AUCKLAND — The Kiwi tradition of documentary-making is under threat — because the genre has become too popular for its own good.
Industry players were meeting May 2 to hammer out new guidelines and arrest a trend toward lightweight, formulaic docus some producers say give the genre a bad name.
Audiences support local docus, and they are staples of commercial primetime, drawing respectable numbers.
But, ironically, this primetime placement, coupled with falling budgets, has restricted the genre to populist fare, forcing government TV funder New Zealand on Air to convene the talk fest amid industry concerns.
“Producers, broadcasters and audiences feel an element of sameness, that it is a pastiche of vox-pops and comments that does not take viewers on any sort of journey,” says NZOA executive director Jo Tyndall.
Industry-respected Auckland U. film and TV professor Roger Horrocks says the dominant type of documentary on Kiwi TV nowadays is “un-researched, off the top of the head and lightweight.”
Faced with new cultural obligations under its new charter, pubcaster TVNZ says docus have been too much at the “tabloid” end of the genre and promises a rethink.
But it is not all bad news — some do well on tiny budgets. Among the recent highpoints is “Georgie Girl,” by Annie Goldson, the documaker cum university professor who warned about the imminent “threat” to the genre.
“Georgie Girl” looks at the life of a local transsexual politico and when it screened here took a 35% share in a five-channel market. It subsequently sold to PBS in the U.S. and the edgy U.K. pubcaster Channel 4.