists swap lake steamers for open top buses, en route to the Routeburn track; and one old-timer sets out on horse to pan for gold, via the abandoned mining village of Macetown.
In 1968 eight Japanese teenagers won an art competition; their prize was a week long visit to the country they'd imagined on canvas. It's a busy itinerary — the students land in Wellington and take an obligatory cable car ride before visiting Parliament and the museum. The steamy wonderland of Rotorua is next, a dairy farm visit is a big success and Sir Edmund Hillary joins the teens for an authentic Kiwi barbeque. Shy smiles abound when one student meets her Kiwi pen pal for the first time. This is a rare example of a New Zealand television documentary from the 1960s.
In 1988 Entertainment This Week’s host Leeza Gibbons and Coronation Street’s Christopher Quinten found love while taking part in a New Zealand Telethon. The pair starred in two of New Zealand’s favourite TV shows and the sight of them falling for each other live in the Christchurch studios was the talk of the country; viewers — like the couple — were literally agape. This 6.30PM News segment re-caps the romance and follows the duo to Arrowtown for a winter stroll. A year later they were married, but by 1991 it was all over. Warning: includes a deep pash.
In the 2000s mockumentary realism (led by The Office) was making its mark in television comedy. Series The Pretender gave Kiwi politics the embedded camera treatment, with expat comedian Bob Maclaren playing overconfident property developer-turned-MP Dennis Plant. The first episode of the second series sees Plant cause political chaos, with the launch of his Future New Zealand party. This season was nominated for three Qantas TV awards in 2009, including best comedy. The show was created by Peter Cox (Insider’s Guide to Happiness) and Great Southern TV’s Philip Smith.