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Aspiring is available to rent or buy on Vimeo

Including extremely rare mountain footage, the documentary imagines six stormy weeks in 1949 that bore incredible artistic fruit. Four great Kiwis travelled the rough roads round Lake Wanaka and into the fabled Matukituki Valley to make a highly creative film about a climb of Mt. Aspiring. You can rent or buy Aspiring from our Vimeo on Demand pageĀ here.

The team was headed by celebrated cameraman Brian Brake (then only 22), and included a young James K Baxter (23) as a scriptwriter. Other team-members were composer Douglas Lilburn (34) and painter John Drawbridge (19). All rose to the very top of their fields, but in 1949 these men were idealists attempting to make a new kind of film - not a standard news reel but a lyrical tribute to NZ mountains - a 'cinematic poem'.

During the trip Baxter wrote script notes that turned into his famous Poem In The Matukituki Valley. Poet and art curator Gregory O'Brien, a long time friend of John Drawbridge, first heard about the trip and the lost footage while interviewing Drawbridge. He describes the journey as 'a point of artistic origin' for him.

The film-makers were helped on the mountain by famous alpinists George Lowe, Ed Cotter and Harry Stevenson. Typically the weather caused havoc with their plans. Unable to reach the summit after six weeks filming Brake took the team home. Not long after that, his lead actor was killed in plane crash and Brake himself became disillusioned with the National Film Unit and left the country. The unfinished masterpiece was never archived, and has been missing for more than half a century. Aspiring is an evocative documentary about art, mountains and creativity which builds to a surprising end.

Technical Specifications

TV Production

Production Year: 2005

Transmission date: 4 June 2006, 10:30pm, TV One

Category: Documentary

Director: Yvonne Mackay

Producer: Gary Scott

Duration: 45 mins


This documentary uncovers a forgotten mountaineering trip made by four great artists - poet James K Baxter, painter John Drawbridge, cameraman Brian Brake and composer Douglas Lilburn. As rookies they tried to create a new cinematic art-form, but their uncompleted film was lost for 50 years. The lost footage and script, along with the amazing tale of artistic ambitions, is shown here for the very first time.