Brian Brake is regarded as New Zealand's most successful international photographer. But before heading overseas to work for photo agency Magnum and snapping iconic shots of Picasso and the Monsoon series for Life magazine, he was also an accomplished composer of moving images. He shot or directed many classic films for the NFU, including NZ's first Oscar-nominated film.
"These mountains have always been a challenge. Now there's a new type of skier facing that challenge in a new way." Across the Main Divide follows NZ mountain guide Shaun Norman, US telemark skiing champ Whitney Thurlow and German skier Babette Bodenstein, as they cross the Southern Alps in free heel skis. Flown up the Tasman Glacier from Mount Cook, a 2,000m haul up to Graham Saddle is rewarded with sweet spring snow skiing and cheesecake at Alma Hut, before the tramp down to the West Coast. The doco screened worldwide and won awards at mountain film festivals.
This documentary comprehensively traces the history of skiing and winter sports in New Zealand. From Mannering and Dixon, who used homemade skis in an almost-successful ascent of Mt Cook and the hut-building pioneers of recreational ski clubs in their pre-Gore-tex garb, to commercial ski fields and lifts, superb archive footage shows the advances. New Zealand teams at the Winter Olympics in Oslo in 1952 and Sarajevo 32 years later had come some way from the days when carrier pigeons were used to report snow conditions from Canterbury's ski fields to Christchurch.
This educational video was made by the NFU for the National Mountain Safety Council to promote awareness of bush safety. After a blackboard science lesson (check out a bearded Ray Henwood) things get interesting. A fictional trip into the bush turns into a Stubbies-clad 70s Kiwi version of the Blair Witch Project as we're told that one of the group will not survive the night, picked off by that fearsome killer: exposure. The message is serious, but the doom-laden tone induced titters in school classrooms and scout halls throughout NZ.
Jackie van Beek directed and starred in this 2014 short film, playing a tramper who finds her solitude interrupted in a Southern Alps hut. The short was filmed in Arthur’s Pass, where van Beek spent time climbing and exploring near her family crib, while growing up. Uphill won Best Film at an international showcase for organisation Women in Film and Television International; van Beek also won Best Actor at Kiwi festival Show Me Shorts. She would collaborate again with producer Aaron Watson on her feature directing debut, 2017 drama The Inland Road.
This jaunty early National Film Unit film promotes the alpine scenery of Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park and its recreational opportunities. It includes slalom at the 1946 New Zealand ski champs, ice-skating at Lake Tekapo, comic pratfalls in the snow, a mass snow-fight and ... landscape painting. Dancing at the Hermitage Hotel is "a good way to loosen the muscles after skiing". As well as human interest, the film features the expected majestic mountains, glaciers, and avalanches, as well as curious kea at Ball Hut, and amusing dogs in snow-glasses.
"The story of a four-day journey from Westland to Canterbury, across the Southern Alps." Narration from the four climbers accompanies spectacular alpine imagery in this classic NFU film. In crevasse country they rope up and climb to "half way across the frozen roof of New Zealand" and share a can of tinned pineapple as reward. At Malte Brun Hut they meet Sir Edmund Hillary, Murray Ellis and Harry Ayres, and they descend together down the Tasman Glacier. Ayres reflects on the Alps as training ground for famous polar and Everest expeditions.
Shot by photographer Brian Brake as a NFU tourism promo, Snows of Aorangi surveys New Zealand's mountain landscapes. Brake captures stunning imagery: ethereal ice forests, lightning storms, volcanic craters, glaciers, avalanches, kea. Three skiers are mesmerising as they scythe downhill from Almer Hut: "for a little while they've given themselves to the rhythm of sky and earth" runs the James K Baxter-scripted narration. It was the first NZ film to compete for an Oscar, nominated in the Best Short Subject (Live Action) category in 1959.
This 1963 film looks at how the development of high country aviation is taking on the challenges presented by the South Island’s rugged geography. Piloted by war veterans, small aircraft parachute supplies into remote locations for Forest Service hut building and service lighthouses. Meanwhile helicopters and airlines open up opportunities for industry (venison, tourism, forestry, topdressing) and recreation (fishing, hunting). Good keen men, smokos and Swannies abound in this classically-filmed National Film Unit documentary.
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.