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.
This 1949 NFU film is a whistle-stop tour of Aotearoa that, per the title, takes in the full gamut of the scenic wonderland. Splendidly filmed in Kodachrome, there are lakes (Tutira, Manapouri, Te Anau, Wakatipu), caves (Waitomo), mountains (Cook/Aoraki, Egmont/Taranaki) and forests and farms aplenty, with the occasional city sojourn and an obligatory ferry shot. In the narration indefatigable nature is harnessed for man’s needs and appreciation. Of note is a sequence on gum-collector Nicholas Yakas, who shows impressive agility as he scales a giant kauri.
Prelude to Aspiring was the first National Film Unit title directed by legendary photographer Brian Brake, soon after he joined the Unit in 1948. It follows a group of climbers up the Matukituki Valley, west of Wanaka, towards Mt Aspiring for the opening of a new hut and a trudge through snow to resurrect a flattened shelter high up Mt French. The autumn alpine scenery is breathtaking even in black and white, and the film perfectly performs its role as one of a series of promotional ‘documentaries' made by the NFU.
This documentary revisits six eventful weeks in 1949. Led by cameraman Brian Brake, an all-star art team — James K Baxter as scriptwriter, composer Douglas Lilburn and painter John Drawbridge (all under 30; Drawbridge was 19) — attempt to make a 'cinematic poem' about an ascent of Mt Aspiring. Baxter's notes on the trip evolved into his poem In the Matukituki Valley. Aspiring features a lost script, Drawbridge's memories (he recalls storyboards for a snow cave light show here) and a surprise ending. View footage of the never-completed film after the excerpt.