Ata Whenua- Shadowlands

Last updated by Darren on 03 July 2009

Ata Whenua- Shadowlands is a nonverbal film featuring the landscapes of New Zealand.  Shot in the south west corner of New Zealand, known as Fiordland.  Ata Whenua contains images of the landscapes and animals of the region, through a range of seasons and extremes.  The images are beautiful, crystal clear, and set to an impressive soundtrack.

Ata Whenua was created to bring to viewers a rare glimpse of the wilderness of the Fiordland National Park.  Few people get to see this beautiful but remote national park.  The film takes you on a journey, showing you sights you would never normally see.

The images from Ata Whenua are stunning. The moody dawn shots of misty fiords, shot from a helicopter as it glides along show a region of the world few have seen or will visit.  Many scenes are shot above the cloud base, giving a lovely effect that can be seen in other films on this website.  The use of natural light in Ata Whenua is out standing.  The glow of the dawn sun reflecting on the show covered mountains is just amazing.

There are several time-lapse scenes, with the clouds whisping over and around the mountainsides. The film has clearly taken time to shoot.  As well as the snow covered landscapes, the sun glistens off the summer still lakes and rivers.  At ground level, amongst the forests, we see a world of green vegetation, untouched my human hand.  The animals of Fiordland are shown close-up and from a distance.  We also see rock climbers tackling the sheer sides of the regions mountains.

The Name, Ata Whenua, is a Maori term, used to describe the tortuous terrain of the Fiordland region. 

Fiordland National Park

Fiordland, the south west region of New Zealand, is 1.2 million hectares of virgin rainforest.  14 fiords carve their way into over 200 kilometres of coastline.  Sheer granite mountains rise from the sea level to over 2700 metres.  In 1986 the Fiordland National Park was awarded World Heritage Status.

Fiordland Cinema

Ata Whenua is shown daily in the Fiordland Cinema, in Te Anau, New Zealand. The cinema was especially constructed to show the film.  The cinema has a large curved screen and Dolby surround sound.  All films are projected in 35mm.

The People

Ata Whenua was directed by Dave Comer, who has lived in the region for more than two decades.  Dave worked as a location scout on the Lord of The Rings movies. The film, and the cinema, were made possible by helicopter pilot Kim Hollows. With over 25 years of experience of flying in the region, it had long been his dream to bring the region to the big screen.


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  • Execute Producer - Kim Hollows
  • Director - Dave Comer
  • Producer - Peta Carey
  • Original Music & Sound Design - Murray Burns
  • Directors of Photography Mike Single & Alun Bollinger
  • HD Cinegyro Operator/Technician - Peter Thompson
  • 32 minutes
  • Shot on 35mm and HD digital format
  • Shot over 12 months

have just been watching South, beautiful production, and saw the episode with Kim and his awesome film...sadly, his dvd was not done any can i purchase that dvd and have it sent to me...regards chris

Hi Chris, Glad you enjoyed the episode of South featuring us away down here in Te Anau. "Ata Whenua" can be purchased directly from the cinema website Thanks for looking us up...Enjoy!

where can i purchase this?

Oh good heavens, Shadowlands. I've seen this movie several times. If you ever have a chance to see it, go and see it in the theater in Te Anau, it will leave you gasping. The matinee showing at 9:00 a.m. is half price if you're a cheepie like me :-).

I have spent fifteen months over four trips to New Zealand. Fiordlands, which the indigenous people called Ata Whenua or Shadowland, was the focus of the trips. Once you've been there, you'll understand why it's called Shadowlands. Deep, glacial cut fiords where the sun doesn't reach until many hours after sunrise. 1000 meter (3300 feet) ascents where you will cover more ground vertically than horizontally. The area gets over 8 meters(320 inches) of rain annually and is the greenest area I've ever seen. The entire landscape was shaped by water, it's everywhere. Rivers flow everywhere, the water is underfoot and often falling from the sky. I've said that if I had a week left to live, 3-4 of those days would be in the Shadowlands.

The film is very heavy on fly-overs, it does have some scenes on the ground but the majority is from the air, it was made by group that runs a helicopter service, so this isn't surprising. The film does a good job of showing the beauty and diversity of a land this is heartbreakingly beautiful and stunningly diverse. The cinematography is excellent, the music haunting, and the colors dazzling. There are a few shots of flying over and down waterfalls that are unforgettable and they really give you a sense of the space and topography of the land, this isn't a 2-D film, it's 3-D with a heavy emphasis on that third dimension.

I also like how they focus on the lesser known regions of the park. It's a large park and why show Milford Sound? Anyone who has been to New Zealand has seen hundreds of photos of it, show something that few people see. It interesting that there are several areas I have been to (such as Martin's Beach, top row fourth from right, three days of walking to get there) and then see them from the air. When you see this film, notice the amount of water that's in it, water is everywhere and this is not by chance or's the way it is, that's Fiordlands. There are scenes of waterfalls where you can actually see individual drops of water, now that's spectacular. The choices of scenery is in general quite good and well done.

I have a few nits with the film. I would prefer they don't show non-native animals such as deer and would have shown the fantails, bush robins, kakas, or wood pigeons (no, nothing like a city pigeon) or at least focused more on the Kakapo (a very rare parrot). To me, watching a fantail flit around the branches is more fiordlands than an introduced mammal. The scene where they show helicopters seems tacked on. They included humans to show scale which is fine with the boat and climbing scenes, but the helicopters introduce an element of technology that is discordant and out of place. Look at the top row, third from right picture. That mossy forest is so much of what makes the area special. I've seen mountains lots of places but few places are as mossy and green as this. There is a magical feeling that one gets when going through these mossy cathedrals. I think they should have paid more attention to these mossy areas and give short too little attention to the specialness of the Fiordlands bush. This is one area where their aerial background isn't an advantage. That said, I've probably given too much attention to what I feel are shortcomings. This film is absolutely unbelievable. It's a don't miss for people who are looking at this website.

Like many people who live in the area, I have a special passion for Ata Whenua and the passion of the people making it shows,er, shines through.

I have a website dedicated to tramping (backpacking) in Fiordlands and I'm going to do a bit of shameless promotion :-). Here are a few links to show a bit more on the area if you would like to see a bit more. (four links to Dusky and George tracks in Fiordlands) (writeup on a track through heart of Shadowlands) (photographs of Fiordlands as I know it).

This movie is available on DVD but it's truly one that deserves to be seen in the theater. There are many movies, including ones on this website that are fine on the small screen, this movie most emphatically isn't one of them. I'm a good friend of the owner of a backpacker's in Te Anau, the town where the theater is located, who lets his guest borrow videos. He contends that you must see this in the cinema to get the full effect and doesn't lend out Ata Whenua. I agree with him on this.


P.S. See the thumbnail in the lower left of the boat? That backpacker owner I refer to, well, as the 'copter flies over, he's the guy in the boat!

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