For a small country from the edge of the world, achievements on the Olympic stage are badges — silver fern-on-black — of national pride: precious moments where we gained notice (even if it was Mum’s anthem playing on the dais). This legacy collection draws on archive footage, some rarely seen, to celebrate the stories behind Kiwis going for gold.
Celebrating the 75th anniversary of government filmmakers the National Film Unit, this collection pulls highlights from the 370+ wartime newsreels, tourism promos and Oscar nominees from the NFU which can be watched on NZ On Screen. Curated by NFU expert Clive Sowry, the collection includes backgrounders by Roger Horrocks, plus Film Unit alumni Sam Pillsbury, Paul Maunder, Arthur Everard and Lynton Diggle.
This 1983 film looks at New Zealand in World War II, via a compilation of footage from the National Film Unit’s Weekly Review newsreel series, which screened in NZ cinemas from 1941 to 1946. It begins with Prime Minister Savage’s “where Britain goes, we go” speech, and covers campaigns in Europe, Africa and the Pacific, and life on the home front. The propaganda film excerpts are augmented with narration and graphics giving context to the war effort. Helen Martin called it "a fascinating record of documentary filmmaking at a crucial time in the country’s history".
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.
Peppered by colourful commentary this newsreel shows highlights of the first rugby test in the 1961 series between the French tourists and the All Blacks. Fans queue outside Eden Park, playing cards or reading Lady Chatterley's Lover. Don "the mighty boot" Clarke kicks off and the ABs score right away, but Pierre "Monsieur Drop" Albaladejo pots two field goals for a French lead. The All Blacks fight back for a 13 - 6 win to delight 60,000 locals. An intercept try escapes the camera: before live broadcast developed, action was sometimes missed while changing film.
This National Film Unit magazine film meets the NZ team for the 1948 London Olympics as they prepare to depart by boat (accompanied by a manager, and a chaperone for the sole female competitor). Each of the seven members is profiled in this reminder of an era when athletes had day jobs, training was 'several hours a day' and swimsuits looked more like impediments than performance aids. A nicely-shot demonstration of weightlifting technique by Maurice Crow is a highlight. Despite the enthusiasm of Selwyn Toogood's voiceover, the team failed to win any medals.
On the occasion of London's Victory Parade (8 June 1946), the National Film Unit issued a special edition Weekly Review. This narrated reel culls from the NFU series to present a patriotic potted history of the war as it “affected New Zealand.” It traces the progress of NZ forces overseas, but ‘total mobilisation’ also means the home front and the women who “helped keep the country going”. With war over: “A starving world looks to us for more meat and more butter. Now our factories can make household utensils instead of grenades ...”
When King George VI died in 1952, the National Film Unit went into the editing room to revisit footage of a royal visit made down under in 1927, before he and his wife Elizabeth had ascended to the throne. The resulting film offers a high speed, whistlestop view of the Duke and Duchess of York's 28 day tour of NZ. "To the accompaniment of many expressions of loyalty and greetings", the pair are kept busy planting trees, opening Karitane homes, fishing, and generally shaking hands. Later plans to return to NZ were cancelled after the King fell ill.
This National Film Unit travelogue, produced for the NZ Government Department of Tourist and Health Resorts, finds post-war Auckland basking in sunshine. Flowers bloom in parks and gardens, city streets bustle and public swimming pools are packed. Trams and flying boats are a reminder of a by-gone era in the city's transportation while a rug factory is a colourful if unexpected inclusion. Last stop is a visit to Kawau Island — home of Governor Grey's Mansion House — where the sun also shines and aquaplaning, sports and bush walks are the order of the day.
This NFU film features the 1948 celebrations which marked the centenary of Dunedin's founding. The Edinburgh of the South's Scots heritage figures prominently, with Jock Carlson taking over the more Caledonian parts of the narration from Selwyn Toogood. A tour of the city is followed by extensive footage of the carnival week's centrepiece: an elaborate "cavalcade of progress", as floats trace Dunedin's development over 100 years, before the ambitious light and fireworks finale. In the period the film was made, all of the NFU's colour footage was processed overseas.