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NZ Update #7: NZ Women-Directed Docos at the #NZIFF

Sunday, July 2, 2017

I'm waiting (always) for more feature documentaries by *and* about women from Aotearoa New Zealand. Coming soon I hope.

And some of you will read this and wonder about docos by and about Māori women and by and about indigenous women of other parts of the Pacific; and by and about women from our immigrant communities. 'Where are they?' you might ask. I wonder, too. Most years.

And now, when I wonder, I reflect on a recent and brilliant essay, Poutokomanawa – The Heartpost, by award-winning fiction writer, essayist and teacher Tina Makereti. There, she writes about her writing students–

In a class of young middle class+ Pākehā students (e.g. the majority university classes) there are many clever, witty, talented, politically astute and very pleasant people. Some of them are beautiful writers. Educationally, they have always been surrounded by writers, theorists and educationalists with the same socio-cultural capital as them. Few of them have stories to tell. Yet.

In a class of Māori / Pasifika / immigrant students (not so many middle class, not so many young) there are many clever, witty, talented, politically astute and very pleasant people. Some of them are beautiful writers. Few of them have ever had the opportunity to read writing from their own communities. Few of them have ever had the opportunity to write from or about their own communities. Yet, I struggle to remember a single one that didn’t have a compelling story to tell.We know we don’t have a strong record in publications, yet we do have the talent to produce those publications. And look what happens when that talent finds publication. Gina Cole’s Best First Book Prize for Black Ice Matter is just one recent example.

One of our issues is pure socioeconomics. Māori & Pasifika families are generally larger and more communal and frankly, poorer... I have encountered many students for whom the clash between family commitments and the desire to write, or even just study, was insurmountable. I don’t think most Pākehā writers will have ever encountered the kinds of pressures I’m talking about. I think we need a fund that takes a writer through from promising early stages to completed single author publication, and I think that’s a process that takes three to five years. If we are serious about changing [that record of publication], we need to get people up that last step, where you need serious time, but you also have to pay the bills.

I believe that the issues are the same for Māori & Pasifika women filmmakers and that's partly why their work is missing from this list. (And it's well worth reading the whole beautiful essay.)
In the meantime, drumroll!!!!!, here are the local women's docos screened at the 2017 New Zealand International Film Festival, listed in director alphabetical order or, in one case, by the writer. Book here!

Note, some of these may not be shown in your city when the festival tours; and others may be added that we won't see in Wellington. And thanks to NZonScreen for their great info about each director, which I've linked to, in case you want to know more.

Kobi, directed, produced and photographed by Andrea Bosshard and Shane Loader



Andrea Bosshard's portrait of her father Kobi Bosshard, widely regarded as the grandfather of contemporary New Zealand jewellery, explores his philosophy of life and work and is described as 'warm and humorous'. It looks as though it's beautiful, too.


If you enjoyed Andrea's award-winning narrative feature The Great Maiden's Blush (her third) last year, here's your chance to see how she – as an artist – approaches her family history; her mother Patricia is also part of the film.

Kim Dotcom: Caught in the Web, directed by Annie Goldson


Just over five years ago, 76 officers swarmed upon the Kim Dotcom's mansion north of Auckland and arrested him. This doco sets out the battle between Dotcom and the US Government and entertainment industry, and 'goes to the heart of ownership, privacy and piracy in the digital age'.



(Already screened at SXSW and Hot Docs)

No Ordinary Sheila screenplay Christine Dann, director Hugh Macdonald


Another 'family' film: Sheila Natusch is Hugh Macdonald's cousin. And what a cousin to have! Natusch (born Traill, on Rakiura, Stewart Island) is a nonagenarian adventurer, natural historian, illustrator and writer.


Hers is a 'radiant, defiant and unconventional story', and the film features historic footage from the 30s and 40s, glimpses into life as one of few female students at Otago University, and covers Sheila’s friendship with Janet Frame.

My Year With Helen, directed and produced by Gaylene Preston



Veteran filmmaker Gaylene Preston accompanied former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark over the year that included her campaign to become the United Nations' new secretary general, when she hit a glass ceiling. What a year that must have been for these two warrior women.



One of the festival's 'Big Nights', with (as at all these doco screenings, in Wellington at least) the director in attendance for a Q&A. But without Helen Clark who, according to one report, will be on a long-planned trip on the trans-Siberian Railway.

(Already screened at the Sydney Film Festival)

Where There is Life, directed and produced by Gwen Isaacs




This observational documentary is also a 'family' film. It was shot over the four years that followed Margaret Lee's diagnosis with motor neurone disease, when her husband Stephen Lee chose to be Margaret's full-time carer and the focus of the family shifted from raising a young daughter to providing palliative care to the wife and mother.


A mother herself, the director was initially interested in providing a visual memory for Margaret’s then 10-year-old daughter, Imogen. But quickly, she learned that Margaret’s approach to dying was unconventional.

And, let's celebrate Gwen herself, here filming Where There is Life!



TEAM TIBET: Home Away From Home, directed and produced by Robin Greenberg


Robin filmed this account of Tibetan culture-in-exile over 22 years, a story told through the experience and advocacy of Thuten Kesang, New Zealand’s first Tibetan refugee. His father sent him to school in India in 1954, where he was raised by Scottish Presbyterians and unable to return to Tibet after his parents were arrested in the wake of the 1959 uprising, he’s been a fully committed Kiwi since 1967.


'He lost his country, his parents and his language, but not what it means to be Tibetan and to remain open-hearted' says the director.

Free Theatre, screenplay by and directed and produced by Shirley Horrocks



Shirley's tenth  #NZIFF documentary, almost all of them about art and artists.

This time she turns her attention to Christchurch’s 37-year-old avant-garde and often-controversial Free Theatre, founded by Peter Falkenberg in 1979; it's taken seven years to make (so many of these films have taken a long time!) and is 'especially observant of the...theatre's imaginative engagement with community activation since the earthquakes'.

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