Paradise Soldiers Reveals Cook Islanders’ Sacrifice

One of NZ’s pioneering ’80s new wave filmmakers is behind an ANZAC Day documentary that sheds light on a “largely untold” aspect of Kiwis at war.

TVNZ 1 will premiere Paradise Soldiers, which David (Death Warmed Up) Blyth directed, 8.55am on Saturday. Reads the blurb:

As far back as World War One, through Vietnam and up to present day, young Cook Islanders have served and sacrificed alongside New Zealand in military conflicts and combat. But their stories are largely untold. Paradise Soldiers celebrates their contribution, acknowledges their sacrifice and shares their personal stories.

It’s also the first production from Magnetic Pictures, which was set up last year by veteran producer (and invaluable ScreenScribe contributor) Brian Holland (K Road Chronicles) and Juanita Edwards (The Great NZ Dance Masala).

Here’s the media release:

From director David Blyth, Paradise Soldiers is a documentary made for ANZAC Day 2020 with the support of NZ On Air revealing the largely untold accounts of young Cook Island soldiers who enlisted to aid New Zealand in military combat over the decades.

David Blyth is a documentary maker, whose principal focus is on New Zealands role in the wars of the 20thCentury. He has produced and directed several notable works on the subject, including many hours of content under his Memories of Service banner for NZ On Screen and multiple television documentaries.

Recently David’s research pointed him towards New Zealands Pacific neighbours where he discovered a rich and untapped reservoir of new and original war stories to be told by veterans and their families.

These stories of soldiers who served with New Zealand’s armed forces’ starting with the First World Warhave rarely been shared.

The Cook Islands, a territory of New Zealand, made an offer to the main country to supply men after World War One broke out in 1914.

About 500 men were sent to the war, nearly six percent of the population at the time. For many, it was an immense culture shock, as they left behind the warmth and familiarity of the islands to be thrust into some of the coldest places in New Zealand where they were subjected to military discipline and trained for war.

These men became part of the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion. They carried out construction, engineering and trenching tasks, often under appalling conditions, some also went to Gallipoli with the Māori Contingent. Another group was formed to serve in Palestine.

Paradise Soldiers talks with family members, whose grandfathers served in World War One, and discovers the stories of these soldiers that have been passed down in the families.

For one family, a direct link to World War One is both very much alive and full of memories. On Rarotonga, spritely ninety seven year old Mary Tepaeru Tepuretu, the daughter of a World War One veteran recalls how World War One impacted on her family.

Mary tells of her father Raitia Tepuretu, who was wounded in France and his brother Apu, Mary’s uncle, who was killed going to his aid. Aged only 19 years, Apu Tepuretu was the first Cook Islander to be killed in World War One. Mary says it changed her father forever. She says he never got over his brother’s death.

World War Two had significantly less involvement from the Cook Islands as a result of the terrible sacrifices of the first world war but by the Vietnam War, young Cook Islanders were again called upon to serve.

Despite rising opposition and deep public unpopularity towards the war in Vietnam, young Cook Island men were among many recruited to boost a depleted army intake in New Zealand.

Puna Tei (161 Battery Vietnam) was recruited from the Cook Islands in 1966 along with 15 others to serve in Vietnam. Years after the war Puna lost a son, Fredrick, who was born with major anatomical defects that required corrective surgery in New Zealand. But Fredrick died aged 10 from a brain tumour. His family and community believe his death was a direct effect of Puna being exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam.

Other Cook Island veterans of the Vietnam War, Geoffrey Roi, Bill Framhein and Bill Doherty also reflect on their service for the New Zealand Army overseas. These Cook Island Veterans’ memories are a fascinating untold story from the Pacific.

Paradise Soldiers also looks at the opportunities that military service offers Cook Island men and women today. Since the horrors of World War One and Vietnam, serving in the military during more peaceful times has enabled young Cook Islanders to forge exciting careers.

One hundred years ago, their forefathers, the 500 Cook Island soldiers through their service, courage and sacrifice forged a bond with New Zealand that will forever be treasured.

We will remember them.  Lest we forget.

Production Personnel

Director – David Blyth

David Blyth cemented his place in the Kiwi filmmaking renaissance with two films that left social realism far behind: the 1978 experimental feature Angel Mine, and 1984’s Death Warmed Up, New Zealand’s first homegrown horror movie.

Since then his work has included family friendly vampire film Moonrise (aka Grampire), and the cult hit Ghost Bride; rip-offs remakes of which have made a splash around Asia.

In recent years David has turned his attention to celebrating New Zealand’s servicemen and women vianumber of documentary projects.

His work over the last decade has seen more that 80 war veteran interviews recorded, 50 of which are available at NZ On Screen under the title Memories of Service which can be seen on NZ On Screen and Our Oldest Soldier, a documentary about David’s grandfather a World War One hero.

In 2002 the Anzac Day screening of Our Oldest Soldier was the highest rated NZ On Air funded documentary of the year; more than 780,000 people watched it.

Other projects include Kiwi Servicewomen of World War 2, Nancy Wake Remembered, Victor 4 Company and Prisoners of War.

David had an unprecedented five new war history documentaries on multiple broadcasters for ANZAC Day 2019. For this year’s ANZAC celebrations, Paradise Soldiers is his latest work.

David’s NZ On Screen page is a wealth of information and contains multiple project links.

Producers – Juanita Edwards and Brian Holland

Juanita Edwards and Brian Holland formed Magnetic Pictures in 2019 with a view to creating original, high quality programmes people love to watch in the social issues space.

Juanita’s NZ On Air work includes Namaste New Zealand (Creator and Executive Producer) and The Great NZ Dance Masala (Executive Producer).

Other projects as Producer/Executive Producer include Target, Healthy Food Guide, People on Bikes and Cook the Books – all for Top Shelf Productions where she was employed between 2007 and 2019.

Over the past few years Brian has been involved as Producer/Creator with the following NZ On Air funded programmes The Nutters Club, Dancing on Icebergs, The Kiwi, The Knight and The Qashqai and K Road Chronicles.

As Head of Development at Top Shelf (2006 – 2019), Brian developed Making New Zealand, What’s Really in Our Food?, Media7, Islands of the Gulf and Heritage Rescue.

Through Magnetic Pictures, Juanita and Brian are also producing a series on domestic abuse titled Breaking Silence and a second series of K Road Chronicles.

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