Hugh Macdonald has long since lost track of not only the number of films he has made but also the number of awards those films have earned. "About fifty" is his guess.
Hugh started training in film making at the National Film Unit in 1962, aged 18. In 1966 he won his first international film award for Life is How You Keep It, a film on water safety. In 1967 his irreverent tourist film This Auckland was awarded the Plaque Lion of St Mark at the Venice Biennale film festival, with the international jury saying that it was awarded for “... the brilliant counterpoint of images and sound that reveal the personality of the director.” This Auckland also won awards at festivals in Prague, Edinburgh and Taipei.
In 1969 Hugh was given the job of directing the NFU's most ambitious film ever, This is New Zealand. Extremely popular with audiences at the world fair Expo 70 in Japan, where it screened 21 times a day for six months, it was equally successful when shown in the four main centres in New Zealand over nine months in 1971–72. More than 400,000 people saw it – the best attendance record for a film about New Zealand ever.
Hugh continued making films for the National Film Unit until 1986. His work included several more tourist films, historical and nature documentaries, and drama and comedy for television. (He directed two episodes of the historical blockbuster The Governor.) In the 1980s he started producing animated films, one of which, The Frog, the Dog and the Devil, was nominated for an Academy Award, while The Orchard was short-listed.
In the 1990s Hugh formed the Memory Line partnership with former NFU colleagues Kit Rollings and David Sims, and over the decade the partners made six films covering aspects of New Zealand history, with a special emphasis on the social and economic lives of the people working on the unique railways and trains of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The films are available in DVD format from the Memory Line website.
During the 1990s Hugh was also working for dairy companies making promotional films, and this led to him making New Zealand's first museum ride experience, The Tanker Ride (1998), for Dairyland, the museum and showpiece of dairying in Taranaki.
In the 2000s Hugh has continued to make films for museums, combining historical footage and contemporary interviews. His latest film, That was New Zealand, is a documentary on the making of This is New Zealand, and how it was received by New Zealand audiences.
That was New Zealand was released on DVD in February 2014, packaged on a single 130 minute disk along with This is New Zealand and This is Expo. The DVD and a new Blu-ray version is for sale here.
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