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.”
As befits the age we’re living in, Loading Docs is a true multi-platform media project, with these films available via TV on demand, online, and also in cinemas, with five of this year’s films selected to run at the NZ Film Festival.
You can watch all ten of this year’s crop in little over half an hour, and you really should. There isn’t a dud among them.
In Dancing In The Dark, a former farm-boy builds his own battery-powered strobing ‘disco superhero’ jumpsuit and hits Auckland’s K Road at night, intent on breaking the rules at a “no lights, no lycra” dance gig in Grey Lynn.
Typhoon, earthquake, drought and flood. In Kasuda, a Japanese winemaker considers the fragility of life when a cyclone threatens his vineyard. “Nature wanted to turn this land back into forest,” he says, striding between the vines under a glowering black sky. Now nature wants to trash his entire grape crop.
You may think differently about autism after meeting Tihei, a rapper who freestyles his life story over fat beats at the Otara Markets, while Madness Made Me sees former Mental Health Commissioner Mary O’Hagan searching for evidence of her strength and resiliance in the medical notes written during her five years in psychiatric hospitals.
Flying turtles. Dancing fish. Horse-headed humans. Old people who forget to turn out the lights. Fantasy Cave charts the creation of a Dannevirke wonderland for kids, built by those at the other end of their lifespan.
In Gina, a woman robbed of her sight, hearing and voice by a rare genetic disorder uses subtitles to tell you more in three minutes than you’ve heard in the entire last decade of the right-to-die debate. There’s no time here for sentimentality, religious dogma or political posturing, just a woman in constant pain and a compassionate camera crew. Using a touch alphabet, the filmmaker asks “What would you say to people opposed to voluntary euthanasia?” Gina replies: “Swap places with me.”
All of these films, in less time than it takes you to go to the loo, have told a local story worth telling, honing in on a moment, a character, a place, an obsession.
“With a short film that really works, you’re taken on a very fast emotional journey,” says Parnell. “Really, Loading Docs is a way of turning people’s short attention spans to our advantage. This is the world we live in now. It’s a highly competitive marketplace if you’ve got a story to tell, and to make your work stand out, you have to keep it short and have a clear idea of what you’re doing. There are so many emerging platforms for short films online these days, and we thought more New Zealanders needed to be amongst that.”