Chapter Four – Political and Alternative Filmmaking: 1940 to 1950

By Geraldine Peter. Summary by Jakki Galloway

Our Film History Chapter Four Political and Alternative Film Making Main
Can label for National Film Unit 16mm film prints, 1940s.

In October 1940, the War Effort Film Production Subcommittee met for the first time. Responsible to JT Paul, who was Director of War Time Publicity, the Film Production Committee developed a series of anti-waste films. JT Paul was very influenced by John Grierson’s ideas. John Grierson was the Film Commissioner for the Canadian Government who had been invited by the New Zealand Government to report on filmmaking in New Zealand. His ideas on documentary “as a vehicle for democracy” would have a strong influence on New Zealand filmmaking.

In 1941, using his wartime emergency powers, the Prime Minister Peter Fraser, established the National Film Unit (NFU). In August that year, Stanhope Andrews was appointed as the first Producer at the NFU and films depicting the lives of the soldiers at war, as well as life on the home front were produced. The NFU was also used to produce strategic location films for New Zealand troops. Because it was tied to the Government it effectively became a propaganda unit, creating news stories that supported the Government’s position, although it maintained a certain amount of creative freedom under Stanhope Andrew’s oversight.

The Weekly Review became the NFU’s main production, showing a mix of battle footage and local news.

Among the many people employed by the NFU were filmmakers Michael Forlong (Journey For Three [1950], Housing in New Zealand [1943], Rhythm and Movement [1948]); Margaret Thomson (The First Two Years at School [1950] and Railway Worker [1948]) and Cecil Holmes (The Coaster [1948] and Mail Run [1947]).

Disgruntled by the peacetime political agenda of the Weekly Review, and keen to create their own independent company, in 1948, Film Unit staff Alun Falconer (writer-director) and Roger Mirams (cameraman), left to establish The Pacific Film Unit. They produced corporate-sponsored films.

The other main independent production company operating out of Auckland was Neuline, run by Robert Steele and Rex Harris who made films such as Curves and Contrasts: The Camera Art of Robert Steele (1946) and Here is New Zealand (1951).

In 1947, the Public Service Commission review led to increased NFU staffing and tighter budget controls. By 1948, Government departments were saying production companies still couldn't get access to the NFU facilities. It was made mandatory for them to go through the NFU instead of setting up their own film units, so the work could be better monitored. This made it difficult for independents to compete, and although the NFU opened up processing facilities to independents, Robert Steele, for example, went into receivership.


Activity 11: Weekly Review – Brainstorm an idea for a 'Weekly Review'.

Activity 12: Camera shots and editing – Close read a paper.


FORWARD to Chapter Five – From Holland to Holyoake: Film in the 1950s and 1960s

BACK to Chapter Three – Non-Fiction Films: Between the Wars

BACK to Our Film History

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