Kathleen Mantel has made her name with a series of documentaries, often touching on social issues (including problem gambling, parenting and smoking).
Mantel began her screen career in the mid 90s, after studying film and english literature at Victoria University. Starting as a sound recordist, she went on to work behind the scenes in a variety of roles — including as an arts reporter for Nightline — before moving into editing.
In the late 90s Mantel found herself in New York, working in a busy Soho loft for company Pseudo Programs. Pseudo was one of the first companies to produce broadcast quality live content specifically for the web. Mantel spent three years directing shows there, including Gametime, an hour long, live daily show. Concentrating on computer and video games, Gametime was one of 50 different shows Pseudo streamed each week. Mentored by veteran director and concert lighting guru Joshua White (aka Joshua Light), she also helmed documentaries on varied topics from art to subcultures.
Back in New Zealand, Mantel directed 2002's Kids, the first of many one-off documentaries she has made for Wellington company Top Shelf. Subtitled The Story of a Teenage Pregnancy, the film followed three teenagers at different stages of their pregnancy.
Mantel went on to interview problem gamblers for It's Not a Game, which won two awards at festivals in the United States. She followed it with one of her most high-profile docos to date. Narrated by Robyn Malcolm, 2005's Leaving the Exclusive Brethren included interviews with members of the separatist Raven-Taylor-Hales branch of the Exclusive Brethren (the first interviews of their kind) — plus others who argued their families had been torn apart after they left or were thrown out by the brethren. The film won Mantel another two American awards, including a silver at the Houston International Independent Film Festival.
Starting with 2008's Raising the Moko (on grandparents raising their grandchildren), Mantel has directed a number of documentaries for Māori Television. In 2010 she was one of a trio of directors who helmed Tamariki Ora. Devoted to stopping child abuse, the two-night Māori Television broadcast featured interviews with people who had confronted violence in their family and community.
Inside New Zealand doco Dying for a Smoke (2011) examined the tobacco industry in New Zealand, and the high numbers of Māori smokers. Among others, Mantel interviewed corporate whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand (played by Russell Crowe in movie The Insider), and nabbed a rare on-camera interview with representatives of multinational company Imperial Tobacco.
In August 2011 Mantel's doco The Green Chain was chosen to launch the Pakipumeka Aotearoa documentary slot on Māori Television. Winner of the 2012 NZ Television Award for Popular Documentary, The Green Chain follows the fight of a sawmill worker to expose poisons at his old workplace.
Mantel won a 2016 Doc Edge award for Best TV Documentary for suicide prevention documentary Target Zero, hosted by Mike King. She later directed an episode of Grand Designs New Zealand in 2019 — and two seasons of The Barber, which profiles a Hastings barbershop.
Profile updated 3 December 2020
Top Shelf website (broken link) Accessed 29 November 2012
Scottie Productions website. Accessed 3 December 2020