Short Film, 1942–1950
The National Film Unit was set up in 1941 to publicise New Zealand’s war effort. The unit’s output soon evolved into the Weekly Review, a weekly reel screened in cinemas. Confusingly the first Weekly Review in October 1942 was named No. 60. It was the principal NZ film series produced in the 1940s. The series ended in August 1950 with the 459th issue. The reviews were a mix of newsreel and general interest stories and occasionally, full-reel documentaries. Some were later re-issued (without the Weekly Review title) for screening in educational and overseas markets.
Rush-released, this Weekly Review special shows efforts to battle a Taupō forest fire which got out of control in February 1946. Scenes include an RNZAF plane flying the NFU cameraman over the flames, and a family readying to evacuate: “Where it is strongest, little can be done. Only rain can end it.” A drought and strong winds saw the fire spread across 250,000 acres, leap the Waikato River and threaten Taupō. Seen as a national disaster, the fire destroyed 30,000 acres of pine forest as NZ was rebuilding post World War II; it led to the Forest and Rural Fires Act 1947.
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".
This intense newsreel reports from the war in the Pacific in Easter 1944, as American, Fijian, and New Zealand soldiers battle the Japanese in the Bougainville jungle. Cameraman Stan Wemyss found himself isolated with a Fijian patrol, amidst casualties and under fire from 'Japs'. He later recounted being so close to the action he could hear troops talking in two languages he couldn't understand; at one point he lays down his camera to pitch a grenade. Grandfather of future actor Russell Crowe, Wemyss was awarded an MBE in 1947 for his services as a war correspondent.
This 1944 newsreel documents arrivals at a Wellington wharf from the Middle East: New Zealand soldiers and Polish children. For the refugees it was the conclusion of an epic wartime survival tale: an exodus from Poland via Siberian labour camps, to being greeted by Prime Minister Peter Fraser in NZ. The Poles then take the train past waving crowds to their new home: a camp in Pahīatua. Twenty years later the children were revisited in Kathleen O’Brien’s classic 1966 documentary The Story of Seven-Hundred Polish Children.
This wartime edition of the NFU's newsreel series opens with a one and a half mile Wellington harbour swim at Evans Bay. Then it's up to Dannevirke for an A&P show for sheep dog trials and show jumping spills. The reel ends with a visit to the NZ Expeditionary Force's Christmas celebrations while fighting in Italy. There's mail from home, hospital romance, malarky in the snow as poultry and wine is chased, and Māori Battalion soldiers roast a pig. Ambulances are a reminder that war goes on; and on the frontline machine gun crews help keep "Jerry below ground".
The war is Europe is over and New Zealanders take to the streets to celebrate in this NFU newsreel. The relief and excitement at the end of hostilities against Germany is clearly visible on the faces of the thousands who flood into New Zealand's towns and cities. But Deputy Prime Minister Walter Nash reminds the crowd the war is not over: Japan has yet to surrender. That doesn't stop wild celebrations following the National Declaration of Peace. Civilians and servicemen alike enjoy the party, many looking the worse for wear "in advanced stages of celebration".
This edition of the National Film Unit’s wartime newsreel series tracks the 1000s of New Zealand prisoners of war being repatriated from Germany, shortly after VE Day. “Men from all over the world are here. Waiting to get out. Waiting to get back to their homes …” The ANZACs travel to a transit centre in Brussels, where they enjoy “a first real beer in years” and go sightseeing, before crossing the North Sea to be hosted in England, where thoughts turn south. The reel ends with a rousing rendition of the Māori Battalion marching song in an English pub.
At 11am on 15 August 1945 news of Japanese surrender reached New Zealand, marking the end of the nation's six years in World War II. This newsreel records the public celebrations in windy downtown Wellington and on Auckland’s Queen St, where there are street parties, bagpipes and beer as tensions are released. At Wellington Town Hall on the second day of the public holiday, tributes are paid to “team spirit”; and Prime Minister Fraser hopes for social justice and that the dead have not died in vain. Then there is a mass rendition of ‘Land of Hope of Glory’.
This 1945 newsreel reports on the repatriation of New Zealand prisoners held in Japanese camps during the war in the Pacific. Cameraman Stan Wemyss (grandfather of Russell Crowe) ranges across Asia with the RNZAF — from Changi in Singapore, to camps in Java (Indonesia), and Siam (Thailand). The narration notes grimly that “the movie camera does not record the stench of death”; and returned PoW, Dr Johns of Auckland, implores for the sake of the children: “that the experiences that we have gone through at the hands of the Japanese shall never, never again be possible.”
This post war newsreel features footage of Māori Battalion solders returning from WWII onboard the ship Dominion Monarch, into Wellington Harbour. The soldiers are greeted with a huge pōwhiri and ensuing hākari at Aotea Quay where the kaimoana and pia flow freely. The reel then follows the regional celebrations of men returning home in Kuku and Ngaruawahia. The narrator soberly recalls the casualty rate of the Māori Battalion (five men in seven). This footage features in the documentary, Maori Battalion - March to Victory.
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 ...”
This excerpt from a post-war NFU newsreel begins at Eden Park for a match between Auckland and the ‘Kiwis’ (the army’s NZEF team), then goes on a jaunty ride through all-things rugby in NZ: from 1st XV (Wellington College), club and provincial (Ranfurly Shield in the Southland rain) clashes, to boot-making and badge selling on match day, with rugby’s centrality to the Kiwi psyche underlined throughout. “Rugby’s never over, though the crowds stream home from Eden Park or any place we play, to fans and players alike it will always be a part of our national life!”
This jaunty early National Film Unit film promotes the alpine scenery of Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park and its recreational opportunities. It includes slalom at the 1946 New Zealand ski champs, ice-skating at Lake Tekapo, comic pratfalls in the snow, a mass snow-fight and ... landscape painting. Dancing at the Hermitage Hotel is "a good way to loosen the muscles after skiing". As well as human interest, the film features the expected majestic mountains, glaciers, and avalanches, as well as curious kea at Ball Hut, and amusing dogs in snow-glasses.
This Weekly Review pays respect to the traditional Māori art of raranga (or weaving), and looks at the industrialisation of New Zealand flax (harakeke) processing. The episode features a factory in Foxton where Māori designs are incorporated into modern floor coverings. Patterns in Flax features some great footage of the harvesting and drying of flax plants, and shots of immense (now obsolete) flax farms.
This post-war Weekly Review boards a RNZAF Dakota flying “the longest air route in the world”: a weekly 17,000 mile ‘hop’ taking mail to Jayforce, the Kiwi occupation force in Japan. Auckland to Iwakuni via Norfolk Island, Australia (including a pub pit-stop in the outback), Indonesia, the slums of Singapore, Saigon, Hong Kong; then Okinawa, Manilla and home. Director Cecil Holmes’ pithy comments on postcolonial friction and rich and poor avoided censorship, but won a warning not to rock the boat. The next year he was controversially sacked from the National Film Unit.
This edition of the long-running National Film Unit series documents the curriculum at Manutahi Native District School in Ruatōria in 1947. The roll of 300 primarily Māori students, travel to the rural school on bus, foot and horse to learn everything from the alphabet to preparing preserves. Set in the post-war baby boom period, the male students learn to build a cottage while the girls learn ‘home economics’ (cooking and running a household). The first principle of the schooling is “learning by doing” and for the rural kids “the whole land is a classroom.”
This NFU film looks at the challenges of delivering health services to the large, sparsely populated Hokianga district after World War II. The Weekly Review doesn’t flinch from facing the poverty and poor housing of the mostly Māori population. District nurses carry much of the burden, and doctors and nurses from Rawene Hospital travel by car, foot, boat and horseback to attend clinics and emergencies; including the legendary Dr George McCall Smith — responsible for setting up the Hokianga Special Medical Area. The film’s score was composed by Douglas Lilburn.
This post-war Weekly Review urges Kiwi farmers to grow more wheat in the face of a world shortage, and out of a patriotic duty to help Britain. Graphic images of global poverty (especially in the final minutes) are counterpointed with NZ wealth and agricultural ingenuity. The film features scientist Otto Frankel, who introduced new wheat varieties that were better suited to the local climate. This was director Alun Falconer's only on-screen credit while working at the National Film Unit. He and Roger Mirams soon left to found pioneering company Pacific Film Unit (later Pacific Films).
This short profiles the work of Gisa Taglicht. A pioneer of women's rhythmical gymnastics, Taglicht advocated the benefits of physical exercise for women. Risqué at the time for the women’s skimpy outfits, the Wellington-set film sees women escaping machine and washing line oppression via a YWCA hilltop session: limbs reaching and stretching towards a stark sky. The National Film Unit's post-war Weekly Reviews became less overtly patriotic, and some, like this Michael Forlong-directed one, were unabashedly experimental. The score was composed by Douglas Lilburn.
The highlight of this instalment of the NFU’s weekly newsreels is a report on a motorcycle grand prix, held at Cust in Canterbury, where speeds in excess of 100mph were reached in the 152 mile race — with 1,000 gallons of sump oil sprayed on roads to prepare the racing surface. From the Wellington waterfront, there is coverage of the arrival of a delegation of Australian ex-servicemen to meet their NZ counterparts; and an emotional United Nations appeal asks viewers to donate one day’s pay, profits, work or produce to help the world’s needy children.
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.
This 1948 documentary follows 24 hours of work on the railways. It was directed for the National Film Unit by Margaret Thomson, arguably New Zealand’s first female film director. The film shows the engines and commuter trains preparing to leave Wellington, and the overnight train arriving from Auckland. Workers toil on the railway lines above the remote Waimakariri Gorge, and the town of Otira gets ready for a dance. The final shots are of an engine coming through the dawn and back to the city. Selwyn Toogood (It's in the Bag) narrates.
This postwar Weekly Review joins a welfare officer from the Crippled Children’s Society on her Wellington rounds: advising parents, chaperoning children to hospitals to undergo physical and speech therapy, and overseeing the supply of specialist footwear and splints. There’s also a Kiwi take on Heidi as a boy is offered a farm holiday, walking on crutches among the cows: “No care and treatment can substitute for the uplift of two weeks in the country.” Released in September 1948, the film was made by decorated war correspondent Stan Wemyss (grandfather of Russell Crowe).
The coaster Breeze and her crew are immortalised in this much praised National Film Unit documentary. Poet Denis Glover and narrator Selwyn Toogood provide a rhythmic and lyrical commentary as the Breeze runs from Wellington to Lyttelton, then to Wanganui. Three weeks after the film's November 1948 release, director Cecil Holmes had his satchel snatched. He lost his NFU job after the resulting smear campaign accused him of communist leanings. Although reinstated after a court case, Holmes left for a successful screen career in Australia in 1949.
This Weekly Review features: An interview with Sir Peter Buck in which Te Rangi Hīroa (then Medical Officer of Health for Maori) explains the sabbatical he took to research Polynesian anthropology, a subject in which he would achieve international renown; Landscapes: The Lakes at Tūtira sets the stunning scenery of the Hawke's Bay lakes to verse by James Harris; finally Southern Alps: RNZAF Drops Building Materials hitches a ride on a Dakota full of building materials being parachuted in to workers at Mueller Hut on Mount Cook.
This Weekly Review features a speedboat and hydroplane regatta in Evans Bay in a stiff northerly as boats capsize in the choppy seas; the inter-provincial rowing eights on a flat-as-a-millpond Petone foreshore on the other side of Wellington Harbour in which Auckland's West End wins; and the reopening of the National Art Gallery by the Prime Minister Peter Fraser after eight years' occupation by the Air Force. The £40K national collection (mainly portraits and landscapes) is unpacked and reframed, and a Frances Hodgkins painting examined.
Coverage of a major event in the history of the NZ music industry — the pressing of Ruru Karaitiana’s timeless classic ‘Blue Smoke’ — is the highlight of this NFU newsreel. It was the first recording of a local composition performed by local musicians to be manufactured in NZ (in a very exact and highly labour intensive exercise involving men in white coats). The country’s biggest airlift of sheep, sharp shooting army cadets, high flying painters redecorating a Wellington church and heavy machinery being moved across Auckland by barge also feature.
This edition of the National Film Unit newsreel series promotes a newly established New Zealand industry: the manufacturing of domestic ware. It shows the process of producing a cornucopia of Crown Lynn-like crockery — plates, cups, saucers, teapots, vases, etc. Machines make and glaze plates, while technicians cast irregular shaped vases, make prototypes for items such as Toby jugs, hand paint, and apply transfers. For, as the title suggests, the potter's wheel and handiwork still have their place, even in the age of mechanical reproduction.
Prelude to Aspiring was the first National Film Unit title directed by legendary photographer Brian Brake, soon after he joined the Unit in 1948. It follows a group of climbers up the Matukituki Valley, west of Wanaka, towards Mt Aspiring for the opening of a new hut and a trudge through snow to resurrect a flattened shelter high up Mt French. The autumn alpine scenery is breathtaking even in black and white, and the film perfectly performs its role as one of a series of promotional ‘documentaries' made by the NFU.
This 1949 episode of the National Film Unit’s Weekly Review newsreel series goes on a jaunty whistle-stop tour across the country. It takes off on TEAL’s new flying boat (Ararangi), from Wellington’s Evans Bay on a cruise over to the Marlborough Sounds and back. We then stop to smell the tulips on a South Canterbury tulip farm; before revving up for dusty motorhead bliss in Whanganui as a swarm of motorcyclists contest the Motorcycle Grand Prix. The reel pulls up in an Auckland factory for a fascinating look at the manufacture of glamourous nylon stockings.
This edition of the NFU’s long-running Weekly Review series firstly looks at making of apparel for the 1950 Empire Games, including singlets "dyed in the traditional black". Then it’s down to Wellington Zoo to meet their new elephant, Maharanee; and across the harbour to examine earthmoving efforts to alter the Hutt River's course and save Barton’s Bush from being swept away. Lastly, it’s up Mt Egmont (aka Mt Taranaki) to follow good keen rangers trapping possums and shooting goats — some hiding up trees — to protect the native forest and slopes from erosion.
This newsreel's subjects include: a camp being built by Lake Karapiro for rowers in the Empire Games, a garden party at St Mary's Home for Children, and a community play area in Naenae (where the sport of "paddle tennis" is featured). Students of Wellington's Architectural Centre build a pine and glass-walled modernist house in Karori, that has bunks and a utility room, "where children can play and Mother can sew". Perhaps most exciting is the demolition by army engineers of Murphy's Brickyard chimney in Berhampore, with children swarming over the fresh rubble.
In November 1948 New Zealand got its own Lost World story, when a population of takahē — a large flightless rail, long thought extinct — was found in a remote part of Fiordland. The rediscovery of ‘notornis’ (a cousin of the pūkeko), by Southland doctor Geoffrey Orbell, generated international interest. This episode of the NFU’s Weekly Review newsreel series treks from Lake Te Anau high into the Murchison Mountains, where the team (including naturalist Robert Falla) find sea shell fossils, evidence of moa-hunter campsites, and the dodo-like takahē itself.
This 1950 edition of the Weekly Review series welcomes the touring British Lions rugby team in Wellington, where speeches are given on the wharf. It was the first post-war tour by the Lions (notable for the debut of their iconic red jerseys — not able to be discerned in this black and white reel!). Then it’s down to Canterbury Museum to explore displays of moa bones, cave paintings and the relics of the moa hunters. Finally it’s up to the farthest north to visit Te Rerenga Wairua, for a look at life keeping the ‘lonely lighthouse’ at Cape Reinga Station.
This was the very last edition of the National Film Unit’s Weekly Review, a magazine-style film series which screened in New Zealand cinemas from 1942 until 1950. The first item is winter sports fun (ice skating, ice hockey) on a high country lake; the second report examines prototype newsprint made in Texas, from New Zealand-grown pine; the last slot covers the touring British Lions rugby team’s match against the NZ Māori, at a chilly Athletic Park. The Māori play the second half a man down after losing a player to injury (this was before injury substitutions were allowed in rugby).
Despite the misleading numbering, this October 1942 film marked the first of the National Film Unit's long-running Weekly Review series. The NFU had been established a year earlier to promote the war effort via newsreels screened in movie theatres. In a meta first clip, Kiwi soldiers watch an NFU film in a makeshift outdoor cinema. Then war readiness is demonstrated via army exercises — including on Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where “Māori and Pākehā are working together, mounting machine guns for their common defence.” Finally: Red Cross parcels are prepared for NZ prisoners of war.
This classic wartime newsreel profiles the coal mining towns of Westland. It compares the town of Rūnanga, where mining has brought prosperity and a strong community life, with Denniston, which is set in rocky, inhospitable land high up a West Coast mountainside. Its tone is patriotic: “Here then are the men who feed New Zealand with the raw material of industrial prosperity ... They work in the darkness of the mines, buried away from the fresh splendours of the air above them.” The Weekly Reviews were screened in cinemas 1942 - 1950.