Tasman Glacier - Polar Exercise

Short Film, 1956 (Full Length)

This National Film Unit documentary shows the NZ contingent training in the Aoraki Mount Cook area for their mission to Antarctica, as part of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition. On the Tasman Glacier, they practise polar survival techniques, huskies are put through their paces and an RNZAF ski plane dramatically flips before a blizzard blows in, and some classic Kiwi DIY repairs are required on the ice runway. Team leader Sir Edmund Hillary narrates in laconic style. Cameraman Derek Wright went on to chronicle Sir Ed’s famous tractor dash to the pole. 

Off the Ground - 3, The Modern Pioneers

Television, 1982 (Full Length Episode)

The third part of this NFU series on aviation in New Zealand jets off post-World War II, where wartime aircraft and crew provided a base for the National Airways Corporation (later Air New Zealand). The romance of travelling via flying boat made way for mass global air travel; and NZ tourism and airports rapidly became more sophisticated. Presenter Peter Clements looks at how the NZ environment spurred innovation (ski planes, top-dressing, heli deer hunting), and traces the lineage of contemporary garage aircraft makers to DIY first flyers like Richard Pearse.

Antarctic Crossing

Film, 1958 (Full Length)

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.

C'mon to New Zealand

Short Film, 1969 (Full Length)

Shot for an Australian Travel Agents Seminar, this short film seeks to portray 1969 New Zealand as a hip and happening place. The tourism clichés of a scenic wonderland remain, but the film attempts to present a more sophisticated NZ to entice jet-set Aussies east. After all, we "got rid of six o'clock closing ages ago." To complement the Anzac staples of sport, beer and gambling there are mountains and Māori. Nightclubs offer show bands and strippers for "relaxation" after strenuous days of sightseeing. C’mon is a fascinating snapshot of a nation in transition.

The Unspoilt Land

Short Film, 1972 (Full Length)

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.”

Mount Cook - Footsteps to the Sky

Television, 1994 (Full Length)

From Māori myth to climbing and photography, to gliding and paraponting around its peak, Aoraki-Mt Cook is vividly captured in all its moods in this award-winning NHNZ portrait. Filmed for the centenary of the first ascent of a mountain that has claimed over 100 lives, it follows mountaineers as they climb toward the summit, re-enacting Tom Fyfe's pioneering pre-crampon route. Climbers, including Edmund Hillary, reminisce about encounters with NZ's highest and most iconic peak; and Bruce Grant takes the quick way down: a vertiginous ski descent.

Alpine Airways

Short Film, 1963 (Full Length)

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.

Sportsmen's Playground New Zealand

Short Film, 1951 (Full Length)

Made by feature film pioneer Roger Mirams (Broken Barrier), this 1951 film promotes New Zealand outdoor recreation. Coming decades before bungy jumps and hobbits, this was an early effort to brand NZ as an adventure sport playground, taking in snow sports, deer-stalking, pig hunting, fishing and yachting. Regular filmgoers may have found Miram's footage familiar; most of it came from items he'd shot for Sydney-based company Movietone News. Some shots dated from as early as 1948, when he left the NFU to found company the Pacific Film Unit. 

Come on to New Zealand

Short Film, 1980 (Full Length)

The line “where the bloody hell are you?” generated controversy when used in a 2006 Aussie tourism campaign; so who knows what 1980 audiences made of this promo’s exhortation to “Come on to New Zealand.” But as the narration assures: “It’s a safe country. You can walk without being molested.” Aimed at the US market, the film was made as long haul air travel was opening up NZ as a destination. Māori culture, sheep and pretty scenery are highlighted, alongside skinny dipping and weaving (!). Narrated by Bob Parker, the NFU promo marked an early gig for editor Annie Collins.

Series

Off the Ground

Television, 1982

This was a three-part series mapping the history of aviation in New Zealand: from DIY pioneers (Richard Pearse, the Walsh bros), via the formation of the RNZAF and NAC, to contemporary aviators. Flying Kiwi heroes (Sir Francis Chichester, Jean Batten) are profiled, along with innovation stirred by the NZ environment: flying boats, ski-planes and top-dressers. Presented by pilot Peter Clements, with veteran Conon Fraser (Looking at New Zealand) directing, the series was made by the National Film Unit for TV, which by the 80s had replaced cinemas as an NFU outlet.