Chapter Six – Waking From a Fretful Sleep: New Zealand Film in the 1970s

By Lawrence McDonald. Summary by Jakki Galloway

Sleeping Dogs (Roger Donaldson, 1977)

In this decade the film industry started to forge ahead. To Love a Maori (1972) was Rudall Hayward's last film made with his second wife Ramai Hayward. Rangi’s Catch by Michael Forlong was also made in this year.

At the National Film Unit (NFU) new staff members Paul Maunder and Sam Pillsbury wanted to push the boundaries of traditional NFU subjects. Influenced by Ken Loach, the British realist filmmaker, they directed films such as Gone Up North for a While (1972) which tackled pregnancy outside of marriage; One of Those People who Live in the World (1973) a two-part docudrama about a young woman’s experience with poor mental health; Birth with Dr R.D. Laing (1977) which aimed to empower women to make their own decisions about their birthing experience.

Exciting things were happening at Pacific Films – Tony Williams directed the series Survey (1975), produced by John O’Shea. Williams then went on to make five longer films: Rally, Like Little Boys in a Man-sized Sport (1974), The Hum (1975), Lost in the Garden of the World (1975), Next of Kin (1982) and Solo (1977).

In 1974, Barry Barclay directed the groundbreaking Tangata Whenua series, produced by John O’Shea. With great sensitivity, it showed an intimate Māori perspective on their own culture.

“The series paved the way for subsequent developments in Māori filmmaking and gave Pākehā a view into hitherto hidden worlds." p 163, New Zealand Film: An Illustrated History

Post-object artists were starting to use film as their medium. These artists included: Jim Allen; Leon Narbey; Geoff Steven; Darcey Lange and Phil Dadson.

BLERTA (Bruno Lawrence's Electric Revelation and Travelling Apparition) and the Acme Sausage Company, whose original members included Bruno Lawrence, Corben Simpson, Kemp Turirangi, Geoff Murphy, Fane Flaws, Ian Watkin, Bill Stalker, Alan Moon, Tony Littlejohn, Beaver (Beverly Morrison), Eric Foley and Chris Seresin, among others, were also developing a reputation. In 1970 they made Tank Busters, then a television series BLERTA. In the mid 1970s they made Wild Man (1977). Many of those involved in this music and performance group would go on to forge careers in acting, film music and film direction.

Roger Donaldson and Ian Mune of Aardvark Films made Derek (1974), Winners and Losers (1975) and Sleeping Dogs (1977). Sleeping Dogs attracted local audiences to the cinema in great numbers.

At a 1970 arts conference at Victoria University in Wellington – “The Role of Film and Television in establishing a Nation’s Identity” – it was recommended that a screen organisation be set up to administer a New Zealand screen finance corporation. It stressed the primacy of feature films. In 1977, Alan Highet announced the establishment of an Interim Film Commission. In 1978, the New Zealand Film Commission was created through an Act of Parliament.


Activity 16: The face of a New Zealander – Create a collage.

Activity 17: Māori perspectives – Compare Māori and Pākehā perspectives.

Activity 18: Films reflect society – Compare real life events with Sleeping Dogs.


FORWARD to Chapter Seven – Boom Times: The Early 1980s

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

BACK to Our Film History

We use cookies to help us understand how you use our site, and make your experience better. To find out more read our privacy policy.

Whakamahia ai mātou ngā pihikete ki te rapu māramatanga ki te āhua o tō whakamahi i tēnei paetukutuku, ki te whakapai hoki i tō whai wāhi mai. Ki te rapu kōrero anō pānuitia te kaupapahere tūmataiti.