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Loading Docs: The Jump

Tuesday 3rd June 2014

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: Alex Sutherland

When he was a kid, director Alex Sutherland would visit his best friend’s house where there would be strange rubber rope all over the house. Sutherland didn’t know exactly what they were used for, but knew his friend’s dad did something that no-one else was doing, he was jumping off bridges with that rubber rope tied around his ankles.

Sutherland is now married to his best friend’s sister, and has directed The Jump - a short documentary about his father-in-law, Chris Sigglekow, and the invention of the modern bungy jump.

In 1979, Sigglekow heard about the Oxford Dangerous Sports Club who, taking inspiration from the ancient tradition of Vanuatu land jumping, had started jumping off bridges with only a length of rock climbing rope to break their fall. Sigglekow thought he could do better and sought advice from a science professor at the University of Auckland as to what the best materials to use would be. In 1980, Sigglekow jumped off the Pelorus Bridge in Marlborough, using his newly designed latex bungy. He claims that as the first modern bungy jump. Seven years later, Sigglekow met AJ Hackett and together with a group of friends, travelled around the North Island jumping from higher and higher rail bridges, putting the bungy to the test.

“It’s just a really cool period,” Sutherland says. “Just a bunch of Kiwi guys. Every weekend going out, working it out a little bit, developing it a little bit more in terms of the process.”

At the time, Sigglekow worked in television and documented it all on one-inch videotape, with an eye to one day turn that footage into a documentary.

Sutherland grew up in Auckland and attended Elam art school, where he graduated with a Masters of Fine Arts, doing what he could to turn the multi-media program into a film school. “It was hard because I wanted to make films and narrative is kind of the enemy there,” Sutherland says. “If it’s making too much sense in sequence you’ve got to mess with it.” At the end of his first year at art school, Sutherland went to Wellington to make a video diary on the set of Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners. “That gave me a window into filmmaking which I loved,” he says. “So I went back with that in my head and started doing music videos in my masters.”

After graduating with an MFA, Sutherland continued to make music videos for a number of high profile New Zealand bands and musicians, including Elemeno P, Dimmer, the Finn Brothers, Holly Smith, and The Stereobus (whose ‘Touchdown’ won Sutherland a New Zealand Music Award for best Music Video in 2001). When the novelty of living off low-budget music videos wore thin, Sutherland moved to advertising and started his own production company, Thick As Thieves.

The Jump, is Sutherland’s first documentary. “I’ve always quite liked making stories out of what you’ve got,” says Sutherland. “And I’m amazed with what’s possible within the parameters, even quite minimally, and how you can construct stories out of someone talking. And I quite like working with people too. Talking with people and hearing stories.”

He’s become particularly interested in the form after adopting a steady diet of online video. “That’s where I watch more documentaries than I do at a film festival,” he says. In his advertising work, Sutherland has seen first-hand how in an online environment, the dividing lines between forms of media have blurred. Online, a film, an advertisement, a homemade video all become content. And if they’re short and engaging, people will watch them. “Increasingly, the production values are up there. They’re shot nicely and the good ones are good. A concise story is told or they’re a window into something.”

And in his father-in-law’s archives, Sutherland found a new window into one of New Zealand’s most widely exported products of popular culture. “I didn’t know how much there was there until I pushed him on it and then he was like ‘Oh, there’s a bit of Super-8. Oh, there’s a whole lot of photos. Oh, there’s seven, eight hours-worth of video’,” says Sutherland, who found it challenging to tell the story in three short minutes. “It certainly feels like there’s a longer form story in there. I hope that this leads you to want to see and know more.”

This content was brought to you with funding from New Zealand On Air.