National Film Unit

The National Film Unit (NFU) material is the most significant audiovisual collection held by Archives New Zealand. We hold the master negatives for films produced by the NFU, as well as viewing prints, magnetic sound mixes, and other materials relating to these productions.

The National Film Unit produced internationally award-winning films such as This is New Zealand (1970), made to promote New Zealand at the 1970 World Exposition in Osaka; Score (1980), a poetic depiction of a rugby game; Snows of Aorangi (1950), the first New Zealand film to be nominated for an Oscar; and Flare: A Ski Trip (1977), a Sam Neill-directed film about freestyle skiing. The Unit produced films featuring notable New Zealanders such as composer Douglas Lilburn, artists Para Matchitt, Gottfried Lindauer, and Ralph Hotere, mountaineer Sir Edward Hillary, actor Ian Mune, and architect Ian Athfield.

In 2011, the Weekly Review and Pictorial Parade newsreel series were inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World New Zealand Register.

Researching and accessing National Film Unit films

For all enquiries relating to audiovisual material, please use our general enquiries form. An archivist will then help advise you on access (for private research or professional use), pricing, and conditions of use.

Please note that access to the audiovisual collection is subject to the availability of a viewing copy. For film, copies that can be used for access purposes will be listed as such in Archway; if you are interested in a title for which an Access Copy is not listed, our staff can advise about whether we can provide access to the material. 

The history of the National Film Unit

The National Film Unit was established in August 1941 as a result of a Cabinet decision to provide film publicity of New Zealand’s war effort.

Government involvement in film making had begun on a regular basis in 1923 with the formation of a publicity office attached to the Department of Internal Affairs. Scenic “shorts” and travelogues were produced for local and overseas tourist promotion. A private company, Filmcraft Ltd, was contracted to process these movies, and it built the Miramar Film Studios in 1928.

In 1930 the Publicity Office became part of the new Department of Industry and Commerce, Tourist and Publicity. The department acquired Filmcraft’s interest in the Miramar Studios, which were to become the first home of the National Film Unit.

The inauguration of the National Film Unit marked a change in policy to that of its predecessor. The object was to make films for New Zealand consumption, to provide information on the country’s war achievements. The unit produced a regular information newsreel entitled Weekly Review.

In policy matters the Film Unit was answerable to the wartime Director of Publicity attached to the Prime Minister’s Department, while the administration of the studios remained in the control of the Department of Industry and Commerce, Tourist and Publicity. In 1946, the National Film Unit became part of the Information Section of the Prime Minister’s Department. The Weekly Review continued after the war, and the Unit also began making documentaries concerning national problems and undertakings, as well as films to the order of various government departments.

A major change in administrative control occurred in 1950 when the National Film Unit became part of the Publicity Division of an expanded Department of Tourist and Publicity. It was required to become a self contained trading unit and to compete with private enterprise.

Production of the Weekly Review ceased in August 1950 after allegations that it was politically biased. Four hundred and sixty episodes in all were produced. In 1952 a monthly magazine film entitled Pictorial Parade was first screened and this became the Unit’s main output until production ceased in 1971. The Unit also made documentaries at the request of government departments, films for national organisations, as well as many important films on its own initiative.

Increasingly, private companies used the Unit’s laboratories to process their work. This section became the Film Unit’s biggest single revenue-earning operation.

NFU films were regularly broadcast on BBC Two between 1968 and 1973, as the BBC was introducing colour television.  The films were scheduled to screen in the mid afternoon, coinciding with the time that many school children got home from school and were sitting in front of the television.

The National Film Unit moved to a new studio complex in Avalon, Lower Hutt, in 1978.

The Unit consisted of seven main sections by 1990: Production, Laboratory, Facilities, Video Services, Technical Services, Marketing and Administration/Finance.

The role of the National Film Unit by 1990 was to provide commercial services which met the needs of government and the private sector in the fields of film and video production and sales, film and video processing, production services, and film consultancy services.

The State Services Commission’s Video Unit was merged with the National Film Unit in November 1988.

National Archives, Wellington took over responsibility for the restoration and preservation of the National Film Unit’s extensive archival film collection in 1988.

In 1988 the Government announced its intention to sell the National Film Unit. The sale occurred in March 1990.