by Geoffrey Churchman
The first review I wrote of this film was in 1971 at the age of 14 for my secondary school English class, so there is inevitable nostalgia about revisiting it 50 years later.
Originally, This is New Zealand was conceived as a promotional, highly visual short movie (21 minutes) to be projected at NZ’s pavillion at the Expo ’70 fair in Osaka, Japan. The production was done by the National Film Unit, whose two main tasks were making current affairs/news items for screening in cinemas before TV had widely permeated the market and promotional short films aimed at attracting foreign tourists.
This project — using three simultaneous projectors with their own frames side by side — was highly inventive and technically challenging for the NFU given not only the technology available at the time, but what the NFU possessed. As a basic example, colour film had to be sent to London for processing and there was a six week wait for it to come back. The budget for This is New Zealand in 1969 was $150,000 which in today’s money would be about $2.6 million.
After the Expo had finished the film was bought back to NZ and screened in Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin and Auckland, successively because of the amount of extra equipment for the cinemas that was required.
This recent production includes the original movie plus a documentary, mostly with talking heads and still photos, made in 2013 on how it was conceived, made and then later exhibited. Park Road Post in Miramar, owned by Peter Jackson, where the doco was put together is very close to the original NFU building.
Those interviewed include many of the original crew and technicians, and selected comments by other notables in the film industry, including Peter Jackson and long time Film Festival director Bill Gosden, in what looks like the Embassy cinema in Wellington which was the venue for its screening in 1971. Adults paid 40c (about $6 now) and children 20c admission, but with hourly screening of the ‘main’ and a short This is Expo ’70 (together totalling 40 minutes) to constant sold-out audiences, it seems likely that the government via the NFU got its investment back.
I can’t remember exactly what I wrote in 1971, but like everyone I was impressed with the cameras swooping over the peaks of the Southern Alps, Mt Cook/Aoraki in particular, along coastlines, plains, forests and over the major cities — to the majestic Karelia suite by Sibelius soundtrack, people enjoying pastimes, rugby of course, but other sports, attending race meetings and lazing at the beaches in summer.
The three screens provided opportunities for juxtaposition of themes, such as traditional housing sandwiching a centre shot of a building being demolished (urban renewal, often with highrise replacements was big at that time) and some opportunities for brief humor, the most memorable of which was a scene of head-on mooing cows immediately followed by steaks being presented at the butchers. Agriculture and primary industries feature a lot, as you would expect.
Despite the success of this, split screens never took off for general entertainment and the only one I can actually remember seeing was the music documentary Last Days of the Fillmore about the closing of Fillmore West in San Francisco in June 1971.
Native flora and fauna is nicely presented at the beginning as well as some brief pre-European culture, again as you would expect.
It was a different world 50 years ago — ties to ‘Mother England’ were still strong and most of the vehicles on the streets were English, there was only one b/w TV channel (there is a colour shot of newsreader the late Bill Toft), radio stations were few, there were no personal computers (even pocket calculators were rare); reading material was all on paper and entertainment involved people meeting and talking to each other in person at venues (there is a glimpse of that), and children amused themselves at parks. Many occupations have gone and others have appeared to replace them.
If This is New Zealand was made today what would change, apart from the technology? The Woke Brigade would probably complain about too many pale skins featured and demand they be replaced with the Herrenvolk, but otherwise there isn’t a whole lot that would need to change. The scenic splendour and its variety remains the same.
This is New Zealand (91 minutes) is screening at the Shoreline.