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Kia ora e hoa – in this issue we take a 'deep dive' into the origins and preservation of the oldest-known piece of New Zealand film. We present two videos that explore our precious nitrate film collection, seeing how we care for it and why we go to so much effort to safely keep the originals. There's also a new biography online of New Zealand Film Archive founder Jonathan Dennis, plus surprisingly engrossing footage of the Ōtaki River being dredged in 1946.

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The First Picture Show

120-year-old nitrate film.

As part of the 40th anniversary of the Film Archive, we’re republishing this story that takes an in-depth look at our earliest surviving New Zealand film. It explains how footage from 1900 showing troops departing for the South African Boer War was identified, and how the highly fragile film was preserved.

Tāpiri ake ki te huritau 40 o Ngā Taonga, kei te whakaputa anō tēnei kōrero e ruku hōhonu ana ki te wā i puta mai te kiriata mōrehu tuatahi o Aotearoa. Ka whakamāramatia nei ngā āhuatanga i mōhiotia ai tēnei kiriata o ngā hōia e wehe ana ki te Pakanga Boer ki te Tonga o Āwherika i te tau 1900, waihoki te rautaki i whakauka ai te kiriata ngoikore nei.

Our Oldest Film

Nitrate on Film

Inspecting nitrate film.

We recently shared a well-read blog about the annual nitrate wind through – an important part of caring for fragile film. In this pair of videos we share more about our precious collection of nitrate film, how we care for this notoriously volatile substance and why we keep the originals after digitising. We also take a behind-the-scenes look at the wind through process.

NItrate Film Videos

Jonathan Dennis biography

Jonathan Dennis at home, photographed by Kirsten Dennis.
Film buff, archivist, award-winning radio producer and film critic,' Jonathan Dennis was also the founder of the New Zealand Film Archive. Find out more about Jonathan's life in this new entry on the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, written by historian Dr Emma Jean Kelly.

He kaingākau ki te kiriata, he kairokiroki, i whakawhiwhi tohu mō ngā mahi reo irirangi wete kiriata hoki, nā Jonathan Dennis a Ngā Taonga Whitiāhua i whakatū. Kimihia te whānuitanga o ngā kōrero e pā ana ki a Jonathan i roto i Ngā Tāngata Tautama Rau, nā te kaituhi hitōria nā Tākuta Emma Jean Kelly i tuhi.
Jonathan Dennis

Dredging the Ōtaki River

Still from Ōtaki Dragline, F3621.
Think you're not interested in seeing footage of the Ōtaki River being dredged? Think again! This 1946 recording has captivated a number of our staff – it's a large-scale operation and was well-filmed. Learn the history of the project in our blog.
Ōtaki Awa


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All images from the collections of Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision, except where noted:
1) Nitrate film of The Departure of the Second Contingent for the Boer War, F22555.
2) Winding through nitrate film.
3) Jonathan Dennis at home, photographed by Kirsten Dennis, S8859.
4) Still from Ōtaki Dragline, F3621.
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