SALIENT Film Editor Yosan Legaspi interviews the New Zealand Documentary Film Festival co-director Dan Shanan.
HI DAN, I HEAR YOU JUST ARRIVED IN WELLINGTON THIS MORNING?
Yes, at least it was just from Auckland so thankfully no jetlag. I’m here to over-see the running of the Wellington festival, and then I’ll be off to Christchurch and Dunedin to supervise the four-day DOCNZ festival there.
ASIDE FROM BEING CO-DIRECTOR OF THE DOCNZ, YOU ALSO ESTABLISHED YOUR OWN PRODUCTION COMPANY, AND HAVE MADE A COUPLE OF FILMS?
Yes, I founded Timeline Productions and have made two documentaries, Ma-Kara at Makara and A Stage Of Mind. The first one covered the vandalism of Jewish graves at Makara, and the second one is about two actors that live life through the stage as they confront their mortality. A Stage of Mind was shown at the DOCFEST in Rome this week.
THAT’S A SHAME YOU MISSED YOUR FILM PREMIER IN ROME! TELL ME ABOUT THE TITLE MA-KARA AT MAKARA, IS MA-KARA A JEWISH TERM?
I get many questions about that. Ma-Kara is a Jewish term that roughly translates to ‘it happened’; which is a great coincidence to make that film title “It happened at Makara.”
ALRIGHT, TELL ME ABOUT YOUR LOVE OF DOCUMENTARIES. HOW DID YOUR PASSION FOR DOCUMENTARIES BEGIN?
I was always into documentaries as far as I can remember. I majored in photography in Israel, and I suppose my love of capturing the real and recording images developed my obsession with docos. I’m drawn to real stories, real things, real emotions. It’s a cinema form that doesn’t need a script.
NOW ABOUT THE FILM FESTIVAL, HOW DID IT ALL BEGIN?
I came to New Zealand in 2003, and was surprised to see there weren’t any documentary film festivals at all. I met the other co-director of DOCNZ, Alex Lee at a function; we became friends and later discovered that we had the same desire to set-up a documentary film festival in New Zealand. It took about a year and a half to set up, and the first DOCNZ Film Festival opened last year.
THE DOCNZ PREMIER WAS A HUGE EVENT, WHERE EVEN THE PRIME MINISTER WENT.
That’s right. I was so amazed that the Prime Minister was present. I don’t know any other country where the leader of the country would especially attend a documentary film festival opening. It was a wonderful feeling!
DO YOU FEEL AS IF NEW ZEALAND HAS OPENED UP TO THE IDEA OF DOCUMENTARIES SINCE THE DOCNZ, OR HAS THERE ALWAYS BEEN A MARKET FOR THAT?
Documentaries rate very well on New Zealand television, so I felt as though there was already an established group of people who were very interested in documentary films. It was just up to someone to set it up.
HOW DO YOU SELECT FILMS TO BE SCREENED IN THE FESTIVAL?
First and foremost is the quality of the films. The basic criteria after this was the subject and focus choice, and whether the documentaries were premiere in New Zealand. If they had an international reputation, or if they won awards, then that would help make them stand out from the 500-plus entries we received this year.
500! DID YOU HAVE TO WATCH ALL OF THEM?
Yes I did. We selected 135 to show at this year’s festival. I wish we could show more because many of them were such highquality, but there simply isn’t space.
WHERE ARE MOST OF THE DOCUMENTARIES FROM THIS YEAR?
Most of the films are from New Zealand, Australia, the US, Germany, Israel, Holland, the Netherlands…21 countries are represented. It’s great attracting many overseas film makers, it helps give the audience varied perspectives of lives and stories around the globe.
NOT ONLY IS THE DOCNZ A FILM FESTIVAL, IT’S ALSO A COMPETITION?
Yes! We wanted to make the DOCNZ stand out from other New Zealand festivals where film-makers compete with each other for titles such as Best International, Best New Zealand Student, and Best Short etc. Last year there were only three categories, but this year there are eight. It shows how much we’ve grown from last year, and it’s simply fantastic.
WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE HOPES AND PLANS FOR THE LARGEST DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL IN THE SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE?
Plans for the DOCNZ include trying to set up two screens for the Wellington festival so that we are able to show more films. I want to establish a documentary film society where people will be able watch quality documentaries at a local theatre each week or so. That would really be a goal. I want to get as many people I can exposed to the wonderful genre documentaries.
6,000 PEOPLE ATTENDED LAST YEARS DOCNZ, AND BECAUSE OF YOUR HARD WORK AND YOUR COLLEAGUES, IT CAN ONLY GROW.
I do hope so.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIME DAN, I’M DEFINITELY LOOKING FORWARD TO THE FESTIVAL.