The Great Achievement

Short Film, 1958 (Full Length)

This half-hour film from 1958 documents New Zealanders in Antarctica: researching International Geophysical Year, and supporting the Trans-Antarctic Expedition by laying supply depots for Vivian Fuchs’ overland crossing. National Film Unit cameraman Derek Wright films Edmund Hillary's team, capturing the drama of their (in)famous dash to the South Pole as they roll precariously forward in converted Ferguson tractors — “the best crevasse detectors ever invented” as Hillary notes. Hillary's team got to the South Pole on 4 January 1958, 82 days after leaving Scott Base. 

Project Takahē

Television, 1981 (Full Length Episode)

When the takahē was rediscovered in the Murchison mountains in 1948, it made world headlines as a back from extinction story. This documentary checks in on the big flightless birds three decades later, with their future under threat (by deer, stoats and breeding failure). Doctor Geoffrey Orbell recalls the 1948 expedition. Project Takahē was the first Wild South documentary made by TVNZ’s Natural History Unit (later NHNZ). The images of takahē – blue, green and red, plodding in the snowy tussock – marked the first time most New Zealanders had seen the bird in the wild.    

The Big Ice

Television, 1984 (Full Length Episode)

Though it plays hell with cameras, Antarctica has long fascinated filmmakers. This hour-long National Film Unit documentary was assembled from a five-part TV series of the same name. There are looks at scientific research, early explorers, and Antarctica's affect on global climate. Made four decades ago, the programme warns of a possible "new and potentially dangerous warming period", and calls the greenhouse effect a "controversial scientific theory". The large cast includes penguins, a seal birth (clip two) and a heavyweight team of Kiwi scientists.

Antarctica

Film, 1980 (Full Length)

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.

Emperors of Antarctica

Television, 1992 (Full Length)

This film tells the story of Antarctica’s emperor penguin (the inspiration behind Happy Feet) and how they survive vicious blizzards and -50°C temperatures. It also retraces the epic “worst journey in the world” which explorer Edward Wilson made to discover these remarkable birds. Max Quinn won a best director award at the 1994 NZ Television Awards for the Antarctic Trilogy Emperors was part of. The trilogy helped establish NHNZ’s relationship with Discovery Channel. As this backgrounder explains, the scene of a penguin falling through ice (clip one) became a YouTube hit.

Ross Sea Appeal - Children Meet Hillary

Short Film, 1955 (Full Length)

In this November 1955 newsreel, Sir Edmund Hillary addresses 2000 Wellington school children, as part of a pitch to win support for an Antarctic expedition. Ed shakes hands with pint-sized fundraisers, and one of his crew models Kiwi-made cold weather gear. The voiceover mentions a "New Zealand Antarctic expedition", but Hillary's team would actually form half of a Commonwealth team, led by UK explorer Vivian Fuchs. After leaving supplies for the British crossing party, Hillary controversially went on ahead to the South Pole. Both BP and the NFU filmed the expedition.  

Hillary: Ocean to Sky

Film, 2019 (Trailer)

For this feature-length documentary Michael Dillon revisits his award-winner From the Ocean to the Sky, about  Edmund Hillary's Ganges jet boat expedition. Back in 1977, Dillon filmed Hillary and crew (including son Peter Hillary) as they jet boated from the mouth of the Ganges to the base of the Himalayas, then set out to climb peak Akash Parbat. Dillon has remastered existing and unseen footage, and interviewed crew members about Hillary's last big expedition. This trailer shows Indian crowds swarming Hillary for an autograph, and a keen man "wakeboarding" on the Ganges.

The Years Back - 12, The Big Ice (Episode 12)

Television, 1973 (Full Length Episode)

New Zealand's relationship with Antarctica and the explorers and scientists who went there is the focus of this episode in The Years Back series, with Bernard Kearns as guide. Early last century NZ was the starting point for most polar expeditions, including Robert Falcon Scott's fatal attempt to reach the Pole. Footage of Scott on the ice is featured, and as well as clips of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s epic survival tale. Of course the Sir Edmund Hillary-led 50s Kiwi expedition is shown: Hillary made a defiant dash for the Pole on tractors, arriving 4 January 1958.

The Adventure World of Sir Edmund Hillary - The Kaipo Wall (Part Two)

Television, 1974 (Full Length)

This Roger Donaldson-directed documenary follows Sir Edmund Hillary, as he leads an A-Team of mates on an epic expedition to climb Fiordland's Kaipo Wall. In part two Murray Jones and Graeme Dingle attack the imposing 1000 metre face, and tackle icy rocks and vertical overhangs. Hillary's supply team skirts around towards a peak rendezvous, meeting friendly kea and unfriendly weather en route. When the climbers unite there's a celebratory beer before a blizzard traps them in a snowcave and tents. Awesome cinematography captures the old school thrill of adventure.

The Lost Whales

Television, 1997 (Full Length)

For 150 years, southern right whales (tohorā) were hunted to the brink of extinction. But the discovery of a “lost tribe” in the Southern Ocean sparked hope that their numbers are increasing. This documentary — made by veteran nature filmmaker Max Quinn for The Discovery Channel — follows a research expedition to learn about the pod. Breathtaking and intimate underwater footage, including a fabled white whale and new-born calf, reveals the behavior of these gentle giants. The award-winning film also captures soaring royal albatross, vomiting sea lions, and a flightless duck.