COVID-19: Wanaka, Queenstown host first major public events since lockdown as NZ Mountain Film Festival opens

Wanaka and Queenstown are set to host their first major public events since New Zealand's COVID-19 lockdown.

The New Zealand Mountain Film Festival opens on Friday night, in both towns on the big screen.

And this year the action will also be beaming out nationwide. With international travel off-limits, the Mountain Film Festival's a chance for an armchair vacation.

"A lot of the festival fans and people who enjoy the event aren't actually adventurers themselves," festival director Mark Sedon told Newshub.

The end of COVID-19 crowd restrictions means audiences can watch films together on the big screen at four venues across Wanaka and Queenstown.

And for the first time, Kiwis can view from home on their laptop or smart TV - an expansion plan hatched during the lockdown.

"The COVID crisis hasn't affected the number of films we've had in this year and it actually helped the filmmakers," Sedon said. "In the lockdown, they finished off their films." 

Fifty-four films will screen at the festival - nine world premieres and 13 New Zealand-made movies. Wanaka director Richard Sidey is taking the top award.

His film is about five paragliding friends from central Otago taking on the challenge of climbing Mt Kilimanjaro and then paragliding off the top.

"So my film's called The KFC, which actually stands for Kilimanjaro Financial Crisis, which was really just a fun play on the fact that our trip was really expensive," Sidey told Newshub.

"Paragliding in the remote mountains of Tanzania was quite an experience. 

"We were flying in places where no one had ever flown before."

It's the highest free-standing mountain in the world, so the altitude from the top to the bottom is the biggest possible glide on the planet people can do.

"When you landed, within minutes you'd have 2-300 people surrounding you - just fascinated about this person that came out of the sky," Sidey said.