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  • The Doctor,

    I'm the Doctor. And I love documentaries. Not the kind of ninny crap that too often passes for documentary programming in free-to-air prime time, but the kind you usually have to BitTorrent because there's zero prospect of them being shown here, at least in any reasonable timeslot.

    Which is why I'm encouraged by the looming launch (Sunday November 5, with a launch lig tonight, Friday) of the Documentary Channel. It's not free-to-air, but it is "basic tier" on Sky, which means every Sky customer gets it, and it is programmed in New Zealand "for New Zealanders", as they say.

    So what is it offering? Well, it's not all gold, of course: old episodes of Piha Rescue pad out the schedules, along with Singles, "an observational series that follows single people looking for love." But the hit-rate still looks a lot better than that of the existing factual channels.

    Schedules are arranged in thematic strands: a regular investigative slot, a time for shock-docs and crime and court strands (although I fear I've seen all the JonBenet Ramsey I need to see). A Premiere of the Week will screen every Sunday at 9pm, and 9pm Wednesdays is the World View slot, which covers stories from "outside the Western sphere".

    On the other hand, you'd be surprised at the catalogue of New Zealand documentaries that have premiered at festivals and the like but never seen on television. One example from the DC's opening month schedule is __Father of the House__ (9pm, Monday Nov 13), Simon Burgin's day-in-the-life portrait of former Speaker Jonathan Hunt, which premiered at last year's inaugural New Zealand Documentary Festival and was described as "hugely amusing" by someone on Rotten Tomatoes.

    Launch month also sees the New Zealand television premiere of Doug Aubrey's "football war story" Louder Than Bombs (9pm Monday Nov 27), which follows convoy driver and football coach Scotty Lee through Balkan countries ravaged by ethnic conflict but still united by a common language. The followup, A Different Pitch, screens next month. The website of Aubrey's Glasgow-based production company, Autonomi is worth a visit in itself.

    In a political vein, there's the Emmy-winning Thames TV/PBS four-parter The Kennedys (screened elsewhere in 1993, but never here; starts 8pm Wed Nov 8). I couldn't find much about Poisoned (8pm Friday Nov 10) but I gather it takes the case of the Ukraine's Victor Yushchenko a starting point for a look at the use of poisoning as a political weapon in the former Eastern bloc countries. A cheery little number, then.

    There's also Noam Shalev's Primetime War (8pm, Monday Nov 13), which screened recently in the New Zealand Documentary Film Festival. It follows two TV cameramen - one Palestinian, one Israeli - as they negotiate the hazards of the Occupied territories. It also screened at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival, where it was summarised thus: "The film poses the question, does the presence of cameras incite violence? There's no simple answer, but it's fascinating to listen to the men justify, explain and finally film the violence that has become part of daily life in Israel."

    The British skateboarding history Rolling Through the Decades has a crappy title and I'm told it lacks the soul of our own No More Heroes, but ain't all bad. It debut as 5pm Nov 8 and plays at various times through the month. Trailers and info from the film's website here.

    The Documentary Channel appears to have picked up on a vein about which TVNZ continues to be shy: the desire for more anglophile, BBC-style factual programming. Channel founder Richard Driver recently signed off on the purchase of about 200 hours of BBC documentary programming. If Sky sees the Documentary Channel as a Freeview killer - and it almost certainly does - it would seem to be going the right way about it.

    Among the acquisitions is the first series of Melvin Bragg's The Adventure of English which, having recently torrented in its entirety, I can honestly say is splendid. That was buried on a Saturday afternoon by TV One, but there's also a second series that has never screened here.

    At the time of writing, the Documentary Channel website isn't live, but I assume it will be later this evening.

    For now, if you have any comments, go ahead ..

    BTW: It's on channel 49 on Sky Digital.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12 posts Report

28 Responses

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  • Chris McKay,

    I heard a interview on bFM yesterday about a film maker who made a documentary about the real guy from Dog Day Afternoon - "Based on a true story"? He seemed to have been brought out by the Doco channel, any word on when that's on?

    Devonport • Since Nov 2006 • 2 posts Report

  • Graeme Edgeler,

    Doctor - you sure about the "Adventure of English". I remember it's airing in NZ (watched every episode), but I'm pretty sure we got all that's thus far been made (i.e. two sets of four episodes were played back to back).

    Those looking for other hidden gem documentaries on free to air might like to check 10am Sundays TV1 (those the random collection may have ended with a series to start this week), and 9:30am Saturdays on TV1 (the Maaori Doco slot).

    Wellington, New Zealand • Since Nov 2006 • 3215 posts Report

  • Keith Hawke,

    It will be interesting to see what gets to air. There have been some excellent NZ docos that never hit the screens. Lack of balance is one of the oft quoted reasons.
    We have just completed one in this vein. "Seals. Possums of the Sea?' The title really says it all.

    Nelson • Since Nov 2006 • 1 posts Report

  • Meech,

    Walter Stokman is at the launch of the channel tonight but not sure if he's doing any other speaking.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 5 posts Report

  • The Doctor,

    I heard a interview on bFM yesterday about a film maker who made a documentary about the real guy from Dog Day Afternoon - "Based on a true story"? He seemed to have been brought out by the Doco channel, any word on when that's on?

    Its first play is at 9pm on Sunday November 12. There are several other Walter Stokman documentaries lined up - I was intending to blog them after I interview Mr Stokman today. I'll keep an eye out for Simon Pound's interview to turn up as a bCast - it was very good.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12 posts Report

  • Mark Revington,

    Dear Doc

    Old episodes of Piha Rescue are worth more than gold, surely?

    Since Nov 2006 • 1 posts Report

  • Richard Llewellyn,

    Actually, looking at the Walter Stokman back catalogue, I hope that his 'Let me Have it All' doco about a search for Sly Stone makes it here. Can't beat a doco about a mad musical genius.

    Mt Albert • Since Nov 2006 • 399 posts Report

  • Scott Savidge,

    And for those of us too tight or poor or ambivalent about sport to pay for Sky, muchos bravos to Maori TV for their generous servings of doco's. They might not all be gold, but they offer more than the plethora of psuedo-doco's that the big boys serve up.

    Ka Pai to MTV.

    Kapiti • Since Nov 2006 • 1 posts Report

  • Tristan,

    I am *loving* the fact that we are getting a doco channel, getting in touch with the doucmentry film fest people and replaying all of those would be a good start there was a heap i missed!

    oh and since sky are probaly monitoring this transmission...


    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 221 posts Report

  • Stephen Hansen,

    Yep Scott Maori Tv do very well giving us docs - although oldies still goodies.

    Prime also have some decent ones at times - and at a decent hour!

    Maybe now the TVNZ programmer has finally found left we might see some improvement.

    Whangarei • Since Nov 2006 • 2 posts Report

  • Shayne Stuchbery,

    Um, I am overseas, but does anyone else love "Kaikohe Demolition"? and think it should certainly air on the telly? Managed to fluke a veiwing it when I was in NZ last and it gives me homesick twinges when I think about it. If it is old news then ignore me... if it doesnt ring bells then I think it should.
    Heaps of hard case Bros, Northland in all its rugged glory, good laughs, some raw truth, and retreads courtesy of a chainsaw. What more does one need in a doco?

    BC, Canada • Since Nov 2006 • 12 posts Report

  • jon_knox,

    I watched a documentary called "Root of all evil" last week presented by Richard Dawkins on the subject of the irrational power of religion. (available via bit torrent). Part 1 features an interview with the Pastor Ted Haggard, who this week has denied having sex with a male escort, though he has admitted to having a massage & buying methamphetamine from his accuser. ( article from the Independant) The series seems to cover much of the ground covered in the book "The Devil's Chaplain" but is (arguably) easier to consume.

    Belgium • Since Nov 2006 • 464 posts Report

  • Michael Hogan,

    With BBC World, Rialto, and the History Channel, I have been pleasantly surprised with the offerings on Sky of the last couple of years. Included have been some excellent PBS titles such as The Persuaders, and Andy Goldsworthy's Rivers and Tides, amongst many others. There are some brilliant and informative GE/Food/health docos out there, so I hope they don't take the safe option (local or not), and keep upping the ante. As long as my media consumption can be balanced with the informative (at no extra charge), as well as the entertaining, I will continue to see value in the network. I would rather see their TIVO-type recorder offered as an add-on monthly rather than an expensive on-off, though.

    Waiheke Island • Since Nov 2006 • 31 posts Report

  • Fletch Goldsworthy,

    Wondering what differentiates the Documentary Channel from other offerings such as Animal Planet, Discovery, History Channel?

    Check their banner ad: "No Skarks, No Nazis"

    Simple, hilarious!

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3 posts Report

  • Sam,

    I am not sure that my life has been enriched by the offering of 'Living Famously - the story of Benny Hill' that I managed to catch late last night. I also noticed that along with Piha Rescue re-runs (which are bearable) they are also re-running Gary McCormacks Heartland.
    Saying that - I am looking forward to some decent 'BBC-style' programming.

    We have already forked out the huge upfront sum for MY SKY, but has certainly been money well spent and think it has probably paid for itself several times over already. The only problem, given some of the upcoming delights on this channel, will be capacity!

    Central Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 6 posts Report

  • andrew llewellyn,

    The only problem, given some of the upcoming delights on this channel, will be capacity!

    Agreed - I wonder if we can lobby Sky for a storage upgrade... about 10 times what we have now would do for a while.

    Since Nov 2006 • 2075 posts Report

  • Richard Llewellyn,

    I've gotta say, being a football tragic, I'm really looking forward to the Maradona doco tonight.

    I'm assuming and hoping its going to be an entertaining story of the rise and fall and rise of a short squat footballing genius - who now apparently has the number one talk-show in Argentina.

    Mt Albert • Since Nov 2006 • 399 posts Report

  • andrew llewellyn,

    Heh... I'm tempted to try & catch the Benny Hill bio :)

    Since Nov 2006 • 2075 posts Report

  • johnno,

    I know they aren't strictly documentaries, but I would love to be able to see some quality foreign current affairs. I'm thinking stuff like the ABC's Foreign Correspondent and 4 Corners, the Beeb's Panorama, and PBS's Frontline. Then I would be a very happy camper...

    wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 111 posts Report

  • Anne M,

    I know they aren't strictly documentaries, but I would love to be able to see some quality foreign current affairs. I'm thinking stuff like the ABC's Foreign Correspondent and 4 Corners, the Beeb's Panorama, and PBS's Frontline. Then I would be a very happy camper...

    Heck if they run 4 Corners I'd have to get Sky, ridiculously over-priced as it is. Are you reading this Sky Execs?

    Since Nov 2006 • 104 posts Report

  • Jeremy Andrew,

    Even the Beeb ain't what it used to be... The Register on a recent Horizon doco

    Hamiltron - City of the F… • Since Nov 2006 • 900 posts Report

  • Deb Hill Cone,

    I am loving the Doco channel - including the Living Famously ep on Benny Hill. But I wish that the "series link" feature on My Sky would work on things like the Beatles Decade etc. It's hard to tape every episode because they repeat them and you don't know which ones you have already watched.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1 posts Report

  • Tristan,

    eeek MY sky has issues with channel 49?

    damn it, i haveto reconsider getting it now!

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 221 posts Report

  • Danielle,

    It's not an issue with 49, per se: it's that MySky finds it difficult to recognise new episodes of things that are repeated at odd times throughout the week, so certain channels with a lot of repeats, like the Documentary Channel, confuse it a bit. I can't make it 'series link' The Soup on the E! channel for love nor money, and it's also a bit iffy with ESPN shows like the World Series of Poker or Pardon the Interruption. It requires a 20 minute weekly scan of those channels to make sure you're getting everything recorded.

    It is still, however, in the top three of consumer products I have ever bought, so don't let that put you off, Tristan. I can't imagine life without it. I haven't watched a single television show as it was broadcast since it was installed.

    Oh, small rant about the Beatles Decade documentary: the footage is fantastic, but the lack of rights to *any* music is really off-putting, and the overarching narration is so terribly shonky. It's like they found all this great archival news and advertising footage and tried desperately to create a themed documentary around it. I am, of course, religiously watching every episode - I am such a sucker for any film from that period. But the Tupperware documentary that's also showing regularly on the Documentary Channel covers a bit of the same ground without being so, well, crap.

    Charo World. Cuchi-cuchi!… • Since Nov 2006 • 3828 posts Report

  • Richard Llewellyn,

    Couldn't agree more on the Beatles doco, I can appreciate that they didn't have the rights to the music, but in the end the lack of any actual Beatles music in a doco about the influence and context of the Beatles is just a bit too much to overcome.

    Makes you wonder why they bothered, particularly compared to something like the Bob Dylan doco made by Scorcese, which is absolutely dripping with essential Dylan.

    Mt Albert • Since Nov 2006 • 399 posts Report

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