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Here’s a song I wrote last year, while teaching a class of film students about the history of film and television in New Zealand. I was inspired after learning of this country’s early cinema history and pioneers like Rudall Hayward, who produced a number of features in the first part of the 20th century.

New Zealand’s first feature film was “Hinemoa,” made by George Tarr in 1914. It told the legend of a wahine of that name and her love affair with Tutanekai on an island in Lake Rotorua.The film was shot over 8 days near Rotorua, with the entire cast being drawn from a local Maori choir. The film opened in the Lyric Theatre in Auckland during the first week of World War One before touring the country and being shown overseas.

Like many of New Zealand’s earliest films, “Hinemoa” has been lost; immolated, perished or simply misplaced. The silver nitrate prints of many old films like this have perished – some were even deliberately melted down to make other things. The only record we have of “Hinemoa” is a promotional poster, which features a picture of the lead actress, Hera Tawhai.

Video thanks to Steve Hillman and the students at Aoraki Polytechnic, Dunedin



Maybe her hair was dark and long
But who’ll ever know
now that she’s gone?

Maybe she kissed her leading man’s lips
As the credits rolled

But when the last reel flickered to its final frame
She just drifted away

And down came the curtain
And up went the lights
And the people stepped out
With stars in their eyes

And maybe they walked
Through the city that night
Still dancing on air

But when the last reel flickered to its final frame
She just drifted away

Maybe they vanished in a quick burst of flame
Or maybe time slowly stole them away
Maybe they crumbled into dust in a tin
Where no light gets in

But when the last reel flickered to its final frame
She just drifted away

Last night I dreamed
A forgotten scene
Last night I dreamed
You were back up on that screen

But you can’t believe everything you see
At the movies

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