27 Aug 2017

Hard Truths: documentary in the 'post-truth' era

From Smart Talk

Do we expect documentaries to be strictly truthful? And what happens when a desire for good storytelling wins out over the facts?

Four leading NZ documentary-makers talk candidly about navigating uncharted waters in pursuit of the truth in a conversation chaired by Julie Hill.

Paul Oremland, Annie Goldson, Tearepa Kahi, Julie Hill, Gaylene Preston

Paul Oremland, Annie Goldson, Tearepa Kahi, Julie Hill, Gaylene Preston Photo: RNZ / Paul Bushnell

Annie Goldson lays out the challenges of covering the story of Kim Dotcom for her film Kim DotcomCaught in the Web, while My Year With Helen Gaylene Preston explains what happens when her planned film about Helen Clark turned out to be something entirely different.

Tereapa Kahi talks about bringing to life events of thirty years ago for his film Poi E: The Story of Our Song and 100 Men director Paul Oremland reveals how he reluctantly concluded that he had to appear in his own film.

100 Men traces recent decades of gay history through the life of its filmmaker.

Paul Oremland worked through a list of the men whom he had slept with and interviewed as many as he could get in touch with to find out about their lives.

This personal odyssey doesn’t include everyone. It omits – for obvious reasons, perhaps – the man who had pulled a gun on Oremland, but also many others the filmmaker couldn’t track down.

“A lot of people had died,” he recalls. “We go through the ‘80s, which was a very terrible time for gay men because of AIDS.”

100 Men by Paul Oremland

100 Men by Paul Oremland Photo: NZ International Film Festival

Although he was expecting to discover that roadblock to reconnecting with former partners, he was surprised after all these decades to discover that some of the men were still not out.

After living overseas, he came back to New Zealand to meet numerous guys who were active online but leading double lives. Some were married... to women.

“This happens all the time,” he says. “Some of the most interesting people have become good friends They have girlfriends, but are living double lives and certainly didn’t want to appear in a film. Which was sad.”

Even for those living a fully out life as gay men, notions of what’s socially acceptable came into play.

“Now that there is obviously a lot more equality, there’s also this thing about becoming respectable. There was one guy in particular, now a headmaster, he’s a good friend, and he’s out, he’s actually married. And openly gay. But he didn’t want his past on show.”

Although the man is in a gay marriage, he has an open relationship. “I wouldn’t want to talk about that because everyone thinks we live like straight people", he told Oremland.

Reflecting on the era of social change he’d lived through, one of the other interviewees in the film says he wanted equality but he didn’t want to be the same.

“We are,” he says, “unique.”

Kim Dotcom: Caught in the Web, My Year With Helen, Poi E: The Story of our Song

Kim Dotcom: Caught in the Web, My Year With Helen, Poi E: The Story of our Song Photo: NZ International Film Festival

Recorded in association with the Pantograph Punch and the NZ International Film Festival.

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