Director Annie Goldson has argued that she "never really had a grand plan in life", but fell into documentary making. "I always try to avoid giving career talks because I'm still not sure about how it came about". Over 20 years Goldson has won an exhausting string of national and international awards for her documentary work, work in which the personal and the political often intersect.
Though she began making films much earlier, Goldson's first feature-length documentary was Punitive Damage (1999), which won release in cinemas in New Zealand, Australia and the United States. The film documents Kiwi Helen Todd's fight for justice after her son's death at the hands of the Indonesian military, during a demonstration against the Indonesian occupation of East Timor. The film was released at the time of a historic Timor referendum, as President Suharto fell. "Just as the tide of history shifted, we had this film to show," Goldson told The NZ Herald. "It was an extraordinary experience."
Punitive Damage sold to HBO, ABC in Australia, and German broadcaster ARD. Variety praised it as "simply but potently handled ... perhaps the film's most moving moments involve the murdered man's soft-spoken mother, who reveals how she flew to Indonesia upon hearing of her son's death but faced every kind of official obstruction."
First screened on New Zealand television in 2002, Georgie Girl was invited to queer festivals around the world, and won audience awards at gay and straight fests alike. Made with co-director Peter Wells, it tells the story of Georgina Beyer's extraordinary journey from sex worker to member of parliament for rural Wairarapa. Goldson was gratified that Beyer's story of being the first transsexual voted into national office sparked interest beyond New Zealand.
2008's An Island Calling examines the killings in Fiji of John Scott, then Director-General of the Red Cross in Fiji, and his partner Greg Scrivener. Scott had worked as a go-between in the hostage crisis during the 2000 coup, and the documentary traces the story of the Scott family, and the political crises that have marked Fiji's history. The film — made in versions with three different running times — was invited to screen at 20+ festivals. It won Best Documentary at the 2008 Qantas Film and Television Awards, and repeated the honour at lesbian and gay film festivals in Dallas and Madrid.
Brother Number One (2011) follows Kiwi Olympic rower Rob Hamill's trip to Cambodia to retrace the steps of his brother, murdered by the Khymer Rouge in 1978. The film balances Hamill's search for forgiveness, with personal stories by some of the film's Cambodian crewmembers.
NZ Herald critic Peter Calder labelled both Hamill and the film "a knockout", finding Brother Number One the best documentary — local or otherwise — of the 2011 film festival. The Listener's David Larsen found the story powerful, adding "Goldson’s intelligent, nuanced treatment does it full justice." She went on to win the 2011 Aotearoa Film and Televison Award for Best Documentary Director. Initially Goldson planned to co-produce, before concluding it was the stuff of a big-screen documentary.
He Toki Huna: New Zealand in Afghanistan (2013) tells the story of New Zealand military involvement in that country. Again the film screened in both a television cut and a feature-length version, which played at the yearly NZ film festival. The results won Goldson and fellow editor James Brown a Moa NZ Film Award for Best Documentary Editing. This time directing duties were shared with Kay Ellmers.
In 2017 Goldson directed Kim Dotcom: Caught in the Web, about the controversial German internet mogul who took up residence in New Zealand, and got caught up in an extended fight against extradition to the United States. It later hit the iTunes top ten in four countries, including the United States and Canada.
In 2021, Goldson completed A Mild Touch of Cancer, a documentary following former comedian David Downs’ battle with cancer, and his dedication to helping other New Zealanders with the life-threatening illness. Again the film was set to have its world premiere at the New Zealand Film Festival.
Goldson began making films and video installations while living in America in the late 1980s. She won early attention with series Counterterror, which she co-directed with Chris Bratton. Two episodes won especially keen notice: The North of Ireland, which examines efforts to control political dissent in Northern Ireland, and Framing the Panthers (in Black and White), which looks at Black Panther leader Dhoruba Bin Wahad. Wahad was fiinally released from jail nine months after the documentary premiered. Both films won multiple awards at Stateside film festivals, and screened at festivals internationally.
Her other films include TV's Sheilas: 28 Years On (co-directed with Dawn Hutchesson), a history of second-wave feminism in New Zealand, Seeing Red, about National Film Unit filmmaker Cecil Holmes, and "experimental and personal documentary" Wake. She has also worked as producer on a number of documentaries made by emerging directors, including Briar March's There Once was an Island: Te Henua a Nnoho, and James Frankham's Pacific Solution.
Goldson's work is not only political. Qantas-nominated documentary Elgar's Enigma looks at the inspirations for a cello concerto by British composer Edward Elgar. The results screened on television screens in China, Korea, and Australasia. Goldson also helmed a full "concert cut" of the concerto in question.
Her articles have been published in The Listener, Landfall,and Social Text, and she has written for a number of books about film, both Kiwi and otherwise. In 2006 her essay Memory, Landscape, Dad and Me was published by Victoria University Publications, alongside a DVD reissue of Wake.
Goldson won a New Zealand Order of Merit in 2007, for services to film. She has been a director of Auckland's biannual NZ International Documentary Conference, and a founding trustee on the board of documentary festival DOCNZ.
Goldson received her PhD in Film and Television Studies from Auckland University, where she is currently a professor at the Department of Film, Television and Media Studies. She has multiple documentary projects in development.
Profile updated on 22 September 2021
Occasional Productions website. Accessed 22 September 2021
Peter Calder, 'A matter of facts' - Weekend Herald, 9 July 2011, page D22
David Larsen, 'New Zealand International Film Festival - documentaries' - The Listener, 12 July 2011 (issue 3714)
David Larsen, 'Brother Number One: Annie Goldson interview' - The Listener, 8 July 2011
David Stratton, 'Punitive Damage' (Review) - Variety, 27 June 1999
'Life Lessons: Annie Goldson' (Interview) - The NZ Herald, 16 June 2007