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Covid unity recalls Expo ‘70 film’s national pride

The iconic three-screen view of Aoraki/Mount Cook in This is New Zealand
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Our collective response as a team of five million to an unseen enemy named Covid-19 is reawakening pride in our beautiful country and creating a new sense of national unity.

Because of the fast-paced lives we have led for many years, sometimes it feels we have forgotten to appreciate our country’s natural beauty and who we are as a nation.

But something familiar is tugging at our heart-strings as we rediscover, and begin to celebrate, a New Zealand we are proud to call home.

In the 1970s we were wowed, and politicians brought to tears, by a 20-minute documentary called This is New Zealand.

It was made to showcase our nation to the citizens of Japan when it hosted World Expo in Osaka in 1970.

Watershed moment for NZ film-making

It would later be written that when This is New Zealand opened in Japan in early 1970 no one could have known that this would also be a watershed moment in New Zealand film-making history.

When Expo ‘70 ended, the special projection equipment was shipped back to New Zealand and the film shown in the four main centres, becoming a national sensation. It made us proud to live in Aotearoa.

The film’s three screens simultaneously showed pictures of New Zealand’s culture, landscape, art and ordinary people to a backing track of the majestic orchestral music Karelia Suite written by composer, Sibelius.

People queued in the streets outside the cinemas and many left visibly moved by what they had seen.

Captured the country’s spirit

At Wellington’s Embassy Theatre, the film made a big impression on a young Pukerua schoolboy named Peter Jackson.

A few years ago in a documentary about the film and Expo ‘70 he recalled leaving the theatre thinking Karelia Suite was the country’s new national anthem.

He said the film captured something of the spirit of the country, which was usually missing from today’s media who presented only facts.

The 1970 World Expo was the first time Japan had hosted it and was the first time New Zealand had taken part. Our involvement was partly prompted by Britain joining the EEC.

The Tower of the Sun is one of the few Expo ‘70 structures that remain

We needed to find new markets for our primary produce and Japan was showing signs of becoming a major trading partner for us.

It was Cabinet Minister (later Prime Minister), Jack Marshall, who gave the film the go-ahead, despite strong opposition from his officials. For the National Film Unit team who created the film it pushed the boundaries of technology at the time.

In Osaka This is New Zealand was screened 21 times a day to a packed cinema in our pavilion and was considered one of the best films shown at Expo ‘70.

Music and pictures

 Because few of its audience knew English, the film used only music and pictures to promote New Zealand as a beautiful place to visit and do business with.

Due to the special projection arrangements needed to screen the film, it languished in vaults at Archives New Zealand for three decades.

My district in Canterbury had a special interest in Expo ‘70 because our top sheepdog trialist, Bob Wilson, was invited. The district even put on a special farewell for him in the local hall.

And, in 2005, my first overseas trip was to attend Japan’s second World Expo, this time held near Nagoya. I also got to visit the beautiful park in Osaka where Expo ‘70 was held and see where our pavilion had been.

Expo Commemoration Park includes this peaceful Japanese lake and garden

Would the film ever be seen again?

 Those of us who remember watching This is New Zealand (me twice) may have wondered if it would ever be seen again.

In 2006 new digital technologies enabled creation of a projection copy for screenings at the 2007 NZ International Film Festival. This version then won a bronze award at the New York Festivals.

Golden Days paid homage

The journey to this process included work by Allan Honey who had been awestruck when he saw the film as a 12-year-old. He later became one of the team which created Te Papa’s popular Golden Days film which paid homage to This is New Zealand.

And Peter Jackson, now Sir, is forever linked with Wellington’s Embassy Theatre, which hosted premieres of his Lord of the Rings trilogy, and to Park Road Post which is just up the road in Miramar from where the National Film Unit was based.

Park Road Post did the restoration work on This is New Zealand, which has since been turned into a DVD for public sale.

This is New Zealand director, Hugh Macdonald, had made a separate film about New Zealand’s presence at Expo ‘70. And, more recently, he made a documentary called That Was New Zealand featuring the memories of his colleagues and the challenges they faced to create This is New Zealand.

And, in the meantime, who knows what watershed moment in New Zealand’s future our collective stand against Covid-19 may have triggered.

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This is New Zealand 1970 click here 

Copies of the DVD containing all three films can be bought at

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