Where are the stories that cut to the chase? How can an impatient soul like me – a man who favours the short story over every other literary artform – find fresh and moving new narratives I can dip into in less time than it takes to brew a good cup of tea?
Joe and Fay Gock fled as child refugees from war-torn China during the occupation of large parts of the country by Japan’s brutal army.
Nobody could have guessed when New Zealand took them in the part they would play in saving our national root vegetable.
When Black Rot threatened to obliterate the kumara industry in the 1950s, the Gocks gifted their disease-resistant strain to the nation, and refused to take a penny for it.
Pukekohe film-maker Joe Hitchcock’s latest work is very close to his heart.
The short documentary Blood Sugar premieres in New Zealand this week and stars his four-year-old daughter, Dahlia.
Dahlia is scared of needles, but has type one diabetes and needs insulin injected several times a day.
Hitchcock said New Zealand currently had one of the highest rates of paediatric diabetes in the world, and numbers were estimated to be growing at almost 10 per cent annually.
The cause is not yet understood.
Blood Sugar was partially funded by the Loading Docs initiative, with support from the New Zealand Film Commission and NZ On Air, as well as 53 donors who contributed to a crowd funding campaign.
In some ways, it was just another adventure.
Neil and Byron, mountaineering mates for 25 years, were parked up in Arthur’s Pass. Bantering in the autumn light, they readied their gear to the sound of music – a tradition to pump them up before heading into the wilderness.
In other ways, the friends were breaking new ground. It was the first time they’d tramped together since Byron, a father of three, came out as a woman.
Byron Skinner, a 51-year-old orderly at Christchurch Public Hospital, had felt she was a female since childhood. It took her 43 years to articulate this to those around her.
I was stunned, delighted, knocked out. More importantly, I was moved. At one point I reluctantly tore myself away from the screen, dashing outside to haul in the washing during an afternoon sun-shower, but my cheeks were already wet before I made it out the door. A film called Gina had, in three short minutes, broken my heart.
Innovative local film project Loading Docs was tailor-made for a big sook like me. Here, in glorious hi-def video, are fellow New Zealanders telling stories packed with emotion. The catch? They have just three minutes to do so.
The concept is simple. Each year, ten teams of promising documentary makers are mentored while they make a short doco, with funding from the NZ Film Commission and NZ On Air. The filmmakers have to pitch, write and develop the story, shoot and edit it, and crowd-fund some of the money themselves. But most of all, they have to learn to cut to the chase.
These are docos that capture your attention, make a few strong points, then they’re gone. Thank you and good night. Roll credits. Their brevity is extraordinary, given their impact. It is like comparing the overheated waffle of this column with an elegant haiku. This is storytelling with all excess baggage stripped away, which is an inspiration to a long-winded soul like me.
“The project has a strong professional development focus,” says Julia Parnell, an award-winning doco maker who executive produces the series alongside AUT media academic Anna Jackson. “It makes filmmakers really hone down what they want to say. Three minutes is long enough to use innovative cinematic techniques and deliver a strong message, but short enough that people will watch them and pick up that message. That time constraint makes a filmmaker get straight to the heart of their story, and then later on, they can take what they’ve learned into making longer films.”
Matt Henley first came across the cave as a 10-year-old and has returned with co-producer Michelle Savill to create the short documentary.
And the filmmakers hope their work will inspire someone to restore the 86-year-old cinema in the Auckland suburb of Mt Eden.