The Festival’s history begins in October, 2002 when it was called the ‘Wanaka Mountain Slide Festival’. The Festival was founded by Wanaka locals Mark & Jo Sedon after Mark got the idea from visiting a Festival in Australia’s Blue Mountains. Mark is a Mountain Guide and Jo is a Realestate Agent. They were both keen climbers, hikers, travellers, a skier (Mark) and a snowboarder (Jo).
It was a beautiful spring Labour Weekend, the first nice weather weekend of the summer. Way too nice to be inside, but the talks were well attended and the festival theme was created, “A Celebration of Adventurous Sports and Lifestyles”. One speaker flying in from Wellington got delayed due to fog, so they had to think of something to fill the space. Guy Cotter leant a DVD which was played, much to the enjoyment of the visitors and to the surprise to Mark of how good the film looked on the big screen.
This first film inspired the creation of New Zealand’s first and still sole adventure film makers competition and the timing of the festival was changed to Autumn, when the days are shorter and there is less to do in Wanaka.
The next event was in June 2004 and called the ‘Free Spirit Festival’. Presenters gave slide shows using the ‘old fashion’ 35mm slide projectors (the last year these were used). The adventure film maker’s competition attracted 40 films so Jo and Mark came up with a judging criteria to help select the best films to screen. They hired a state of the art digital projector ( and a backup) and the biggest screen available in NZ. The Lake Wanaka Centre’s tiered seating system was used so that every seat in the house was spectacular. Festival Passes were sold to all shows which proved extremely popular to this day ($50 in 2004).
There was a world record attempt at a Dyno Competition which thrilled 250 spectators with young strong shirt-less lads leaping over 2m in the warm autumn sunshine. Mark came up with the Hiddleston/MacQueen Award for the best NZ made film in remembrance of two great friends and personalities recently lost to the mountains. The Wanaka community got behind the Festival as it promotes the ethics and passions many people living in the area hold.
In 2005, at the risk of being the festival with many names, the name changed to the “Wanaka Mountain Film festival”. The event started gathering momentum and with several big name sponsors they started inviting international speakers. The Adventure Trade Show and Art Exhibitions were added to the programme. Workshops were added to the schedule and the Queens Birthday event started bringing a couple of hundred people to town.
In 2007 film entrants reached a 75 and the date of the festival was moved to the first week of the school holidays (July). The final (for now) name change was in 2008 when it was changed to the ‘NZ Mountain Film Festival’. The forecasted economical benefits for the region almost reached the half million dollar mark. A charity auction evolved from donated goods sold through a silent auction.
In 2009 the Festival went digital making for better stream lined starts and reliable play back of films. Before this Mark would introduce the films, then duck behind the curtain and play the film on VHS or DVD.
The 2011 festival was huge as none of the ski resorts had snow so everyone flocked to the event for the films and speakers. The Adventure Film School was created and an Adventure Film Editing Competition trialled.
The decennial festival in 2012 was also the biggest at six days long with additional venues in Wanaka (Ruby’s and Cinema Paradiso) and a new venue in Queenstown (Queenstown Memorial Centre). This was also a turning point in the event’s history. The Festival was becoming more and more work to organise. It wasn’t something Mark could organise on his weekends and in his spare time. The Queenstown Lakes District Council also said they could not continue to supply the venue FOC unless the Festival was turned into a Charitable Trust. Which in turn would create even more work. It was decision time, formalise the event, or shut it down…..
By the time the 2013 Festival opened an un-paid Board of Trustees was signed in, a Trust Deed written and approved, guidelines developed and non-profit status established. The Board retained Mark Sedon on as Festival Director. Later in 2013 the NZ Mountain Film Festival Chartable Trust was approved and registered as an official charity (registration #CC49344).
The Trust is currently trying to develop a group of Patrons, Friends and Benefactors who make a tax deductible donation to the Trust (see here). Additional funds are also raised through funding agencies and gaming trusts.
The event established its formula of five days of activities in Wanaka, one in Cromwell and two in Queenstown with an average attendance of around 3000 people. Around $3,000 – $4,000 is raised at the charity auction annually to give away through the Trust’s grant scheme.
The Trust continues to develop and run free youth programmes and Central Otago youth are often bussed into Wanaka (at the Trust’s expense) to attend free and inspirational shows. Youth scholarship positions are offered on the Adventure Film School and community educational workshops are offered.
In 2015 the inaugural NZ Mountain Book Festival was added to the programme and a book competition added in 2016. Free family shows and a national free school programme was also added as the Trust looks for ways to keep Kiwis active in the outdoors and with the environment.
Looking to the Future.
The Trust is dedicated to keeping the Festival as a grass roots event. Small intimate shows and a friendly social atmosphere. It’s mandate is to keep the shows as inexpensive as possible, while putting on world class events. They aim to inspire people to dream big and take on new challenges suitable to their physical ability.
The NZ Mountain Film & Book Festival uses the power of film, art, spoken word and literature to inspire audiences to be more active while creating a better world.