Private Project

Te Ara - The Path

Holly Beckham (Ngāpuhi) is on a mission to be the first Māori woman to scale Everest. She has no alpine experience, but she has survived the depths of addiction and is climbing a mountain to recovery.

Back in 1988, New Zealand's Lydia Bradey, ONZM, was the first woman to climb Everest without supplemental oxygen. But instead of accolades, she became the subject of public bullying and misinformation, as people challenged her claims.

Together these two 'wāhine toa' (warrior women) will venture into New Zealand's mountains, developing a deep partnership of trust, honesty and grit as they attempt to summit Holly's first peak, the iconic Tititea, Mt Aspiring.

  • Alexis Smith
    Unbreakable, The Collective, High School, Edgewalkers
  • Alex Reed
    Ms. Information, Mister Organ, The Girl On The Bridge, O’Town Dreaming,
  • Spencer Stoner
    The Story of Rugby, Go South, Dark Tourist, Beneath New Zealand II, Modern Dinosaurs
  • Holly Beckham
    Key Cast
  • Lydia Bradey
    Key Cast
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature
  • Genres:
    Observational Documentary, Adventure
  • Runtime:
    48 minutes 42 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    July 13, 2023
  • Production Budget:
    350 NZD
  • Country of Origin:
    New Zealand
  • Country of Filming:
    New Zealand
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • NZ Mountain Film and Book Festival
    New Zealand
    June 25, 2023
    World Premiere
    Special Jury Award
  • NZ Mountain Film and Book Festival
    New Zealand
    June 25, 2023
    World Premiere
    People's Choice Award
  • Banff Centre Mountain Film and Book Festival
    November 4, 2023
    North American Premiere
  • Kendal Mountain Festival
    United Kingdom
    November 16, 2023
    European Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Film Fest International Edinburgh
    United Kingdom
    February 8, 2024
    Scottish Premiere
    Official Selection
Distribution Information
  • Stuff
    Country: Worldwide
    Rights: Internet
Director Biography - Alexis Smith

Alexis Smith is a multi-award winning director of factual documentaries. Born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland (1990), she studied science at university (with honours in Zoology) and started her career working in the Amazon rainforest, Western Australia and Madagascar doing biodiversity research and making conservation films. She combined this experience with her affinity for art, science, people and stories and fulfilled her dream of working at the BBC in 2014. Rising through the ranks and filming across Europe and the USA, she worked on primetime specialist factual series and observational documentaries for worldwide broadcast. These high-profile productions received accolades like an RTS Scotland Award and a BAFTA Scotland nomination.

Since moving to New Zealand in 2018, Alexis has directed and produced documentaries for major platforms locally and internationally, including TVNZ, Three, RNZ, Re:, Stuff, Māori TV, Channel 5, PBS and BBC. Her music docuseries ‘The Collective’ (Credit: Director, 2021) won the Award of Merit at IndieFest and was a finalist at NZ Web Fest. Her debut feature documentary ‘Te Ara - The Path’ (Credit: Director, 2023) won the Special Jury Award and the People’s Choice Award at NZ Mountain Film Festival where it premiered and is gaining critical acclaim in international film festivals. Alexis’ ambition is to create feature-length documentaries for theatrical and festival release that push boundaries artistically, give voices to underrepresented groups and create positive, progressive ripples in the zeitgeist.

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Director Statement

Our goal was to make an original, cinematic and gripping adventure documentary that would inspire audiences and stand out from the norm. We brought the film’s focus to relationship and gave it an artistic visual treatment, with multiple thematic layers to give depth, including trust, identity, belonging, overcoming trauma and the power of self-belief. Although this film is empowering for women, it’s not a ‘chick flick’ and is instead intended to appeal to audiences of all ages and genders with its relatable themes and gritty action - echoing Lydia’s values that ‘mountaineering is for everyone’. However, it inevitably stands out against the male-saturated industry of mountaineering films. Holly and Lydia have such rich characters in real life, I wanted to make space for this in the film by balancing their playful humour with the heavier discussions around addiction, suicide and betrayal – which took some careful crafting in the edit. This is further echoed in the sound design, using electronic music to represented Lydia’s ‘forever young’ persona, being careful that it could also carry the emotional threads, as well as tension during moments of real mountain danger.

The third character in the film is the mountain. She speaks through the sound of rumbling wind and long-held static wides. It is clear the mountain is symbolic of Holly’s recovery from addiction - the challenge of putting one foot in front of the other to get to the top. However, the mountain also represents Holly’s ancestors – which reflects the traditional beliefs of Māori people. On her journey of rediscovering who she is after addiction, Holly’s ancestors guide her back to her Māori identity – this spiritual calling is heard through the sounds of the traditional conch shell and indigenous toning (recorded by our Māori composer). This is particularly poignant in the context of New Zealand, where Māori voices have been repressed for generations after colonization and there is now a strong call for reclamation. So this is a vital, timely and vulnerable story that helps drive this movement in the right direction.

As a novice climber but experienced documentary filmmaker, I was being trained in mountaineering behind the camera while also directing the film – a lot to juggle on the deadly glacial slopes! Meanwhile, our incredible mountaineering DOP was hanging off cliffs and wedged between crevasse walls to get the perfect shot. Our safety depended on the expertise of our world-class mountain guides and the focus and determination of each member of the crew to keep going and keep safe; in these ‘consequential environments’, put a foot wrong and you pay with your life. We were also at the mercy of the weather, as climbing in the perfect weather window is vital for safety – we were very fortunate to make it up Tititea Mt Aspiring. The making of the film was as equally terrifying as it was phenomenal. An experience we are all privileged to have been part of and one I’m sure none of us will forget.

This was originally commissioned by NZ On Air and Tupiki Trust as a 4x10min web series for Stuff's online platform, where it is available online now for New Zealand audiences. This was a special film for everyone involved. The entire crew went above and beyond the normal call of duty because we all believed in the story and the message that Holly and Lydia had to share with the world – so much so that it surpassed our expectations of its limited budget and we recut it into a feature documentary for festival release.

We so often see films of people who have already ‘made it’, but here we see a film of Holly at the beginning of her personal transformation and Lydia nearing the end, stepping forth on their stunning intergenerational voyage. Now they are setting their sights on Everest in 2025 – Lydia’s swansong and Holly’s goal of becoming the first Māori woman to summit. Our hope is that ‘Te Ara – The Path’ inspires viewers around the world with its many messages, like ‘he ara anō’ (there is another way) and the power of big nature to help us heal.