The bid to raise the level of Fiordland’s Lake Manapōuri (to provide hydro-electricity for an aluminum smelter) resulted in controversy between 1959 and 1972. This film charts a (still-timely) debate as arguments for industrial growth and cheap energy vie with views advocating for ecological values. New Zealand’s first large-scale environmental campaign ensued, and its “damn the dam” victory was a spur for the modern conservation movement — drawing an unprecedented petition, Forest and Bird, and figures like farmer Ron McLean and botanist Alan Mark into the fray.
Manapōuri hydroelectric power station is New Zealand’s largest. This 1970 NFU film — made for the Electricity Department — follows workers clearing a path for power through epic Fiordland mountains and rainforest, building roads and power pylons, and stringing a cable along the “hard and dirty” 30 miles to the aluminium smelter at Bluff. Sixteen men were killed constructing ‘the line’ before power was first generated in 1969. At the same time the scheme generated mass protests (the ‘Save Manapōuri’ campaign) at the proposal to raise Lake Manapōuri's level.
In the 1950s, driven by a desire to power around the shallows of the Mackenzie Country's braided rivers, inventor and "South Island sheep man" Bill Hamilton developed an improved method of jet boat propulsion. This NFU film explains the concept and Hamilton demonstrates the 'turbo craft': cruising Lake Manapouri, waterskiing Lyttelton Harbour, and heading up the Whanganui. Then it's spin outs and shooting rapids (and deer) with Commander Philip Porter from the icebreaker USS Glacier...who clearly loves the smell of the Waimakariri in the morning.
This 1949 NFU film is a whistle-stop tour of Aotearoa that, per the title, takes in the full gamut of the scenic wonderland. Splendidly filmed in Kodachrome, there are lakes (Tutira, Manapouri, Te Anau, Wakatipu), caves (Waitomo), mountains (Cook/Aoraki, Egmont/Taranaki) and forests and farms aplenty, with the occasional city sojourn and an obligatory ferry shot. In the narration indefatigable nature is harnessed for man’s needs and appreciation. Of note is a sequence on gum-collector Nicholas Yakas, who shows impressive agility as he scales a giant kauri.
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.
Made for the United Nation's first 'Earth Summit' in Stockholm in 1971, this film explores possible futures for Aotearoa's environment. Director Hugh Macdonald (This is New Zealand) presents an impressionistic ecosystem: mixing shots of natural wonders, urbanisation, and pollution with abstract montages and predictions from futurologists, including Jacques Cousteau’s “underwater man”. Before climate change heated up 21st Century doomsday debates, this film (made for the Ministry of Works!) emphasises individual responsibility. The score enlists French nursery rhyme ‘Are You Sleeping?’.
After stints in the merchant navy and the British film industry, Steve Locker-Lampson began a new life in New Zealand in the 60s, heading the camera department at indie production house Pacific Films. The following decade he forged a reputation as one of the country's pioneer aerial cameramen, and worked behind the scenes on movies Solo and Smash Palace. Locker-Lampson passed away in October 2012.
Ken Blackburn, MNZM, is a familiar face on New Zealand stage and screen. In a career spanning 50+ years he's appeared in iconic television shows (Gliding On, Shortland Street) and films — including a lead role in 1978 feature Skin Deep. Blackburn was awarded a New Zealand Order of Merit in 2005; in 2017 he received the a Lifetime Achievement award, acknowledging long-serving local actors.
A National Film Unit cameraman for 36 years, Brian Cross worked on a large number of films, ranging from royal tours and rugby tours to industrial progress in forestry and electricity transmission, some as cameraman and director. He is particularly remembered for his record of the maiden voyage of HMNZS. Otago, and for his many films of New Zealand railways.Image credit: Archives New Zealand, ref AAQT 6421 B18889
Veteran cameraman Waynne Williams, MNZM, has shot everything from the Vietnam War and French nuclear testing to the Christchurch quake, TV drama Pukemanu and Australian movie The Box. Over more than half a century, Williams has worked on over 10,000 news stories. The Christchurch-based lensman runs Port Hills productions with partner Anne Williams.