Rudall Hayward was New Zealand's most prolific pioneer film-maker in an era when local film-going was dominated by American westerns. Inspired by New Zealand's ‘rough-hewn story’, he made seven local feature films, four of them silent, and with his second wife, Ramai, he made many documentaries and educational films.
Born in Wolverhampton, England, on 4 July 1900, Rudall Charles Victor Hayward was the son of Adelina Maria Teresa Martinengo and her husband, Rudall George Hayward. He came to New Zealand as a four-year-old with his family, who were members of a touring entertainment company called West’s Pictures and The Brescians. His mother, one of the three Martinengo sisters (the other two also married Hayward brothers), and his father had toured England for 20 years giving musical concerts; when motion pictures were introduced these were added to the programme. The company came to New Zealand with a projectionist, who was also a cameraman. They brought four projectors, and processing and printing equipment. Their first season was three weeks at His Majesty’s Theatre in Dunedin, where the programme included a number of films. After three years' profitable touring in New Zealand and Australia the company disbanded. Rudall's father and his uncle Henry formed Hayward’s Picture Enterprises and set up a theatre in Auckland. The family then moved to Waihi, where they started a circuit of cinemas and toured portable shows around the Coromandel peninsula.
Rudall Hayward’s first involvement with film was to sit at the feet of a projectionist who was hand-cranking a film and turn the take-up spool onto which the film was wound. At the age of 12 he made his own crude camera using a projector inside a box, and photographed the family cat jumping out of a watering can. After attending Wanganui Collegiate School (1916–17) he spent two years studying electricity at the Waihi School of Mines. He then worked as a projectionist and in 1920 made his first film, a two-reel comedy called The bloke from Freeman's Bay, which was screened in family-owned cinemas. It attracted a full house on opening night, but his uncle Henry was unimpressed: he offered Rudall £50 to burn the film.
As a 20-year-old Hayward worked on The betrayer, an Australian film using Rotorua locations. He then went to Australia where Raymond Longford hired him as an assistant on Rudd's new selection (released in 1921). Back in Auckland in 1922 he worked on Harrington Reynolds’s The birth of New Zealand. His first feature was My lady of the cave (1922), based on a popular serial story published in newspapers. ‘The photography was magnificent but the story was fairly crude,’ he recalled 40 years later. ‘It was notable for its scenery and its action. What money we made in New Zealand we lost trying to get it released overseas’.
On 18 September 1923 Hayward married Hilda Maud Moren at St Peter’s Anglican Church in Takapuna. She was to work uncredited on many of his films. He listed his occupation as picture-theatre manager, but he was already planning his second feature, Rewi's last stand (1925), a drama–romance set at the time of the Waikato wars and researched from James Cowan’s book The New Zealand wars. In 1927 Hayward directed a costume drama, The Te Kooti trail, which also used material from Cowan. As he later explained: ‘I have always gone to history for material, as it is the richest source’. In 1928 he directed The bush Cinderella, a contemporary drama starring Dale Austen, the second Miss New Zealand. At this time he also travelled from town to town making 23 two-reel comedies with local casts and locations; Hamilton’s hectic husbands was a personal favourite. Other titles included Tilly of Te Aroha and A daughter of Dunedin.
His first sound feature film, made using an Auckland-built camera, was On the Friendly Road (1936), which told a story of New Zealand in the depression and featured the well-known radio broadcaster C. G. Scrimgeour. In 1938–39 Hayward directed a sound version of Rewi's last stand, with a score composed and conducted by Alfred Hill. British documentary maker John Grierson, who was in the opening night audience in 1940, commented that it was ‘more important that New Zealanders should have produced that film than that they should see a hundred films from Hollywood’. It was released in the United Kingdom in an edited version. With its combination of humour and sentimentality it has more recently been compared to the historical films of John Ford and D. W. Griffith.
During the Second World War Hayward worked for the New Zealand National Film Unit. He was divorced on 22 November 1943 and seven days later married Patricia Rongomaitara Te Miha in Auckland. Also known as Patricia Miller, she was an established Devonport photographer who had starred as Ariana, the Maori heroine in the second Rewi's last stand, where she was credited as Ramai Te Miha.
After the war the couple moved to London, where Rudall worked for three years as a free-lance news cameraman, using his Auckland sound camera, with his wife as sound recordist. He also directed and photographed a 34-minute British short feature titled The Goodwin Sands (1948). After returning to New Zealand in 1950 he spent three years in Australia working for a film company set up by Scrimgeour. Back in Auckland in the mid 1950s, he worked as a newsreel cameraman and with his wife made documentaries, and educational and travel films. One of these, The amazing dolphin of Opononi (1956), was shown in 26 countries. Reflecting Rudall’s left-wing political views, in 1957 the couple spent six weeks filming in China, where they met Rewi Alley and Mao Tse-tung; in 1971 they spent seven weeks filming in Albania. Rewi’s last stand was bought by the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation for $500 and screened on television in 1970.
Rudall Hayward's seventh and last feature was To love a Maori (1972), a love story about racial discrimination. A year after its first release he was made an MBE. He died in Dunedin Hospital on 29 May 1974, while touring the country promoting and screening his film. He was survived by his second wife and a daughter from his first marriage.