Hats off to Maori TV's Anzac Day

By Nick Grant

Extensive line-up shames those provided by other broadcasters, writes Nick Grant

Maori Television's Anzac Day coverage on Thursday runs from 5.50am-11pm. Photo / NZH
Maori Television's Anzac Day coverage on Thursday runs from 5.50am-11pm. Photo / NZH

On Thursday Maori Television continues its sterling work of honouring those who have served - and shaming other broadcasters - by offering 17 hours of Anzac Day-related programming, presided over by hosts Judy Bailey, Julian Wilcox and Wena Harawira.

The North African Campaign of World War II gets the lion's share of attention in this year's schedule, a logical choice given the 70th anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein was observed last October.

That key clash and its 2012 commemoration is the subject of El Alamein: Line in the Sand, the first programme of the day after live coverage of the dawn service at the Auckland War Memorial.

Kicking off at 7am, Line in the Sand follows 22 Kiwi veterans of the North Africa Campaign as they travel to Egypt to take part in last year's ceremonies.

It's directed and presented by news and current affairs veteran journalist Cameron Bennett, who takes a meat-and-potatoes approach to the topic that should go down fine with viewers in the process of eating their breakfast.

We get an efficient summary of what the Battle (actually two battles) of El Alamein involved in general and for New Zealand troops in particular, and what its significance was in the context of the wider global conflict. According to Winston Churchill - clearly having a dollar each way at the time - it was not the end, nor the beginning of the end, but, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

Most importantly, we meet half-a-dozen of the veterans who are returning to Egypt, as well as an elderly woman who is accompanying them to visit the grave of the father she never met.

The interviews with these seven comprise the heart of the hour-long documentary. Age may have wearied them, their limbs no longer straight nor their eyes steady and aglow, but the emotional wounds they suffered seven decades ago are still fresh and deep - and deeply affecting.

Indeed, my one criticism is I would have preferred a great deal more of them and their heartfelt, matter-of-fact recollections and correspondingly less of everything else, including the presenter-director who, for my liking, spends too much time telling us how we should be feeling via voiceover and wall-to-wall music.

When a moment of silence is observed as part of the remembrance ceremony at El Alamein, for example, I would have liked to have experienced that contemplative quiet, not to listen to Cameron wittering on about how "for a moment time stands still as friends and foes from a lifetime ago remember in silence".

Still, given the early hour at which it screens, I suppose that straightforward-verging-on-simplistic treatment is an appropriate warm-up for the rest of the day's schedule, which includes profiles of Te Moananui-a-Kiwa Ngrimu and Charles Upham (both awarded the Victoria Cross for acts of valour in North Africa), live coverage of the Gallipoli Dawn Service, and a look at the contemporary deployment of NZ troops in East Timor and Afghanistan.

It's another Maori Television programme about NZ's involvement in Afghanistan that I'm most anticipating this week, though. Made by leading filmmakers Annie Goldson and Kay Ellmers and screening at 8.30pm on Wednesday, He Toki Huna: New Zealand in Afghanistan promises to be riveting, all-too relevant viewing.

Maori Television's Anzac Day coverage on Thursday runs from 5.50am-11pm.

- Herald on Sunday

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