August 7, 2016 Loading Docs

Loading Docs: New Zealand documentaries cut to the chase

Stuff+logoAll around us, fellow New Zealanders are telling stories. In books and films, on TV, via social media, on the phone, beside you on the bus – there’s no end of incessant yapping via every channel available.We live in a world drenched with narrative, much of it confusing, contradictory, scary, unintentionally hilarious. Hot air, blather, loose-lipped jabbering –  this is the backdrop to our lives, and there’s no escaping the fact that many of the tales we tell each other are puffed up with unnecessary padding.

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- Chinese lovebirds who saved the kumara.

 Joe and Fay Gock- Chinese lovebirds who saved the kumara.

Online, that’s where. Now in its third year, innovative local film project Loading Docs was tailor-made for short attention spans like mine.

Here, in glorious hi-def video, are fellow New Zealanders telling important stories packed with emotion. The catch? They have just 180 seconds to do so.

Millionaire turned shoeshine man, Larry Woods.

 Millionaire turned shoeshine man, Larry Woods.
The concept is simple. Each year, 10 crews of promising documentary makers are mentored while they strap together 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.

And by “short doco”, I mean “really short”. Three minutes, to be exact. In about the same time as it took me to lose my virginity, each documentary team must capture the viewer’s attention, introduce characters, invoke a strong sense of place, engage emotions, give a feeling of forward momentum and whack home a few pointy ideas like nails into wood.

To a director like Peter Jackson, who’s become painfully long-winded with age and now routinely makes us trudge through three movies where one might do, a three-minute time frame might seem downright impossible.

But for an aspiring filmmaker still learning their chops, what better professional development can you have than this: a format that forces you to eliminate waffle, clarify ideas, make every shot count?

The theme this year was Change, and the film-makers have explored this concept in a wide variety of ways, from tales of dramatic personal transformation to more partisan pieces that ponder the real world consequences of current social, political and environmental policy.

The finished docos went online this week, and you can see them all at and TVNZ On Demand. I encourage you to have a gander. You can watch all 10 of this year’s offerings in half-an-hour, and you should. You won’t be disappointed.

A still from animated short film, Water For Gold.

 A still from animated short film, Water For Gold.
Here are films that do not muck around, honing in fast on a key issue, a telling moment, an abiding obsession, a turning point in someone’s life, and illuminating their subject with the bright quick clarity of a flashbulb.

In Imagine The World Is Ending, two teenage poets do just that, striding around their everyday environment blowing off steam, rapping to camera about the Apocalypse, while scenes of natural beauty and man-made folly are laced together via suitably hectic jump-cuts behind them.

The quietly moving Same But Different looks at the difficult changes that descend upon a close, blokey friendship when one of the blokes decides to transition into a sheila.

Street Smart gives an insider’s view of the invisibility that comes with homelessness, while The Colourist looks at the lost art of photo tinting by hand.

Why might a former multi-millionaire businessman decide to become a shoeshine man, given that he could have bought a rundown bedsit in Kingsland with all that cash instead and creamed it on the capital gain? The Impeccable Larry Woods scatters a few clues.

Clang! Bash! Wallop! Bludgeon examines full contact medieval combat in all its mace-splintering glory, with assorted part-time knights bolting on steel armour and going for broke with swords and poleaxes in the green and pleasant fields of the Taranaki.

Sweet cake. Sharp syringes. Bright red blood. Four-year-old Dahlia personalises NZ’s sky-high childhood diabetes stats in Blood Sugar. “When you die, you don’t do anything,” she quite rightly observes. “But when you’re alive, you play.”

In Aka’ōu: Tātatau in the Cook Islands, we meet an Englishman with cystic fibrosis. He has devoted his dying years to mastering the ancient Polynesian art of hand-tool tattooing and needs to find an apprentice to pass on his knowledge, before his time runs out.

With narration from legal professor Jane Kelsey, Water For Gold explains how exploitative international trade treaties are threatening our natural resources and our sovereignty, using gorgeous stop-motion animation to personalise dense legal concepts. Anyone who remains supportive of the TPPA agreement may think again after spending three minutes with this one.

How Mr and Mrs Gock Saved the Kumara introduces us to two immigrant Chinese lovebirds – both now 86 – who met on K Road in 1953, moved into an old barn in Mangere and set about changing the way NZ farmed our most iconic indigenous crop.

These last two are so good, they were also selected for the NZ Film Festival, but why wait to see them on the big screen? You can watch them both right now, at home, in less time than it takes to boil an egg.

By Grant Smithies