Robyn Paterson won attention in 2012 for directing award-winning film Finding Mercy, in which she headed back to her Zimbabwe birthplace to find a best friend from childhood. Feature documentary In the Zone followed in 2018, which explored a man's efforts to transform educational outcomes for disadvantaged youth in Auckland and Chicago. Paterson has worked in numerous roles: from directing factual TV shows (Grand Designs, Attitude) to writing (The Simon Eliot Show, Facelift) and casting. She has also faced the camera as a Queer Nation presenter and occasional actor, and is a published author.
We carried tension with us throughout the journey, because you really don’t know in Zimbabwe where the threat is coming from. There’s a saying over there: “The spider you can’t see is worse than the spider you can see.” Robyn Paterson on filming documentary Finding Mercy in secret, The Listener, 6 December 2012
Feature documentary In the Zone tells the story of American Terrance Wallace. In 2011 he launched The InZone Project; its aim was to transform the lives of disadvantaged Māori and Pasifika teens by moving them into supportive homes, in zones that enable them to receive opportunities at top Auckland schools like Auckland Grammar. Director Robyn Paterson (Finding Mercy) follows Wallace as he attempts to take the programme back to his hometown of Chicago. Paterson developed the project after winning a 2015 pitching competition at Kiwi documentary festival Doc Edge.
In this Attitude episode, 14-year-old Sean Prendeville faces up to a complex and radical surgery: rotationplasty. For the bone cancer survivor the operation involves attaching his lower leg to the hip joint, rotating it and using the ankle as a ‘hinge’ for a prosthetic limb. The programme tracks the nature-mad Sean’s journey, from pre-surgery anxiety to rehab on his backwards right foot/knee; and the things that helped him through: his blue tongue lizard, challenge beads, Mum and family, and design student Jessica Quinn (who underwent the procedure when she was younger).
The concept of this short doco was to give its subjects the opportunity to tell their own stories straight to camera. Filmmakers Robyn Paterson and Paula Boock gave attendees of Auckland's annual Big Gay Out an invitation to go into a self-operated video booth, and answer the question ‘What does home mean to you?’. The candid results are snapshots of LGBT experiences and searches for identity and belonging. Queer Selfies featured on TV’s 20/20 and was made as part of Loading Docs, a series of three-minute long Kiwi films created for online distribution.
At the age of eight, filmmaker Robyn Paterson (white) and her best friend Mercy (black) greeted Comrade Robert Mugabe with flowers at a Zimbabwe air-force base. They became poster children of the new Zimbabwe. But the country was soon to descend into turmoil under Mugabe’s rule, and Paterson’s family was forced to flee to New Zealand. This documentary traces Paterson’s return to her birthplace a generation later, and a high-risk undercover search to find the fate of her childhood friend. Mercy won Paterson the Best Emerging Director Award at 2013 DocEdge Festival.
The Simon Eliot Show was a ground-breaking quiz show for children, based on hit book Everything You Need to Know about the World. Contestants interacted in real time with Simon, an animated host with blue skin. Children played from home via the internet using a webcam, while Simon hosted the show from his bedroom in a Wellington ‘virtual' studio. Viewers were also able to text in to win a prize. Running for two seasons, the show won an NZ On Air award for Outstanding Innovation in Kids Programmes.
Attitude is a weekly series that addresses the issues and interests of people living with a disability. The high energy series launched in 2008, with a strong thread of advocacy journalism. Attitude has a number of team members who themselves have a disability, including all the onscreen researcher/reporters. Much of Attitude's content has been loaded onto online hub Attitude Live, which launched in 2013 and later beat 86 countries to win a World Summit Award in the 'inclusion and empowerment' category — plus praise for digital innovation.
The episode opens with a story about the Maxim Institute, an international think tank that has been linked to anti-gay fundamentalist groups. The main feature focuses on Marilyn Waring, an MP from 1975 until 84. She talks candidly about the personal cost of being in parliament — especially when she was outed as a lesbian. Waring also shares her opinions about the Civil Unions Bill and why she is opposed to it. The show finishes with a gay literature review and an interview with James Hadley, the incoming programme manager of Wellington's Bats Theatre.
In this Queer Nation edition 'QNN' (queer news headlines) leads, with stories about moves to introduce gay marriage in Australia and Canada, and a dramatic rise in the number of HIV cases in New Zealand. Crew involved in Takatāpui, on Māori Television, promote their (new at the time) programme. The third part of this episode focuses on the first reading of the Civil Union Bill, on 24 June 2004. With still some confusion surrounding the bill, its workings are explained to viewers.
Queer Nation was a factual series made by, for and about lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) New Zealanders. Produced by Livingstone Productions with John A Givins at the helm, it screened on TVNZ for 11 seasons over nine years from 1996 till 2004 and was the world's longest running free-to-air TV programme made for the LGBT community. Long-serving presenters included original host (and future NZ On Screen ScreenTalk director) Andrew Whiteside, Libby Magee and Nettie Kinmott. Queer Nation won Best Factual Series at the NZ Television Awards 2003.