Despite the success of Al Gore, Morgan Spurlock and Michael Moore, two Kiwi documentary makers don’t expect riches from their efforts any time soon
Film festivals have become big business. These days even franchise blockbusters like the latest Indiana Jones flick are launched at film festivals and Hollywood A-listers flock to Cannes, Berlin, New York and Sundance.
Many of the films at the New Zealand International Film Festival will return on general release, but the programme still has plenty of edgy gems representing the indie spirit—and none more so than the directors of two Kiwi documentaries.
Despite the success of Al Gore, Morgan Spurlock and Michael Moore, these Kiwi filmmakers don’t expect riches from their efforts any time soon. “The most you can hope for is a flight to a festival”, says Bryn Evans, who dug into the life of musical crusader Tigilau Ness in From Street to Sky. “There is certainly not a living to be made. It is the bottom of the pecking order, even though there is a bit of a renaissance, but it’s still a struggle.”
A newcomer to film, Evans returned to New Zealand after 12 years as a foreign correspondent and photojournalist. He quickly identified with Maori Television’s ethos of telling its own stories and pitched Tatai Hono. The documentary series, now in its fourth season, follows Maori rediscovering their roots. With this (relatively) secure income, he had the resources to moonlight on longer documentaries. New Zealand Film Commission agreed that the made-for-TV Ness story deserved a wider audience, and funded post-production to turn it into film.
New director Juliette Veber did without the day job. In Trouble is My Business, her unflinching camera follows Gary Peach, assistant principal at Mangere’s Aorere College, as he fights to keep the kids in school. Veber took an 18-month break from her job as a freelance production manager and immersed herself in South Auckland. She did everything herself, running behind Peach as he charges around the school and neighbourhood. An early grant of $19,000 from the Screen Innovation Fund held the wolf from the door and, because the film was accepted into the Film Festival, she earned a post-production grant to finish it. Friends and industry contacts pitched in with skills, use of facilities and encouragement.
“It’s not that common to immerse yourself in that world”, says Veber. “I wouldn’t do another in such an extreme way, but unless I committed I would never have that access.” She has just finished showing the film to the kids and their families, and now earns a regular income as manager of short films at the Film Commission.
Both Veber and Evans expect to do their marketing in the same shoestring manner. If they’re lucky, they may even score a free seat for a screening at Sundance
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