John Grierson, the NZNFU and the art of propaganda
Hoskins, David John
This thesis sets out to investigate the role played by the New Zealand National Film Unit documentaries in moulding perceptions of nation and culture, focussing on the period from 1900 to 1960. At its core, the thesis argues for a greater appreciation of the influence of New Zealand film documentary produced in the first sixty years of the 20th century precisely because such an appreciation uncovers films that represent a corpus of panoptic cinema. Such a panoptic cinema was fostered and used powerfully by successive governments, who utilised state-funded film production in the promotion of a surveillance culture that appropriated and represented sections of New Zealand society, such as Maori and the working class in the service of the state. Put another way, their on-screen representation was determined largely by the propagandist requirements of the state. The New Zealand documentaries, newsreels, propaganda and training films, represent an evolutionary mission to mediate a 'film truth' that, despite different ideological stances throughout the period under discussion, collectively celebrate the achievements of the state. In other words, this film corpus served to maintain state hegemony. To locate such film production and its aesthetic origins, I have undertaken a contextual study of John Grierson and his documentary model that came to be exported to many parts of the British Empire, including New Zealand. This thesis seeks to investigate this historical and evolutionary project that sought to record, educate, manipulate, promote and illustrate New Zealand for mass audiences within the context of commercial cinema exhibition. In the absence of any major fiction film tradition of the period under discussion, the documentary film is, I wish to contend, the single most important cultural artefact remaining of the various government sponsored film projects of the 20th century. It is also a resource little recognised beyond archival discipline and under-represented in general historical literature. While various sections of the New Zealand community were unproblematically used on-screen by the state, such as the working class, women in the wartime economy, technologically progressive farmers, post-World War 2 immigrants from Great Britain, this thesis focuses on the manner in which images of Maori have evolved in New Zealand documentary during this period. The National Film Unit productions, despite their relatively brief time-span, lack of technical finesse and popularist tone nevertheless represent a form of panoptic cinema. The origins of such a cinema are to be found in the documentary forms developed by Grierson and form a link, not only to imperial strategies but also provide evidence of the role of New Zealand film production in the post-colonial construction of national identity.
Advisor: Devadas, Vijay
Degree Name: Master of Arts
Degree Discipline: Media, Film and Communication Studies
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis
vii, 187 leaves ; 30 cm. Includes bibliographical references. "6 February 2007." University of Otago department: Media, Film and Communication.