The Documentary New Zealand Trust was set up in 2004 by Dan Shanan & Alex Lee and I have a lot of respect for what they’ve done for storytelling in New Zealand. For those who are unaware… being a factual content maker is a hard game.

For over a decade, Dan & Alex have tirelessly promoted documentary-making and provided a pathway for Kiwi storytellers to find funding & opportunities. Not just here, but abroad.

The Jewel in the organisation’s crown is the DocEdge Festival which kicks off this week!

I managed to convince Dan to spare 15 minutes (he really didn’t have) to talk about this year’s festival and the status of documentary-making in New Zealand.

Organising The DocEdge Festival:

I visited your office last week and I can see that this documentary festival is no easy task to organise?
No one ever asks us about that, because it’s mayhem, the whole period. Especially leading up to the festival, but the planning starts as soon as the festival finishes, so it’s a whole year of planning.

We have a different team every year and we rely heavily on volunteers, so the trick is to make sure everybody understands their role, but at the same time work really well as a team.

It’s a challenge, but also a pleasure to find people who share our drive and passion for documentaries.

The first event was in 2005, tell me about how things have changed behind the scenes.
If we think back to the first festival, Alex Lee and I felt like pioneers at the time, we created something from nothing and we didn’t know if it was going to work or not.

It was quite scary also. We were doing it on the side of our main jobs, so it took a while for us to get it in a position where it was sustainable.

As we work year-to-year, we sometimes forget to stop, look back and see what we have achieved and be proud.

When you consider the decreasing presence of well-made documentaries on our television screens today, I think the festival is a hugely important gateway for New Zealanders to see the work of local and international independent filmmakers.

“When I see the audience engage with the films & their makers and see them embrace & support their work, it is hugely satisfying.”

Making a documentary can often be a difficult, long journey. To see a collection of them come together in a festival like this, with the people who made them. It must be a hugely rewarding experience?
When I see the audience engage with the films & their makers and see them embrace & support their work, it is hugely satisfying.

People make documentaries for people to watch. Not for themselves. Not for their friends.

You make a film because you want as many people to see it as possible and be affected by it and that is what the festival provides. It’s a payoff for us to see that. It reminds us why we do this.

Surviving As A New Zealand Documentary Maker:

For creative storytellers, we’re living in a time of change, aren’t we? On one hand, technology is making it easier for us to create stories….but on the other, there seems to be less desire for broadcasters to fund & air traditional documentaries. How do documentary-makers survive in the future?
I think it’s been a challenge for storytellers to survive for many years now. In the past, one-off documentaries were so popular on mainstream television and the film commission hardly supported documentaries at all. Now it’s the opposite.

Things have always changed and I don’t think there’s any answer, we just have to keep adapting.

My advice is to be open to changing the format of your story & have more than one idea.

Often when you pitch something to a commissioner, they will ask “what else do you have?” and you never know which one they might like.

“For a person who enjoys storytelling, there is nothing more satisfying than that.”

For me personally, I see our attention spans getting shorter. Instead of watching one long story, we’re watching 20 x thirty-second clips on Facebook. Are we as storytellers going to have to start looking at the format of our content and where we show it?
I agree, the landscape is changing, but I think they are different experiences and we need to work on our strengths.

The hunger for quick satisfaction with social media clips etc… that fills a certain purpose, but what DocEdge provides is long-form, in-depth, quality films that we don’t see in the landscape of those platforms.

Without film festivals, you miss the opportunity to come in, sit down and experience really well-made, independent films that are not available elsewhere.

For a person who enjoys storytelling, there is nothing more satisfying than that.

DocEdge Festival 2017:

Tell me about this year’s festival? What are you excited about? Why should people come along?
Aside from enjoying an incredible selection of well-made, thought-provoking independent films. Come down and support local and international documentary filmmakers. You will find it hard to see these films anywhere else.

We also have over 30 international guests and we would encourage you to come down and engage with some of the filmmakers and network.

This is your industry, these are the people who are making the best films. We’d love to see you down here enjoying the festival with us.

Festival Details:

The DocEdge Festival starts this week! I’d tell you all about it, but in an incredible feat of ingenuity, someone has made a website:

Find the films you like! Buy some tickets! See you there!