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.
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.
In this 1956 reel, Sir Edmund Hillary and colleagues describe their mission to set up bases in advance of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Ed meets Everest mate George Lowe in Uruguay to board The Theron, and they smash and use explosives to blast their way through ice, then unload supplies (including the soon-to-be-famous Ferguson tractors). Sections of the footage were shot on 16mm film by Hillary himself. Lt Commander Bill Smith and Dr Trevor Hatherton narrate pathfinding with sledges in McMurdo Sound, on the other side of the continent.
This documentary examines an unusual Aotearoa first encounter: between Māori and Russians in 1820, when Queen Charlotte Sound was visited by Fabian Bellingshausen aboard the sloop the Vostok. Alongside reenactments of crew diaries, presenter Moana Maniapoto gets a history lesson from Tipene O'Regan, and visits Russia to look at traded taonga and archive material — and also find out what the famed Antarctic discoverer was doing in Ship Cove shortly after Napoleon was sent packing from Moscow. The doco screened on Māori TV and at Australia's Message Stick Festival.
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.
In this early, Edinburgh-centric episode of arts show Frontseat, Flight of the Conchords return to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for a sellout third season — although they argue the new show is “a shambles”. Also present at the fest are an array of Kiwi technicians, performers, and arts programmers. Meanwhile in his Marlborough vineyard, globetrotting cinematographer Michael Seresin critiques Kiwi society and its ugly towns, and calls New Zealand a “lonely, soulless sort of nation”. Also on offer: Artist Phil Dadson in Antarctica, and award-winning dancer Ross McCormack.
This 1999 documentary goes behind the scenes with veteran Antarctic filmmaker Mike Single, as he films icebergs in the Southern Ocean. To Single they’re "ice creatures" and his mission is to get to their dynamic "essence". He and his crew face time pressure, storms, cabin fever, and challenges shooting underwater. Some of Single's shots of epic ice sculptures, calving glaciers, crabeater seals, gentoo penguins, humpback whales and trademark time-lapse cloudscapes also appeared in his documentaries Crystal Ocean (a 2000 Emmy Award-winner), and Katabatic.
The first episode of Jam TV’s 2013 series on inspirational Kiwis follows Helena McAlpine’s journey as she deals with terminal breast cancer. The ebullient spirit of the ex-C4 presenter permeates the episode, as she talks about her mental health struggles, her bucket list, living in the fast lane, fishing with mate Clarke Gayford, leaving her daughter without a mum, advocacy work for cancer awareness campaigns, and the ‘McAlpine theory on life’ — choose to be happy. "I really don’t see myself as a sack of sadness". McAlpine died on 23 September 2015.
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.
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.