Chapter Two – The Rise of Fiction: Between the Wars

By Diane Pivac. Summary by Jakki Galloway

Classroom Resources Chapter Two The Rise of Fiction between the Wars Thumbnail
My Lady of the Cave (Rudall Hayward, 1922)

By 1928 there were 612 picture theatres in New Zealand and 359 country circuits (in ad hoc venues like church halls). It is estimated that out of 1.15 million people in Aotearoa at the time, 320,000 attended the movies weekly. While there was some support for local films, Hollywood romance was what most of the New Zealand public were drawn to. 

“The alacrity with which New Zealanders had become regular film-goers was not reflected, however, in any comparable growth in local filmmaking.” p 53, New Zealand Film: An Illustrated History

“As wave after glittering wave of feature-length Hollywood fiction washed over delighted New Zealand audiences, public anxiety escalated into moral panic. Would these racy tales lead to corruption, sexual impropriety and rising crime rates among moviegoers."  
p 55, New Zealand Film: An Illustrated History 

The Cinematograph Film Censorship Act passed in August 1916 and introduced a national system of censorship. 

Local films were financed by savvy cinema operators. By the early 1910s they had begun screening short films of local events and processing them in makeshift laboratories. 

The Fuller-Hayward company owned most cinemas so it was hard for independent producers to distribute and show their films even if they managed to find the funding to get them made. 

The earliest feature-length productions in New Zealand were consequently made by overseas companies. These companies were interested in the ‘exotic-ness’ of New Zealand culture and landscape. An example of this was the Australian director George Tarr’s Hinemoa (1914). 

Rudall Hayward was the son of Rudall and Adelina Hayward and nephew of Flavell and Henry Hayward – a family heavily involved in New Zealand’s theatre and film circuit in the 1900 to 1930 period. By the age of 21 he had made his first film. He went on to work on The Birth of New Zealand (1922) and his first feature My Lady of the Cave (1922), before Rewi’s Last Stand /The Last Stand (1940), The Te Kooti Trail (1927) and The Bush Cinderella (1928). 

When "talkies" and the Depression arrived in the 1930s and threatened Hayward’s career, he copied the Community Comedy concept with Lee Hill (who later competed against him). “To save on costs the comedies used an off the peg script and some stock footage. ... Like earlier local films, the community comedies were designed to maximise theatre audiences, so the cast typically included as many extras as possible”.   p 70, New Zealand Film: An Illustrated History

Rudall Hayward's first feature-length talkie was On the Friendly Road (1936). 

Ted Coubray was another first generation filmmaker to sustain a career in film. 

Talkies meant the overnight collapse of the silent film industry. Because Hollywood kept secret about their sound technology New Zealand had to invent its own.

In 1929, Coubray created a sound-on-film system, but failed to capitalise on it when he fell out with United States director Alexander Markey during the making of Hei Tiki (1930). 

He made The Motor Bandits (1920), then he worked with Hayward on The Birth of New Zealand

In 1926 Coubray established New Zealand Radio Films in Auckland to film local events, industrial films and documentaries before he formed Moa Films to make his only feature Carbine’s Heritage (1927). 

Coubray was also in demand as a cinematographer, notably teaming up with the Danish director Gustav Pauli for the features Under the Southern Cross (1929) and The Romance of Hinemoa (1927).


Activity 4: Early Hollywood film stars

Activity 5: Early film censorship

Activity 6: Early representations of Māori on screen

Activity 7: The Bush Cinderella

Activity 8: Silent films versus Talkies


FORWARD to Chapter Three – Non-fiction Films: Between the Wars

BACK to Chapter One – The Magic of Moving Pictures: Filmmaking 1895 – 1918

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.