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Student Filmmaker Tells Milford Road’s Story In New Documentary

A New Zealand Broadcasting School (NZBS) student’s documentary has been nominated for two categories in the Oscar-qualifying Doc Edge Film Festival. ‘The Milford Road’ is up for the Best NZ Short Film category as well as the Best Student Documentary.

Producer Cole Yeoman made the film as a project in his second year at the School. The 13-minute documentary follows the unique road crew that maintain State Highway 94 between Milford Sound and Te Anau. Yeoman filmed the crew over several days as they worked in vehicles and helicopters, revealing a story of the daily challenges of avalanches, rockfalls, volatile weather, and extreme remoteness among the powerful beauty of Fiordland.

Yeoman says he spent a lot of time around Fiordland as a kid on family trips. When it came time to choose a subject for his final NZBS project, maintaining the road and appreciating the natural beauty of the region felt like a story that he "wanted to share with a larger audience."

Requests by other filmmakers to tell the story of the Milford Road crew had been declined, so Yeoman was "a little surprised" that he was allowed make the film. "I guess because I am a student, they wanted to help me out," he says.

Now on work placement at Māori Television in Auckland as an Operations Assistant, Yeoman works on the studio floor, in the gear room, and with the cameras. He felt well-prepared for the job from his two years in NZBS’ Screen Production course. "I was kind of reassured," he says, "by how much learning I've done - I actually know quite a lot of relevant stuff. So, I can jump in and help out where I’m needed. I’d already done a lot of work with cameras - I’ve picked up a lot of skills without even realising it."

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He said the job of making the documentary alone, where he dealt with every aspect of the planning, filming, and editing, was a "massive challenge. It was a very big workload, with some late nights and a couple of all-nighters of editing in the lead up to the deadline."

Yeoman says one of the hardest parts is having to decide what to leave in and what to edit out without anyone else to help make those decisions. "Because I filmed a lot of content, there was so much ‘gold’ that didn’t make the final cut. That really sucked."

Ara Tutor Masen Ma said that the project "was an impressive solo effort that demonstrated Cole’s independence, resourcefulness, and cinematography skills to full effect. Successful documentary filmmakers take us on a journey, and Cole takes his audience along the Milford Road, its stunning landscapes and behind the scenes of the important work that goes into maintaining it."

Another aspect of making ‘The Milford Road’ for Yeoman was balancing how to do justice to the film in an ethical way. Not long after the Doc Edge Festival began, Yeoman and other filmmakers raised the issue of it being funded in part by the Israel Embassy, issuing this press release on Tuesday.

"As a filmmaker I think it's critical to address not just what stories we tell, but how we tell them, including what we endorse and normalise with our funding. To accept funding from an apartheid regime is completely unacceptable, particularly in Aotearoa where we are still trying to decolonise our cultural and art spaces. To me, that kind of issue absolutely needs to be addressed," he says.

Book tickets for the online viewing of ‘The Milford Road’ here.

© Scoop Media

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