Loading Docs is a launching pad for New Zealand short documentaries which has just released 10 new films. We’ll be featuring each of the films and profiling the directors behind them.
DIRECTOR PROFILE: Kirsty Griffin and Viv Kernick
Kirsty Griffin and Viv Kernick had both been working in film and television for years before they ever made a film of their own. Griffin worked as a stills photographer on feature films, Kernick as an art director, decorating caves, torture chambers and penthouse apartments. “We both had years of experience working in the film industry with great big crews,” Kernick says, “and to actually have a story that we want to tell and know that we can do it, just the two of us, is fantastic. It’s totally liberating.”
The transition from crew members to making films together began when Griffin was awarded a scholarship to study photojournalism at the International Centre for Photography in New York. Kernick joined Griffin in New York and the two started experimenting with filmmaking in the big city. The ICP encouraged its students to engage in a multimedia approach. “To survive as a photographer you need to multi-platform,” says Griffin. “You need to be able to shoot self-contained stories for the internet. And then you can follow that up with an exhibition or a print story. You just need to be able to do everything if you want to survive. And that’s what they taught us, that there are different ways to tell a story.”
Griffin’s instructors at the ICP encouraged their students to watch online documentaries and verse themselves in various forms of online journalism. “You’re still trying to tell a good story whether its for cinema or people’s phones,” says Griffin. The two bought a boom mic and hit the streets of New York, finding stories and documenting life in the city.
When they returned to New Zealand, the pair couldn’t face living in Auckland after New York. Instead they moved to the Coromandel coast, outside of Thames, and formed their own production company, Bella Pacific Media. “Stories are everywhere,” says Griffin. “You don’t need to be in the biggest city in the world.”
In Thames, Griffin started taking photographs for the Supported Hauraki Lifestyle Trust, a charitable organisation enabling people with intellectual disabilities to live in a community of approximately 60 adults, all requiring varying degrees of assistance depending on their needs. The Trust, the biggest employers in Thames according to Griffin and Kernick, have a number of properties in a contained suburb outside of town. Those living in the trust’s care, ‘Lifestylers’ as they’re known, are a prominent part of the Thames community.
One of the Lifestylers that interested Griffin and Kernick the most was Wayne, a 44-year-old man born with a severe intellectual disability who had recently been given the opportunity to live by himself for the first time. “We didn’t know Wayne very well but he was an intriguing looking guy... a bit scary actually and he didn’t want anything to do with us for the first two weeks,” Kernick says. “He was basically an unhappy man who couldn’t grasp the world around him because of his disability.”
When Griffin and Kernick heard about the short-documentary fund Loading Docs and its theme of Home, they thought Wayne’s story worked perfectly. What was it like for a middle-aged man to have his own home for the first time? The resulting film, simply titled Wayne, is a snapshot of Wayne’s new life, living on his own with the help of Trust, who check in on him in the mornings and evenings to make sure he’s clean and fed, and to help him with understand certain social interactions, for example dealing with the opposite sex. “His support worker helps him with the puzzling things in life, such as why the woman who was talking to him yesterday doesn’t want to talk to him today,” says Kernick.
Griffin and Kernick say their ability to film depended greatly on Wayne’s moods, with Wayne often forgetting about the project or seemingly changing his mind about the whole thing. “All of sudden he wouldn’t want a bar of it. He’d go ‘No, no, no, no, no. Fuck off, fuck off’, but he became really intrigued with all our technology,” says Griffin. “We gave him the camera. He loved the radio mic. And we had a good time with him. He likes to sit on the floor so we’d all just sit on the floor.”
For the filmmakers, spending time with Wayne was an insight into the life of one man and his home, and into a big part of the Thames community. “You come across people that are different from you quite often and unless you really spend time with them they’re very easily passed by,” says Kernick, “but the minute you actually give them your time, this amazing world opens up to you.”
This content was brought to you with funding from New Zealand On Air.