Capturing Kiwi towns
Melanie Rakena, who grew up in Temuka, has been travelling New Zealand working on a new eight-part television series.
This Town features fascinating Kiwis talking about why they live where they do. Rakena is best known for involvement in creating such beloved documentary series as Off the Rails, South and Ice. Fairfax's James Croot caught up with Rakena to talk about the show.
Where did the idea for the show come from?
The series was a bit of a happy accident. I was talking to the network about another series and we were having a few teething problems.
What made you choose these particular towns?
I've travelled around New Zealand a lot, especially with work, and have passed through a few of these towns or met people that intrigued me and wondered why they choose to live where they live.
How long did you spend in each location?
The luxury we had with this series was we spent time with the people involved. Not having a presenter or voiceover to fall back on meant we were relying on people to open up to us and tell us their stories. We spent between 12 to 15 days on each episode and sometimes visited our characters more than once.
How did you find your interview subjects and how did you strike a balance of personalities within each regional episode?
Some of the people I had met on previous shoots, but also we have a wonderful researcher who spends a huge amount of time on the phone talking to anyone and everyone - she could have been a detective.
We didn't consciously try to strike a balance; we just went with what we thought were the most interesting stories and people. Some of our stories we stumbled across while we were shooting.
We met a lovely couple at the Methven Show who breed champion poultry, so we just asked if they would take us home with them and they did.
Were people generally happy to talk and were there some towns that were more open than others?
A lot of people initially don't think they have a story to tell but once you're on to your third cup of tea it is obvious that seemingly ordinary people all have something extraordinary to say.
How do you define a town?
Anywhere where there is a sense of community, and that can come from a population of two or 2000. I'm not really bogged down with a definition of a town as such - this is about people telling us their stories and some of that involves why they are connected to where they live.
How well do you think the average Kiwi city dweller knows the rest of the country? Do you think that has changed, and for better or worse, in last 20 years?
I have no idea. We're quite a small country and most of us have seen other parts of it outside where we live, I would think? Many people have fond memories of a family holiday somewhere or a visit to another part of the country.
A lot of people end up in another part of the country from where they were raised due to work or relationships, some have lived in multiple towns and cities.
I grew up in Temuka, went to Otago University, started my television career in Christchurch and ended up in Auckland. I think we move around a lot more than we would have 20 years ago.
We're used to a half-hour format and a presenter with your excellent series like Off the Rails and South - why the changes this time?
Well, it wasn't a conscious decision to make something without a presenter - it just evolved that way after the project we were working on changed tack. However, there seems to be a plethora of series with various presenters wandering around the country talking to locals, so I thought it would be a refreshing change to let people tell their own stories without the filter of a presenter or a voiceover.
Did you find there's a still a sense of people needing to live somewhere for decades to call themselves a local or has that rural New Zealand perception changed?
Almost everyone we spoke to felt tremendous pride about the place they had chosen to live and wouldn't live anywhere else.
Is this a show that could have been made 20 years ago?
Good stories are timeless.
What was the toughest challenge of the shoot?
I can honestly say this was one of the loveliest shoots I've ever worked on. I'm a natural nosy parker, so to spend time with so many interesting people listening to their stories was a dream job. I did have to bite my tongue a few times when people openly insulted Auckland.
What do you hope viewers take away from the series? Would you be keen on a second series - any particular places you would be keen on heading to?
I just hope people will be reminded of what a brilliant country we live in, inhabited by fascinating people.
Everyone is unique, we've all been coloured by our life experiences and have interesting stories to tell.
I would love to make a second series; haven't thought of specific places yet as you can throw a dart at the map and there is bound to be more going on there than you will ever imagine.
This Town screens on TV One on Saturdays, at 7pm.
SOUTH CANTERBURY HERALD
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