In a Flash remembers the tragic end to an Elim school trip

by Fiona Rae / 30 June, 2018
In a Flash, Sunday.

In a Flash, Sunday.

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The new season of Sunday Theatre tackles local stories starting with In a Flash, the story of an Elim school trip that ended in catastrophe. 

If it’s the middle of winter, not only is it Matariki, but also it’s Sunday Theatre season. This year’s series of local dramatisations funded by NZ On Air is a mix of tragedy and triumph, starting with In a Flash (TVNZ 1, July 1, 8.30pm), the story of an outdoor education trip that became a catastrophe.

In 2008, a group of students from Elim Christian College in Auckland were caught in a flash flood in the Mangatepopo Gorge in Tongariro National Park. The group had been climbing up the gorge, but when the water level started rising, their instructor made the decision to go back. Six students and their teacher were swept to their deaths.

It’s a tough watch when you know what’s coming. The kids take a leap of faith into the raging river in the hope that they will be caught around a bend. The film takes care to honour the lost.

It later emerged that one of the issues was the dryness of the land; instead of soaking up the rain that had been falling, it ran off into the gorge. Another was whether staff at the Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuits Centre received a follow-up fax from MetService that forecast flooding.

The feature-length dramatisation has been written by John Banas, who is no stranger to turning true events into television: his résumé includes Siege, Pike River, The Monster of Mangatiti and Dear Murderer. The cast includes Emma Fenton (Filthy Rich) as Jodie Sullivan, the instructor who made the fatal call to go into the gorge, and Fraser Brown (Field Punishment No 1, among many) as her boss.

As for the other docudramas, it’s almost surprising that it has taken this long to get to the infamous case of the teenage dominatrix, the cricket umpire and Huka Falls. Mistress, Mercy: The Renee Chignell Story will feature interviews with the woman who was tried three times for the murder of Peter Plumley-Walker in 1989. The film will star 800 Words’ Manon Blackman, Xavier Horan and Joel Tobeck.

The Teina Pora story is also one that should be told. In Dark Places is directed by Michael Bennett, who wrote the book about Pora and the former policeman who fought for his release, Tim McKinnel. Pora will be played by newcomer Richard Te Are, who was nabbed straight out of Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School. Craig Hall will play McKinnel.

Finally, for a bit of light relief, Kiwi tells the story of the racehorse that came from nowhere to win the Melbourne Cup in 1983.

This article was first published in the June 30, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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