Documentary series full of gems

16:00, Feb 16 2014
EXIT PLANS: New Zealand documentary Resting in Peace is a little charmer on funerals in the 21st century.

There are two more documentaries to come in the series NZ Young Producer Shorts, which has been showing on the BBC Knowledge Channel (8.30pm, Sundays). It's a great idea – young documentary-makers compete for (modest) funds to make short documentaries. All five that made the cut are under 15 minutes long.

Last night's Resting in Peace was a little charmer and I look forward to more from its young producer, Hilary Crombie. Crombie seems to know intuitively that if you point a calm camera at an interesting person and get them talking you're halfway there. Then there's hours of careful editing designed to look as if you haven't mucked around with it at all. Then there's the decision of what music to use, if any.

Crombie's subject is a funeral director. How certain professionals look isn't quite as stereotypical as it once might have been but still – funeral directors – aren't they pale-faced men in suits with very serious expressions? In this doco they're certainly not.

The subject is Janet Mikkelsen, who, with the sort of face that looks like a smile is never far away, seems able to take on some of life's most difficult jobs. Before becoming a funeral director she was a paediatric oncology nurse. Paediatric and oncology are two words which just should never be together. But caring for ill children, some of whom didn't survive, helped prepare Mikkelsen for helping others at the most difficult time of their lives.

She jokes that others have told her that they are too soft and too sensitive to do a job like this. Her eyes twinkle merrily at the subtext in comments such as this.

Her twin sister (an accountant) is helping set up the financial side of her new business; her father, who adores cars, helps her source a hearse (one of the funnier moments is the pair of them explaining to the used car salesman why they need a station wagon of a certain length); and Mikkelsen tells us about her younger sister who died of breast cancer at 39 and whose memory, in a way, she's honouring with her new career choice.

It's a simple little documentary, less than a quarter-of-an-hour long. But if the viewer is left with a substantial, satisfying portrait of a lovely woman, then I would say that young film-maker Hilary Crombie has done very well indeed.


Next Sunday's documentary is about musician Nick Knox, and the week after, inventive gardener Jim O'Gorman – this one, in particular, looks terrific.


The Dominion Post