On 28 November 1979, an Air New Zealand DC-10 crashed into Mt Erebus, Antarctica, killing all 257 people on board. It was the worst civil aviation disaster in NZ history and at the time, the fourth worst in the world. Made independently of state TV, Flight 901 was the first in-depth documentary on the accident. It surveys the novelty of Antarctic tourist flights, the search and rescue operation, and controversy over causes stirred by the Peter Mahon-led Royal Commission of Inquiry. This 15 minute excerpt was edited for NZ On Screen by director John Keir.
To create award-winning A Year on Ice Antarctic photographer Anthony Powell spent 10 years (and nine winters) clocking the continent on camera: from the 24-hour darkness of winter to desolate, stunning polar vistas (blazing aurora, freezing ice storms) and the creatures and humans who are based there. Time-lapse imagery — Powell’s speciality — evokes the ever-changing patterns of polar life. Powell’s images have screened on National Geographic, Discovery and in BBC’s Frozen Planet. A Year on Ice has inspired awe and acclaim at film festivals worldwide.
This half-hour portrait of actor and director Ian Mune kicks off at a family wedding. In-between clips illustrating his career, Mune reflects on life as a storyteller, "bullshitter" and goat farmer. He reveals his adaptation process, his loss of confidence after directing Bridge to Nowhere, and how had no idea what he was doing on Sleeping Dogs. He also warns of the dangers of being boring, and the challenges of pulling off a decent commercial. Two years after this documentary aired, Mune returned to glory with the release of his passion project The End of the Golden Weather.
This 1993 documentary surveys the world’s southernmost volcano, Mount Erebus. Cameras travel to never before filmed depths, 400 metres below the sea ice. They also go 3500 metres above sea level into the erupting crater. The film charts what is able to survive in the otherworldly environment, from seals to moss. Solid Water was the third part of an acclaimed Wild South trilogy on Antarctica, which helped establish a relationship between Discovery Channel and TVNZ’s Natural History Unit (later NHNZ). It was awarded for Best Camera at the 1994 New Zealand TV Awards.
Once upon a time the Kiwi accent was a broadcasting crime, and politicians decided in advance which questions they would answer on-screen. Here is the News examines three decades (up to 1992) of Kiwi TV journalism and news presentation. The roll-call of on and off camera talent provides fascinating glimpses behind key events, including early jury-rigged attempts at nationwide broadcast, Dougal Stevenson announcing the 1975 arrival of competing TV networks, the Wahine, Erebus, Muldoon, turkeys in gumboots, and the tour - where journalists too, became "objects of hatred".
The fierce cold and awesome isolation of Antarctica is evoked in this 1980 NFU survey of scientific projects and life on New Zealand’s Ross Dependency. Geological and wildlife work is counterpointed by domestic details: a “housewifely” cleaning regime, an impressive liquor order, time-marking beards, and radio chatter at odds with the desolation. There’s poignant footage of one of the last sightseeing flights before the Erebus disaster; and the doco grapples with the uneasy possibility that research may lead to exploitation of the continent’s natural resources.
Kiwi George Lowe directed this Oscar-nominated film of the Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1955-58), which made the first overland crossing of the continent via the South Pole. Lowe joined mission leader Sir Vivian Fuchs’ party coming from Shackleton Base, spotting hazards for the vehicles and dogs. NFU veteran Derek Wright filmed the Edmund Hillary-led NZ support crew coming from the other side of Antarctica, and helped drive the tractors. Worried about running out of food while waiting for Fuchs to reach the Pole, Hillary and his team headed to the Pole first, against his orders.
Doves of War is a political thriller revolving around a group of ex-Kiwi soldiers and their involvement in a war crime committed 10 years earlier. In this opening episode media reports of a mass grave discovered in Bosnia, force ex-SAS Sergeant Lucas Crichton (Aussie actor Andrew Rodoreda) to revisit a past he and his comrades would rather keep buried. Also on the trail is ambitious Hague prosecutor Sophie Morgan and the journalist who was leaked the story. Written by Greg McGee (Fallout, Erebus, Skin and Bone), Doves screened for one season on TV3.
In the early hours of 1 January 1998 Ben Smart and Olivia Hope, two young partygoers in the Marlborough Sounds, were in a water taxi looking for a place to crash. They vanished and were never seen again. The investigation transfixed the nation, and led to the conviction of Scott Watson for murder. Directed for TV3 by John Keir (Flight 901: The Erebus Disaster), this 2002 documentary revisits the case from the perspective of two fathers — Gerald Hope and Chris Watson — and brings them together for the first time to talk about whether Scott Watson is guilty.
On 19 November 2010, the first of a number of explosions occured at the Pike River coal mine. Twenty-nine men were trapped in the tunnel. Nominated for Best Documentary at the 2017 NZ TV Awards, The Women of Pike River explored the lives of six of those left behind, who were wives and mothers of the miners. The disaster was NZ's worst single loss of life since the 1979 Erebus crash — until the 2011 Christchurch quake four months later. Despite assurances survivors would be rescued and the dead retrieved, new owners Solid Energy said the mine was too dangerous to re-enter.