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May 2022 Issue
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Twenty years of mountain films

Mark Sedon is celebrating 20 years running the Mountain Film Festival.

NZ Mountain Film & Book Festival director Mark Sedon looks back on the event’s 20-year history ahead of this year’s festival, which kicks off in Wānaka (and online) on June 24.

What led to the first festival in 2002?

I went to a film festival in Australia’s Blue Mountains and felt like Wānaka needed an event like that to celebrate the outdoors and the mountains. We had about 12 speakers for the first festival and they were all giving slideshows, but one speaker’s flight got cancelled so he couldn’t attend and we ended up putting a film on to fill the gap. That’s what gave me the idea of making it more of a film festival because it looked so good on the big screen.

Since then you’ve added a book competition and online festival.

The book competition is in its seventh year. It was a way to branch out and attract a different group of people to the festival, and support and encourage people to buy and read books. The online festival started two years ago when Covid hit and we needed a back-up plan if we couldn’t have the event. People enjoyed going online because not everyone has time to come to Wānaka or to see all the shows.  We got so much positive feedback from the online one that we’ve kept doing it.

What are your picks for this year’s festival?

This year we’re planning 15 shows in Wānaka, eight in Queenstown and expecting about 4500 to 5000 visitors over nine days. We’re hoping the 100-person event limit will be lifted by June, but we’ve got plans in place for the festival to continue if not. We’re going to cherry-pick the best films we’ve had over the last 20 years and we’ll show those on the last night. From what I’ve seen so far, there’s also going to be some pretty amazing books involved. There are already 45 entries in the book competition. We usually get about 25.

What are some of the stand-out moments for you from the past 20 years?

One of the big ones for us is changing it from a small event that my wife Jo and I owned into a festival that is run by a charitable trust. What’s really cool these days is we give money away to three different groups – for youth to do some adventure skills training, environmental projects and support for people with disabilities to get into the outdoors. Another cool thing we do is bus in high school kids from all over Otago and put on a free show in Wānaka. We get 300 to 400 kids in here with a speaker and a bunch of films, and encourage the future adventurers of New Zealand to get out there and do stuff safely.

What about the festival are you most proud of?

Apart from the charity work, it would be bringing some super famous people from around the world to little old Wānaka and Queenstown. People like Alex Honnold from the film Free Solo, when he climbed El Capitan without a rope. We’ve had some of the world’s most influential and groundbreaking adventurers come to New Zealand to give talks. We’ve also run a film school in conjunction with the festival since 2011, and we’ve had these big prizes for New Zealand-made films, and it really seems like New Zealand filmmaking has come on in leaps and bounds.

What do you see the festival of 2042 looking like?

I’d like to think there would be a little bit of growth, maybe a bigger venue that we can have a few more people in, but retaining the grassroots feel of the festival where people come to meet, chat and get motivated to go on adventures.