The Departure of the Second Contingent for the Boer War is the oldest New Zealand film in the Film Archive's collection. It depicts a parade of young New Zealand soldiers on the eve of their departure to fight alongside their British countrymen in the South African Boer War. The fact that such an event was recorded at the time is remarkable enough, but the story of how the fragile footage survived, was identified and lovingly restored by the Film Archives team of conservators and historians is testament to the important role that film plays in defining our culture and heritage.
The early days of film
Through the last decade of the nineteenth century, many developments spurred the growth of moving pictures. In Europe and the United States, inventors and scientists worked, often with surprising similarity, to create a viable moving picture system that would capture an image and allow it to be seen by an audience. By 1900, moving pictures were being filmed and shown all over the world, including in New Zealand.
Of the earliest filmmakers, three are most well-known: Thomas Edison, and the Lumiere brothers, Auguste and Louis. Working on different continents, these men were very influential in making pictures move.
In the United States, in 1891, Thomas Edison patented a camera he called the Kinetograph, and the Kinetoscope, a machine that the viewer could look into to watch short moving pictures.
In 1893 and 1894, using the Kinetograph, Edison filmed well-known performers and sports figures in his New Jersey studio. Often less than 60 seconds long, these early films showed a woman dancing or a body builder flexing his muscles. These films were then put into Kinetoscopes where the public paid to watch them in Kinetoscope parlours.
Edisons inventions, however, did not allow film to be projected onto a screen. In 1894, the Lumiere brothers of France made the Cinematographe, a machine that could film and project moving pictures. With it, they filmed outdoor single shot films of real events. On March 22, 1895, the brothers held a public screening of their first film, Workers Leaving the Factory. Consisting of about 800 frames, the film was only a minute long.
Film comes to New Zealand
The first public film screening in New Zealand was in Auckland on October 13, 1896. Professors Hausmann and Gow introduced Edisons latest marvel, the Kinematograph, with which they showed a programme of short films the first public film projection in New Zealand. The screening was part of a show by Charles Godfreys Vaudeville Company, a circumstance that was not unusual for early cinema. Still a new form of entertainment, film was often shown alongside lantern slides and the musical phonograph.
The films screened by Godfreys company included a bathing scene on the sands at Folkestone; a street scene in Leeds, a scene from the Milk White Flag, boys leaving school, a dancing girl with limelight effects, and the Bristol Railway Station with trains entering and departing.
The day after the screening, the New Zealand Herald reported that the reproductions showed the marvellous ingenuity of the inventor. Everything moved as though in life: in fact, it was life reproduced. So natural was it that the moving figures on the screen were cheered. Such a strong reaction to moving pictures was not unusual audiences in Paris had been panic-stricken by the Lumieres film of a train that looked like it was coming off the screen and straight toward them.
It was to be a few more years before the first films were shot in New Zealand. In keeping with the close relationship between film and vaudeville, New Zealands first filmmaker was Alfred Whitehouse, a travelling showman. Like so many showmen overseas, Whitehouse could see the potential in moving pictures for drawing audiences to his shows. In 1899, he wrote to the Colonial Secretary, J Carroll, I have the first and only camera in New Zealand for taking animated pictures for the Kinematograph. He had, he wrote, filmed three Maori Regatta Scenes at Ngaruawahia, and a scene of the opening of the Auckland Exhibition.
The film of the opening of the Auckland Industrial and Mining Exhibition, on December 1, 1898, was the first shot in New Zealand. With the assistance of W. H. Bartlett, a photographer, Whitehouse shot a further 9 films between December 1898 and mid-1900. In 1900, Whitehouse visited the Paris Exhibition, returning to New Zealand with a new projector and some new films to screen. After his return, however, he never made another film of his own.
Of the 10 films made by A.H. Whitehouse, the only one known to have survived is The Departure of the Second Contingent for the Boer War.
|The New Zealand Film Archive / Ngā Kaitiaki O Ngā Taonga Whitiāhua ©2004|