In the early 80s the New Zealand ski industry was burgeoning. This 1983 National Film Unit production promotes the Southern Alps as a ski tourism destination — “the most exciting alpine area south of the equator”. The promo accentuates southern difference (“no trees to get in your way”), as the film tours from Ben Ohau and Tasman Glacier descents, to offseason international downhill racers at Mt Hutt, and après ski attractions. The skiing is paired with orchestral music, a classical-sport combo that director Arthur Everard also memorably used in rugby film Score.
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.
This homespun, informative and gently satirical hunting and fishing series is presented by good kiwi bloke Ken Moller (Lynda Topp from the Topp Twins). With alpine guide, Queenstown radio DJ and crack shot Emma Lange, aka Lady Hunter, Ken takes viewers on armchair adventures to some of New Zealand's most spectacular wilderness regions where they hunt sika stag, fish for feisty rainbow trout and "bloody beautiful browns". Closing segment Ken's Camp Kitchen features "gastronomical delights" such as venison casserole.
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.
Off the Edge was director Michael Firth's ode to the exhilaration of adventuring on the spine of New Zealand's Southern Alps. Something of a snowy Endless Summer, the film follows an American and a Canadian as they ski, hang glide, climb and delve beneath glaciers, in the Aoraki-Mt Cook area. Thrilling footage amidst spectacular scenery was shot over two seasons, where extreme weather and geography meant few chances for second takes. The film was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary in 1977. The Los Angeles Times called it "beautiful and awesome".
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.
Rod Morris has more than three decades experience as a wildlife photographer and filmmaker. After working on the quest to save the Chatham Island black robin, he joined TVNZ's Natural History Unit (now independent company NHNZ) in 1980. His name is found on more than 30 books, and his photography has helped spur generations of Kiwis to share his passion for the natural world.
Simon Baumfield is a multi-award-winning cinematographer, whose work includes ensemble TV series Insiders Guide to Love and horror movie The Irrefutable Truth about Demons.
Ron Skelley spent 36 years with the National Film Unit’s sound department, contributing to the soundtracks of Weekly Review, Pictorial Parade, and many other NFU and independent films. He started at the NFU in 1949, and was in charge of the sound department from 1977 until his retirement in 1985. Skelley died in March 1992. Image Credit: Photo from The Evening Post, courtesy of Fairfax Media
In the 1980s ex-NZBC staffer Howard Moses produced and directed a trio of award-winning alpine films: Across the Main Divide, Incredible Mountains and Turn of the Century (a history of skiing in NZ). Winter Olympic chronicle Zimska Olimpijada won best doco at 1987's Mountainfilm in Telluride Festival. Based in Australia since 1991, Moses has worked in TV in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.