This documentary revisits six eventful weeks in 1949. Led by cameraman Brian Brake, an all-star art team — James K Baxter as scriptwriter, composer Douglas Lilburn and painter John Drawbridge (all under 30; Drawbridge was 19) — attempt to make a 'cinematic poem' about an ascent of Mt Aspiring. Baxter's notes on the trip evolved into his poem In the Matukituki Valley. Aspiring features a lost script, Drawbridge's memories (he recalls storyboards for a snow cave light show here) and a surprise ending. View footage of the never-completed film after the excerpt.
This 1972 NFU documentary follows three climbers (Hugh Canard, Neil Hamilton and pioneering guide Bruce Jenkinson) on an ascent of Mt Aspiring. Directed and photographed by Grant Foster (Land of Birds), the beautifully-shot short film heads up country in the Land Rover. Rivers are crossed in the sun, then the climbers rope up and get the pick axes out. It’s tea, food and harmonica in the hut, then a pre-dawn start (“hell it’s cold!”) before cutting steps and leaping crevasses up the “matterhorn of the south”. The film screened on PBS in the United States.
Prelude to Aspiring was the first National Film Unit title directed by legendary photographer Brian Brake, soon after he joined the Unit in 1948. It follows a group of climbers up the Matukituki Valley, west of Wanaka, towards Mt Aspiring for the opening of a new hut and a trudge through snow to resurrect a flattened shelter high up Mt French. The autumn alpine scenery is breathtaking even in black and white, and the film perfectly performs its role as one of a series of promotional ‘documentaries' made by the NFU.
This 1949 NFU film is a whistle-stop tour of Aotearoa that, per the title, takes in the full gamut of the scenic wonderland. Splendidly filmed in Kodachrome, there are lakes (Tutira, Manapouri, Te Anau, Wakatipu), caves (Waitomo), mountains (Cook/Aoraki, Egmont/Taranaki) and forests and farms aplenty, with the occasional city sojourn and an obligatory ferry shot. In the narration indefatigable nature is harnessed for man’s needs and appreciation. Of note is a sequence on gum-collector Nicholas Yakas, who shows impressive agility as he scales a giant kauri.
The rich scenery around Lake Wakatipu has inspired painters, postage stamps and director Peter Jackson. Shortly before leaving NZ in 1954, photographer Brian Brake headed south for the NFU to capture images of lake, mountain, tourist and miner. Amid the postcard perfection, Brake films mist-shrouded hills sliced open by mining, and a trio of skiers on Coronet Peak, travelling hand in hand. Tourists swap lake steamers for open top buses, en route to the Routeburn track; and one old-timer sets out on horse to pan for gold, via the abandoned mining village of Macetown.
The hard-working search and rescue volunteers of Wanaka and Fiordland are profiled in South Pacific Pictures series High Country Rescue. This eighth episode looks at an elderly mountain biker who’s taken a tumble, an injured Israeli hiker who has good fortune with some kind locals, and an embarrassed young new year's reveller who underestimates the cold of Mt Roy. Despite the trying situations the volunteers keep spirits high. One rescue turns to farce when the responders get their ute stuck up a hill and require a rescue of their own.
Reality series Tough Act follows first-year students at New Zealand's most famous drama school. In this episode personal lives clash with professional aspirations. The students' first professional production looms. As they rehearse scenes from Shakespeare, distractions are everywhere. Hollie is grieving after news of an accident and class romances are put to the test when partners perform intimate scenes with colleagues. When Sophie sleeps in and misses a rehearsal, she faces serious consequences. The series was nominated for two local awards for Best Reality Series.
In the third episode of this doco about a doco, Byron Coll’s Sid shows visits Uncle Clive (Tim Spite) to ask for a loan, while his gung ho film crew prepares to launch some vigilante justice if the deal doesn’t go through. He shows Clive the dramatic slow-mo trailer, featuring Mr Baker as the king of Belgium and head of the petrochemical company crushed by the small Hawkes Bay town of Woodville. Sid is reacquainted with the lovely aspiring actress Jane (musical comedienne Hayley Sproull) but makes a dodgy impression.
Future Labour MP Charles Chauvel joins the ‘academic-quiz-show-as-kindergarten-for-aspiring-politicians’ tradition (see: Lockwood Smith hosting W Three) in this 1987 University Challenge final. An ever youthful Peter Sinclair (C’mon, Mastermind) presides, with Waikato and Auckland universities competing for bragging rights (and 80s personal computers). Subjects cover the arts and sciences, with each correct starter earning bonus questions. Chauvel captains Auckland, and sagely stays away from undergraduate humour in his intro — unlike his fellow contestants.
This 1972 National Film Unit production promotes New Zealand’s national parks, from the oldest — Tongariro (established in 1887) — to Mt Aspiring (1964). Besides slatherings of scenic splendour, the film shows rangers clearing tracks, 70s après ski activity on Ruapehu, and school children at Rotoiti Youth Lodge: skylarking, river crossing, and cornflake eating en masse. When this film was made there were 10 National Parks (there are now 14). “In all their variety they’re the heritage of everyone who’s heard the call and felt the freedom of the unspoilt land.”