John Wills joined the New Zealand Army as soon as he could when war broke out in 1939. He ended up serving in North Africa and Italy until war’s end in 1945. Now 96, Wills looks back at his time as a driver for an artillery battery. Taken prisoner and held by the Italians in Libya, he was liberated by Indian troops in time to see action at the battle of El Alamein. He was also present, behind the lines, at the brutal Battle of Cassino, north of Naples. Tales of fighting, hardship and bravery are balanced with humour.
In early 1944 the Italian town of Cassino was the site of a devastating World War II battle. Kiwi soldiers were part of the Allied forces attacking a German-held stronghold. New Zealand General Bernard Freyberg made the decision to bomb the town, including an iconic 1,400 year-old hilltop monastery. Both sides suffered heavy losses as the Nazis utilised the ruins to their advantage. This documentary follows Kiwi veterans CJ 'Brick' Lorimer and Stewart Black (aka Tai Paraki) as they return to confront the brutality and horror of war, as part of events marking the battle's 60th anniversary.
This compilation episode culls stories from nine new Memories of Service interviews. From Crete to Monte Cassino, the war in the Pacific to the Korean War, former servicemen and women tell their tales in fascinating detail. Divided into broad sections ('Enlisting', 'Battles', 'Occupation of Japan'), there are stories of training, narrow escapes, attack from the air, and sad goodbyes. Director David Blyth and Silverdale RSA museum curator Patricia Stroud’s series of interviews are a valuable archive of a period rapidly fading from memory.
Māori Battalion - March To Victory tells the story of the New Zealand Army's (28th) Māori Battalion, which fought in campaigns during World War ll. Director and writer Tainui Stephens sets out in the feature-length documentary to tell the stories of five men who served with the unit, and also "capture how they felt about it". Narration by actor George Henare, remembrances, visits to historic sites, archival footage, and graphic stills create a respectful and stirring screen testament to the men who fought in the Battalion. Stephens writes about the film in the backgrounder.
World War II veteran Everard Otto volunteered for the Territorials at 18, helping supply Americans troops based in New Zealand. But his real war story began when he turned 21 and was sent overseas. He eventually arrived in Italy as a staff car driver. Mostly behind the lines, Otto’s memory of service is based around the brutal battles for Monte Cassino, watching the cruel fighting and bombing that razed the famous hilltop monastery. Returning decades later he found the countryside largely unchanged. He even found the dugout where he spent four eventful months.
In this 2014 documentary, singer Whirimako Black explores the World War II experience of her late father Stewart Black (who enlisted as Tai Paraki), and its legacy for his whānau. With her daughter Ngatapa — also a singer — Whirimako returns to Cassino in Italy. The 1944 battle helped forge the reputation of the Māori Battalion, but they suffered heavy losses, and it left survivors like Paraki with trauma and shame. The pair respond in word and song to the place — and to their koro’s memories, which were captured by director Reuben Collier for earlier doco Monte Cassino 60 Years On.
Simon Price grew up in Dunedin. Named most innovative graduate at Melbourne's VCA Film School, he worked in Australia for many years as a writer/director, editor and video artist before returning home to help edit King Kong. Price's feature editing credits have since included Blackspot, landmark Samoan drama The Orator, Cambodian-set fable Ruin, Pā Boys, and docos Last Men Standing and Antarctica: A Year On Ice.
Made for roughly $60,000, the debut feature from Cristobel Araus Lobos was 2001 award-winner The Waiting Place, a tale of two escaped convicts trapped in an abandoned psychiatric hospital. In-between a prolific diet of short films — many made for the 48 Hour film contest — the multitalented Chilean-New Zealander has gone on to direct two more features: culture shock comedy Curry Munchers (aka Vindaloo Empire) in Auckland and New Delhi, and Southern-set thriller Netherwood. He has also directed for hit show Let's Get Inventin', and on season one of web series comedy The Adventures of Suzy Boon.
In 2016 Andrew Munro found himself on top of the world — on-screen at least. He was starring as Everest mountaineer Edmund Hillary in Platinum-funded miniseries Hillary. After working sporadically in the TV and film industries in Wellington, Munro had moved to Auckland in 2005, to pursue an acting career. He went on to act in comedy show Hounds and web series Stand Up Girl, and played Dougie, best friend to All Black saviour Stephen Donald, in 2014 TV movie The Kick. In 2017 Munro was nominated for Best Actor at the NZ Television Awards for playing Hillary. The award was won by his Hillary co-star Dean O’Gorman. Image credit: photo by Dean O'Gorman