Anna Cottrell has worked as both a documentary maker and an oral historian, and in the spaces between. A strong advocate for the importance of telling New Zealand stories, her subjects have ranged widely, from immigration and war to child-rearing and sports umpires. Cottrell is especially interested in what motivates people, an interest that has drawn her among other subjects to immigrant stories.
In 1997 she directed and co-produced three episodes of series An Immigrant Nation, a finalist in the Media Peace Awards that year. The series features seven families, and explores issues such as prejudice, loss, longing, identity, and preservation of culture.
In 2007 Cottrell co-curated (with Jennifer Bush-Daumec) the first of an ongoing series of gallery exhibitions under the mantle The Migrating Kitchen (stories of refugees and migrants).
A number of Cottrell's documentaries look at attitudes towards fertility and child-rearing. While working for TVNZ in the 80s she won a Qantas Media Award, after travelling to China to direct a Close Up story on the early days of the country's one-child policy. Later came The Baby Chase, which explores couples struggling with infertility, and Other People's Children, about a ‘blended' family in which children spend time in different households. Cottrell's 2003 documentary Out of the Shadows centres on interviews with Kiwis who grew up with high profile parents, among them Sam Hunt, Barry Crump, and Donna Awatere-Huata.
Cottrell has also had a long interest in the stories of those who experienced war. In 1999 she was awarded an Australasian Oral History grant for Pacific War Stories; a collection of stories by soldiers who served in the Pacific during World War II.
Among the war-related projects on Cottrell's resume are two series of bite-sized Great War Stories, and a number of one-off documentaries touching on Gallipoli. The Last of the Anzacs (1998) featured interviews with two Gallipoli veterans. Meanwhile Children of Gallipoli (2001) has often screened at Anzac Cove before the yearly dawn service. Centering on two New Zealand and two Turkish students visiting sites where their ancestors fought at Gallipoli, it was produced for TVNZ and Turkish television. Cottrell was also the NZ producer for Turk Tolga Örnek's feature doco Gallipoli.
Onfilm reviewer Helen Martin praised Cottrell's own doco Lest We Forget as "a quiet but powerful exposition of stories told by Kiwis with strong Holocaust connections". The film was made to accompany an Anne Frank exhibition which toured New Zealand in 2011 and 2012.
Cottrell's work also includes hour-long documentary Artikos, which chronicles adventurer Graeme Dingle's 1993 attempt to be the first to circumnavigate the Arctic Circle.
In 1999 Cottrell co-directed Getting to Our Place with Gaylene Preston, a fly on the wall doco backgrounding the development of the museum Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand. Later she co-directed An Abbreviated Life, this time with Jan Jeans. Screened on television in 2008, the film follows the life of a teenager living with cystic fibrosis.
Under her production company, AC Productions, Cottrell also produced The Whistle Blowers, a documentary about sports referees and umpires and what makes them tick.
She is working on Stories of New New Zealanders — an oral/video history about ten refugee families living in the Wellington region. Another project, immigrant athlete tale Running for their Lives, is currently in production.
AC Productions website. Accessed 3 February 2016
Helen Martin, 'Edge Documentary Film Festival 2011' - Review of Lest We Forget: New Zealanders Telling Their Holocaust Stories' - Onfilm, 17 February 2011
'Holocaust Survivors New Zealand Stories Feature in Documentary Competition' (Press Release). AC Productions. Scoop website. Loaded 10 March 2011. Accessed 3 February 2016