Mixing three separate strands, On an Unknown Beach is a so-called “‘speculative documentary" about journeys into landscapes of ruin. Sonic artist Bruce Russell explores the ruined Christchurch CBD, scientist Di Tracey captures compelling underwater footage while examining coral damage on the seabed, and poet David Hornblow undergoes hypnotherapy to explore his consciousness and past experiences with addiction. The film was made by Adam Luxton and Summer Agnew, whose 2005 documentary Minginui (2005) focussed on an ex-forestry town in the North Island.
This impressionistic 1989 short film, directed by Mark Summerville, imagines gay tribal life on a fantasy South Pacific Island. Shot by Mairi Gunn, the film ripples with watery blues; a stormy Maggie Rankin soundtrack and whispered narration (from Ivan Davis) backgrounds images of marine sirens, coral crowns, apples, tapa, and entwined seaweed. In the middle of it all — a game of underwater hockey... The short film crossed the seas to gay film festivals in San Francisco, Vancouver and Hamburg, and toured with a British Film Institute selection of shorts.
From a pre-Mythbusters but post-blackboard and pointer era, Christchurch-produced Science Express took a current affairs approach to reporting contemporary NZ scientific research. Presented by broadcaster Ken Ellis this 1984 ‘best of’ dives beneath fiords to explore mysterious black coral forests; and looks at teeth transplants, efforts to stimulate deer fawning, and the STD chlamydia. Finally the show visits Wellington and Christchurch Town Halls to profile concert hall acoustics pioneer Harold Marshall, and his mission to attain perfect sound for listeners.
Fiordland is the jewel in the Te Wahipounamu South West New Zealand UNESCO World Heritage Site, a status underpinned by primeval scenery and a reputation as one of the world’s great wilderness areas. This film explores the symmetries of life above and below the fiords, where water cascades from mountain peaks and rainforest, into the black depths of ice age carved valleys. Award-winning photography reveals the mirror world: kea, mohua, fur seals, bottlenose dolphins, and an underwater phantasmagoria of starfish, ancient black coral forests and sea pens.
This 1960 National Film Unit documentary visits the Cook Islands, a group of volcanic isles and coral atolls administered by New Zealand. Ron Bowie's film surveys the challenges of island life (sourcing fresh water, lack of timber for housing) as well as agriculture (coconuts), recreation and schooling. Though patronising — describing Rarotongan people as “the cheerful islander” — the narration confronts some impacts of modernity (eg the shift to European diet for dental health), and anticipates young people will be the islands' biggest export.
The third part of this NFU series on aviation in New Zealand jets off post-World War II, where wartime aircraft and crew provided a base for the National Airways Corporation (later Air New Zealand). The romance of travelling via flying boat made way for mass global air travel; and NZ tourism and airports rapidly became more sophisticated. Presenter Peter Clements looks at how the NZ environment spurred innovation (ski planes, top-dressing, heli deer hunting), and traces the lineage of contemporary garage aircraft makers to DIY first flyers like Richard Pearse.
Made as a promo for the album of the same name by Melbourne-based musician Lance Ferguson, this short documentary covers a golden era of New Zealand music. The documentary focuses on Ferguson’s grandfather, the late Bill Wolfgramm, who released NZ’s first pop album South Seas Rhythm in 1957. Ferguson talks with another legend, Bill Sevesi, who played with Wolfgramm, and visits Auckland's Museum of Transport and Technology, which holds a special significance for him and his family. Included is rare footage of historic TEAL flying boat Aranui in flight.
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.
Our Small World is a portrait of life on an atoll in Tokelau — on Fale, an island so small, the schoolhouse had to be built on the next island, and the pigs live on the reef. Narrated by Tokelau-born Ioane Puka on a return visit, the film examines old traditions meeting pressures from the outside world, an emphasis on self-sufficiency and togetherness, and worries over education and a declining, youth-heavy population. Key decisions are made by a group of male elders, although after initial doubts, they have accepted a woman police officer.
The Years Back was a documentary series that used archive footage and interviews to survey New Zealand’s 20th century history. This episode details events in the Pacific during World War II, from Japan’s 1941 attack of Pearl Harbour through to mid 1944. Japan’s aggressive thrust into South East Asia threatened New Zealand and Australia (“any day now it’ll be us”), and forced the countries into war close to home. Veterans and commanders recall sea battles, rallying of air defences and jungle warfare, from New Caledonia to New Guinea.The series was made by the National Film Unit.