New Zealand’s University of Auckland recently hosted Documentary Sites 2000, its third international doc conference, attracting over 150 practitioners and academics from New Zealand, Australia and beyond.
Blending theoretical and industry interests, the conference set up dialogs between university professionals and those in the film and television industries of Australasia and the Asia-Pacific region. Although Doc Sites had a regional focus – with strong Australian, Aboriginal, Maori and Pakeha participation – it also included films and speakers from such faraway regions as South Africa, Turkey, Samoa, Britain and the U.S.
International funding was a hot topic, with attendees, such as Michael Stedman (NHNZ) and Jennifer Cornish (of Sydney-based Jennifer Cornish Media), offering advice. Distribs stressed that doc-makers need to consider online rights and web casting as well as cable rights.
A number of international funders attended, and a pitching session was incorporated for 14 projects seeking coproduction financing and presales. For the first time, Kiwi doc-makers had the chance to pitch their ideas to key international TV representatives (SBS, FFC, Soros Documentary Fund) on their home turf. However, it started on a wobbly foot with Maori filmmaker Barry Barclay and Professor Joseph R. Camacho walking out, declaring that we should all ‘make up our own minds’ about the process of pitching and ‘there must be a better way.’ One person commented, ‘Gosh, it’s like gladiators.’
Not surprisingly, commercial networks TVNZ and TV 3 picked up few projects. They often claimed the stories pitched were not ‘New Zealand’ enough, as did the major New Zealand funder NZ on Air, which incidentally requires backing from the networks before it can fund.
Kiwi funding was up for discussion, with current Maori (or indigenous) funding revised. Former NZ on Air board member Roger Horrocks noted that quality docs in New Zealand are endangered, often airing only at festivals, and stressed that policy needs to address this marginalization. He summarized by saying the digital age shows that TV audiences are getting carved smaller and smaller in New Zealand, and that as a developing country they need to take risks, diversify, investigate and be creative with programs. The sad reality seems to be that social issues and politics are now only seen as news and current affairs.