Born into a family of entertainers and cinema owners, Hayward displayed an early talent for filmmaking; cobbling together a moving camera when still at school to capture the family cat jumping out of a watering can. He went on to produce, direct and script more ambitious projects, constantly battling a lack of funds, equipment and a professional community.
Silent films, riots and untold stories
Rudall Hayward made his first film in the early 1920s, a two reel comedy the Bloke from Freeman’s Bay which premiered at a small theatre in Ponsonby. A huge crowd turned up on opening night thanks to advertising posters he had plastered all over Auckland (Rudall described the marketing as better than the film). Rudall and friends called the police and fire department to report a riot at the theatre and the news ran on the front page of the newspaper the following day. The notoriety ensured it was then screened at a cinema on Queen Street to capacity audiences.
In 1922, he released My Lady of the Cave, based on a nationally syndicated newspaper serial about a shipwrecked sailor stumbling upon a beautiful young woman imprisoned on a lonely island. Both these local films were popular, but any money made was lost in attempts to distribute them overseas.
In the 1920s he made three more feature films, Rewi’s Last Stand (1925) and The Te Kooti Trail (1927), both based on events in the New Zealand Wars, which were technically sophisticated and empathetic to both sides of the conflict in their telling, and Bush Cinderella (1928) a local melodrama starring the second Miss New Zealand and made on a shoestring budget of 700 pounds. Rewi’s Last Stand was described by one critic as a ‘spectacle of courage’ and a ‘rare departure from the denigrating representation of Maori, typical of the period’.
Community comedies - roles for everyone
Between 1928 and 1930 Hayward made 23 two-reel community comedies (only three of which are known to survive, A Daughter of Dunedin, A Daughter of Christchurch, and A Daughter of Invercargill). Hayward would arrive in town, audition for leads among the local community and quickly shoot a standard story that involved a beautiful newcomer whose arrival incites a love battle between the hero and the villain. (Daughter of Christchurch featured Freddy Fishface, a dastardly newspaper reporter and reluctant volunteer fireman). The film was developed, cut and screened as quickly as possible before he moved on to the next location.
At the same time, Hayward was making newsreels of everything from the arrival of the US Fleet in Auckland in 1925 to the visit of Boy Scout founder Lord Baden-Powell.
Arrival of talkies - kiwi ingenuity creates sound
Sound arrived in the late 1920s, but the technology was closely patented and it was almost impossible even to get a look at one of the new sound-recording cameras. Not to be deterred, Rudall and his associates spent two years making their own.
Hayward's camera was used to record a news reel of George Bernard Shaw’s visit to New Zealand and he continued using it for the rest of his career. His first sound feature was 1936’s On the Friendly Road, a story of struggle against depression era injustice featuring the socialist radio sermons of Colin Scrimgeour, or Uncle Scrim.
Rudall Hayward's 35mm cine camera is now on display in the exhibition .
Documentaries, war, and the world
In 1941 Hayward became a National Film Unit cinema photographer and from this point his career moved towards documentary. He divorced his first wife Hilda in 1943 (whom he had been married to since 1923 and who had worked closely with him on the films).
Following the divorce he married Ramai Te Miha (the star of the 1940 Rewi’s Last Stand). Together these two formed a production company and they left for Britain, taking their homemade sound camera with them. Hayward worked for the BBC as a cameraman (where he filmed Joe Louis and Eleanor Roosevelt, among others).
While in Britain Hayward was involved in the making of The Goodwin Sands for Warner Bros, and a documentary The World is Turning (toward the Coloured People) which was never released (and possibly never finished). Ramai and Rudall moved to Australia in 1949 where they made cowboy films for children’s television for Associated TV programs, as well as documentaries for sale to US TV networks. They returned to New Zealand in 1951.
Global stories, global vision
In 1955 Ramai and Rudall made the 10-minute long The Amazing Dolphin from Opononi, their biggest commercial success. In 1957, they were invited to China (after shooting a newsreel of a visiting Chinese dance troupe) where they made the documentaries Inside Red China (1958) and Wonders of China (1958). Upon return they made colour documentaries with an educational bent, including A village in Samoa, Alpine Shepherds of NZ, Arts of Maori children. In 1971, Hayward and Ramai went to Albania and made the documentary The Young Albanians.
In the early 70s Hayward returned to feature film, making his last film To Love a Maori (1972) in which he revisited the subject of cultural relations. Hayward died of pneumonia in Dunedin in 1974 while promoting this film.
Back to Rudall Hayward home
Rudall Hayward biography, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
Hear Rudall Hayward discuss his early career (with an unknown radio interviewer). He talks about My Lady of the Cave and both versions of Rewi's Last Stand, and reflects on the economics of feature film making in New Zealand.
Episode of Koha, NZOnscreen
An examination of the Maori feature film industry, from the pioneers of the silent era up to feature film Mauri.
The New Zealand Film Archive
View excerpts and find out more about Rudall Hayward's films.
Rudall Hayward online, DigitalNZ
Discover multimedia relating to Rudall Hayward from New Zealand galleries, libraries, archives and museums.