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Documentary competition reveals historical gems

Local documentary competition reveals historical gems as well as filmmakers¹ passion

By Shonagh Lindsay, Communications Director, Screen Directors Guild of NZ (SDGNZ)

Dedication, emotion and humour accompanied five impassioned documentary pitches at the previous night¹s inaugural New Zealand Roy W. Dean Film Grant Awards. Kodak Theatre, packed to the hilt with avid filmmakers, was the scene of a surprisingly tense competition between the five finalists, demonstrating the strong desire local documentary makers have to realise their projects as feature length films.

The winner, Paul Davidson, pitched this question to the audience: ³If you had $50 million would you give it all away, why and to whom?² His winning project, Giving It All Away: The Life and Times of Sir Roy McKenzie, will tell the story of the now 80-year-old inheritor to the McKenzie retail chain - an "inspirational quiet achiever² - who has given more than $50 million dollars to disadvantaged New Zealanders.

The Awards, valued at $50,000 and created by US-based not-for-profit organisation From the Heart Productions, will enable Davidson to make a five minute tape to raise completion funds for his film.

The paucity of private investment for the local film industry, which for documentary makers has been exacerbated by the NZ Film Commission¹s recent withdrawal from funding documentary features, was highlighted by the response to last night¹s event.

Carole Dean, president of From the Heart Productions, said she had had 50 feature entries to the Awards. Dean, who has raised close to US$2,000,000 for filmmakers since the first Roy W. Dean Film Grant in 1992, said she was dismayed by the increasing rarity of documentaries being made on celluloid.

The grant gives the winning filmmaker raw stock from Kodak, camera from Panavision, processing from Film Unit, communications equipment from Tait, editing by David Tobias, film to tape transfer by DigiPost, and legal advice by Farry & Co as well as other donations from US sponsors with Glengarry sponsoring the awards event.

"The New Zealand film community has generously donated their goods and services to this grant because of their desire to see documentaries made on film," said Dean. She said the awards - named after her father - were inspired by his passion for documentary makers whose work left a lasting mark on their societies. While helping her with her business buying and selling short ends of film, he had, unbeknownst to her, started his own documentary/independent-funding programme.

After his death she decided to start a grant in his honour and continue to help filmmakers. ³Such documentary makers are dedicated, concerned people who in getting their films made, become their films,² said Dean opening the event.

Just prior to the three judges (local documentary directors Annie Goldson, George Andrews and Dan Salmon) announcing the winner, Dean pointed out that although there would be only one winner, she did not anticipate the other four finalists being losers as previous US finalists had gone on to get their films financed and made.

Dean said she selected the finalists firstly on their ability to make a unique contribution to society and secondly on the urgency of their work. This made the judges¹ decision extremely difficult as, although there was no runner up, one other contestant had time running out.

Rangi Parker has been travelling to the US and Canada several times a year for the past 14 years to research and collect what she says is the largest collection of film footage, still photographs, audio tapes and journals of Maori life outside the Turnbull Library.

Showing just a few of her astounding array of images, Parker gave an emotive pitch for her project, which she described as motivated by a desire to present a more positive image of Maori society and culture to counter balance the often negative images portrayed in the news media.

Parker has tracked down the relatives ­ sometimes up to four generations removed ­ of the Latter Day Saints Missionaries who came to New Zealand between 1854 to 1954 mandated by their society to observe Maori through photographs, film, journals and personal narrative.

She now has over 15,000 photographs, 14 hours of film footage as well as journals in classical Maori and English, and many hours of audiotapes. Most of the original material she has deposited with the Latter Day Saints¹ archives in the US, returning from each trip with collection materials in digital format which the Latter Day Saints¹ archive creates for her. Parker¹s work has been largely financed by herself and her husband, with a small grant each from Creative NZ and a community employment scheme, and with to-date no assistance from the NZ Film Archives. Responsibility for the collection resides with the Kia Ngawari Trust, which Parker formed to raise funds and manage the project.

The Roy W. Dean Film Grant Awards also announced Patrick Gillies as the winner of the Writing/Research Grant for writers of screenplays, short films and documentary films. Gillies will be funded to work on his project ­ a tragic love story set in the Arab-Israeli conflict - for six weeks at Dean¹s Wye Cottage just outside of Blenheim in the Wairau Valley with Œa good computer, VCR, TV, RUV and only a few sheep to tend.¹

The other three finalists were: David Jacobs¹ Middle Earth Report, a documentary looking at sustainability issues in New Zealand; Dallas Rajh Gopi¹s Country Roads & Back Paddocks on the complex communications in the relationship between a sheep farmer and his working dog; and Kyere Loren's Taming the Dragon, a project which will study five children, aged between seven and 14 years, journey of self development through their study of a martial art.

Prior winners of the US grant's films have been shown on HBO, Starz, PBS, Discovery, and other US cable stations. The grant is yearly and Dean said that in five years' time she expected to see five completed documentary films being featured at the award event.

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