Story: Documentary film

Page 5. Documentary films in the 2000s

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Documentaries to prove popular both locally and internationally include:

Pulp non-fiction

Kiwi director Florian Habicht built a reputation for making endearing films about likeable eccentrics. Jarvis Cocker, frontman for the British band Pulp, fits that description. The two men met in London at the premiere of Habicht’s film Love story, and agreed to record Pulp’s final concert at the band’s hometown of Sheffield. Many Sheffield residents, including bystanders, fans and senior citizens, were interviewed for the film. The resulting 90-minute documentary, simply titled Pulp, premiered at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, in 2013.

  • avant-garde film-maker Florian Habicht’s Kaikohe demolition (2004), a tribute to a Far North community; Rubbings from a live man (2008), a view of performance artist Warwick Broadhead; and Land of the long white cloud (2009), which profiles the surfcasters on Ninety Mile Beach
  • Sándor Lau’s Squeegee bandit (2007), a revealing profile of an urban Māori manmaking a living washing car windows, which won Best Documentary Feature Film at the 2008 Asia Pacific Screen Awards
  • Vincent Ward’s part documentary, part historical re-enactment Rain of the children (2008)
  • Leanne Pooley’s The Topp Twins: untouchable girls (2009), a documentary about comedic twin singers Lynda and Jools Topp, which won prestigious awards internationally (including Best Feature Documentary at New York’s NewFest 2010) and nationally, where it broke box office records for documentary in New Zealand.


Locally made documentaries that screened at the 2012 Auckland International Film Festival included: Christopher Pryor and Miriam Smith’s How far is heaven (2012), a portrait of the Whanganui River community of Jerusalem and the nuns who live and work there; Pietra Brettkelly’s Maori boy genius (2012), which follows a talented scholar to Yale; Mathurin Molgat’s Song of the kauri (2012), celebrating the iconic native tree and the work of a luthier; and Paul Janman’s Tongan ark (2012), about what may be the world’s most unconventional university.

Documentary subjects

New Zealand’s changing ethnic make-up has determined that documentaries showcasing the indigenous culture, for example Jan Bieringa’s Te hono ki Aoteaora (2012) and Paora Te Oti Takarangi Joseph’s Tatarakihi: the children of Parihaka (2012), have been joined by films interrogating challenges faced in an increasingly multicultural society, such as Russell Campbell’s Sisters from Siberia (2009) and Roseanne Liang’s Banana in a nutshell (2005).

Other recurring topics include:

  • New Zealand’s film history – for example Sam Neill and Judy Rymer’s Cinema of unease: a personal journey by Sam Neill (1995) and Graeme Tuckett’s Barry Barclay: The camera on the shore (2009)
  • pressing environmental issues – such as Simon Marler’s Restoring the mauri of Lake Omapere (2007) and Peter Young’s The last ocean (2012), documenting the international movement to end fishing of the Antarctic toothfish in the Ross Sea
  • the contribution of artists, musicians, writers and dancers to New Zealand culture – including Shirley Horrocks’ Flip and two twisters (1995), on sculptor and film-maker Len Lye; Merata Mita’s Hotere (2008); Tim Rose’s Sam Hunt: purple balloon and other stories (2010); and Leanne Pooley’s Haunting Douglas (2003)
  • state abuse of power – such as Errol Wright and Abi King-Jones’s Operation 8: deep in the forest (2011)
  • issues arising from sexuality and gender – for example Peter Wells and Annie Goldson’s Georgie girl (2001) and Grant Lahood’s Intersexion (2012)
  • alternative lifestyles – including David Blyth’s Bound for pleasure (2004), Tom Reilly’s Gordonia (2008) and Thomas Burstyn’s This way of life (2009)
  • stories of global relevance and interest – for example Briar March’s There once was an Island: te henua e noho (2010), about the low-lying Pacific atoll of Takuu; and Costa Botes’s The last dogs of winter (2011), which follows a New Zealander working in Canada to help save that country’s indigenous dog.
How to cite this page:

Helen Martin, 'Documentary film - Documentary films in the 2000s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 13 April 2024)

Story by Helen Martin, published 22 Oct 2014