May 31, 2012


When TVNZ 7 is laid to rest, NZ will become the only country in the OECD without a public service television channel. The decision to shut down TVNZ 7 will mean quality documentary films will become an endangered species on television in New Zealand. Documentary is a major component of any public service programming and features less readily with a broadcaster governed by commercial return.

Documentary NZ Trust directors, Alex Lee and Dan Shanan, are worried that not having a public broadcaster channel will severely reduce the commissioning of documentary films and the broadcast commitment to providing such content to the general public. The Trust, which was established in 2004 to promote documentary films and filmmaking in NZ, recognised that the growing gap in funding and support for local documentaries needs to remedied before the death knell is sounded.

The Screen Edge Forum 2012 session aptly named “Mind the Gap”, saw a lively and intense conversation about the gap in documentary funding and support. Facilitated by filmmaker Sumner Burstyn, the panel included Documentary NZ Trust’s own Dan Shanan, filmmaker Gaylene Preston and Annie Goldson, Greenstone`s John Harris, broadcaster Haunui Royal (Maori TV), and funders Graeme Mason (NZ Film Commission) and Jane Wrightson (NZ On Air). They were joined by the audience of established documentarians and producers like Alistair Barry, Leanne Pooley, Dave Gibson and Vincent Burke, Clare Curran, Opposition spokesperson for Broadcasting, senior academics and emerging talent.

The combined participants and panellists acknowledged the gap in the support and development of festival and feature length documentaries. They agreed that the current state of affairs meant that there is never going to be (and never had been) enough money. It was clear that in the short term, there would be nothing more from Government and therefore, there needed to be new strategies and avenues to raise money for documentary making. In a watershed move, the meeting resolved that Documentary NZ Trust will convene a working group and lead the development of alternative and additional sources of funding including tapping the private sector to develop a dedicated independent trust fund for documentaries drawing on the models used by NZ’s Arts Foundation or BritDoc.

Documentary NZ Trust director, Alex Lee says “This resolution is timely in light of the demise of TVNZ 7. Given the commercial imperatives faced by the remaining broadcasters, preference will be given to developing and supporting programmes perceived to appeal to the wider audiences. These are unlikely to be documentaries and consequently, in due course, they will disappear from our screens.”

“A country without documentaries is like a family without photo albums. As a nation, we have a responsibility to our future generations to protect public broadcasting and documentaries.” Adds Documentary NZ Trust director Dan Shanan.

The Documentary NZ Trust will begin holding a series of meetings in the coming months to discuss and develop long term strategies to protect and foster documentary‐making in New Zealand. It is also committed to the goal of ensuring that New Zealand has a public television broadcaster that values quality independent programming.

For more information: Documentary NZ Trust at 09 360 0329  

Share on social