Thinking that documentaries would benefit if film crews were much smaller, TVNZ producer Richard Thomas proposed that emerging directors take over much of the filming themselves, using consumer video cameras. Thomas organised camera workshops for First Hand's directors, and overcame opposition that this more intimate style of making documentaries wouldn't meet broadcast standards. The result gave early opportunities to a host of emerging filmmakers, including award-winners Leanne Pooley and Mark McNeill, and production executive Alan Erson. 

First Hand - A New Breed of Hero

Television, 1993 (Full Length)

This extended episode of First Hand sees a couple at an economic crossroads, and making the decision to move into self-employment. After finding their jobs in Auckland compromised, Alec and Sheena McDonald set out to find and buy their own dairy in a small North Island town. They end up in Awakeri, near Whakatāne. The lifestyle transition is far from trouble-free, as the couple must negotiate the worlds of bureaucracy and banking to insure their new business stays afloat. The documentary provides insights into running a small business during a time of economic reform.

First Hand - Bedtime Stories

Television, 1995 (Full Length)

First Hand was a series of mid 1990s documentaries made for TVNZ. Newbie filmmakers were armed with consumer cameras, aiming to capture “natural human behaviour” with the new technology and minimal crew. This edition, directed by David Ambler, profiles 23-year-old Newstalk ZB late-night talkback host Mike Yardley, and introduces regular callers from his nationwide audience of 150,000: service station worker Lucas channels Oprah, Petone radio poet George rhymes about detached organs, and Merle dances to an organist. Radio veteran Marcus Lush narrates.

First Hand - Bowling Order

Television, 1992 (Full Length Episode)

The St Heliers Bowling Club is the setting of this episode of First Hand, a series dedicated to giving young directors a shot at making documentaries. A triples team from the Remuera Bowling Club have made the short journey to the Auckland seaside suburb, and aim to prove their superiority on the club’s fast greens. The documentary takes time to observe the culture of the club throughout the day’s play, from the variety of whites the players wear and the backgrounds of the members, to their lunchtime rituals and the role of women at the club. It’s all in a lively day’s play. 

First Hand - Changing Minds

Television, 1992 (Full Length Episode)

Mental health care is profiled in this 1992 episode of First Hand. Wayne Hussey is a member of the South Auckland Community Treatment Team, who is followed over the course of a day seeing his patients. They vary from a young woman struggling with bipolar disorder, to a woman living with schizophrenia, and a man who has adapted to independent life in the community. Kingseat Psychiatric Hospital becomes the voluntary home of one patient. The hospital was closed in 1999, and parts of the complex were controversially used for haunted house attraction Spookers.

First Hand - Just Like Anyone Else

Television, 1992 (Full Length)

Karen and Mark, who are both intellectually disabled, are expecting a child. In this episode from stripped back documentary series First Hand, the couple become a family when baby Terry arrives. Terry's birth means the usual support they receive from IHC must be ramped up, and a new caregiver steps in to help Karen and Mark cope with the 24/7 responsibilities of parenthood. It's a story full of hope and love, but no one close to the couple is under any illusions about the amount of support needed to successfully parent Terry.

First Hand - Just Words

Television, 1994 (Full Length)

Anne and Gordon left high school unable to read or write to a basic level. This documentary follows their progress with the Auckland Adult Literacy Scheme, and culminates with the pair sitting the written and oral exam for their drivers' licence. Anne found innovative ways around the kids' bedtime stories, but froze when it came to filling in forms. Gordon has been driving illegally for years; he wants to ace his drivers' test and finds an acceptance within the Adult Literacy Scheme he never did at school. The First Hand series has a stripped back style, using small cameras and crews.

First Hand - Mahurangi Day

Television, 1992 (Full Length Episode)

One day each summer, some of the oldest sailing ships in New Zealand gather at Sullivans Bay (also known as Otarawao) to take part in a race that dates back to 1858. The race is the premiere event of the Mahurangi Regatta. It's also a day when the community gets together to take part in sand sculpture competitions, running races and a hotly contested tug of war, usually resulting in triumph for the whānau from nearby Opahi Bay. First Hand captures the organisational dramas preceding the fun, and the community spirit inspiring this regular get together.

First Hand - Out of Work

Television, 1992 (Full Length Episode)

After being made redundant, Mike James becomes one of thousands searching for a new employer in Auckland. This episode of documentary series First Hand chronicles the instability faced by the accountant and his family. With their savings dwindling, plans for kids' sports teams and wife Margaret’s prospective tertiary study must be seriously reconsidered. This episode was directed by Seth Keen, who directed further television documentaries (Godzone Sheep) before going on to lecture in new media at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

First Hand - Paradise Lost

Television, 1992 (Full Length Episode)

Director Leanne Pooley heads to a struggling Hawke's Bay farm as part of a documentary series made by newbie filmmakers. The Hallgarths are selling up after years of financial difficulty at their 600 acre sheep farm, which has been in the family for three generations. Pooley interviews a sad yet optimistic Arthur and Helen Hallgarth as they prepare to leave, and on the day they depart. Within a year of filming this show, the family returned to farming on a small property nearby. Pooley later directed Topp Twins:Untouchable Girls and 3D Mt Everest ascent saga Beyond the Edge

First Hand - Running the Rubbish

Television, 1992 (Full Length Episode)

Composed of one-off episodes, each by a different director, First Hand was an opportunity for up-and-coming filmmakers to try their hand at making documentaries. This instalment from director Alan Erson looks at ‘dusties’ — the men who collect Auckland’s rubbish. Their rewards and career pathways are considered, alongside the hard physical nature of the work. Just as important is what happens during time off. There are visits to local pub The Bellbird, and the café where they stop for cups of tea — plus sucker for punishment Manu heads to rugby league training.

First Hand - Sister to the Sinner

Television, 1992 (Full Length Episode)

For 10 years Sister Joan Timpany served as the Catholic chaplain at Paremoremo Prison, where the country's most dangerous criminals are incarcerated. The cheerful nun is interviewed in this First Hand documentary by new director Leanne Pooley (Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls). Prisoners adore Sister Joan; many call her a mother figure. An inmate called Julian performs a song he wrote for her, with the lyrics: "There’s no other here to listen, I can always count on her to be a friend." Sister Joan was awarded the Queen's Service Order in 1993 for her community service. She died in 2006.

First Hand - Two Men from Tūākau

Television, 1993 (Full Length Episode)

Bruce Graham, wife Lynn and son Mark are in the funeral business, serving the people in the Waikato town of Tūākau at their darkest times. This episode of First Hand takes place in the aftermath of local man Athel Parsons' death, from collecting his body to his funeral and cremation. Athel lived alone but was from a large family. He contributed to his town through his love of sports, in particular indoor bowls. As Bruce organises Athel's farewell we learn about both men's lives, and how the most common of events can affect a small community.