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Television, 1996

Revisiting Revolution

It is now 13 years since Revolution was made for Television New Zealand, and there has been no equivalent documentary of recent political history on our screens since as far as I can ascertain. The series mapped the social and economic transformation of New Zealand society in the 1980s and early 1990s, and took us to the night of the first MMP election in New Zealand: to Day One of another political revolution that profoundly changed the way in which New Zealand citizens are represented in the democratic process. It was meant to be "the story so far", but as far as television was concerned it was "the story, full stop, go to black".

Regrettably recent history gets dumped into the archives until it becomes ancient history, at which point the programmers sigh "boring" and schedule another reality series on celebrity dog-walkers. So we forget what happened yesterday, let alone what happened last year or in the last decade, and move on uncertainly, vulnerable to ideologies that want to claim ownership of our past and mastery of our futures.

I talk with young undergraduate students at university and they say: "What's Rogernomics?" and "Who's Muldoon?" I shouldn't be surprised and I know people will soon be saying "Who's Winnie?" Most of us who still know the name probably have only a vague recollection of successive events when "Winnie" Peters went fishing, while holding the political destiny of the country in his hands after the knife-edge outcome of that first MMP election in October 1996.

There was at least one fat hour of fascinating documentary material to be assembled out of the first three months alone of MMP in New Zealand. It's a cause for regret that nobody has seen fit to pull together the events of the following decade and remind citizens that they were there too, making history. It is not as if it is a difficult project to realise. The material is there, paid for by the citizens of New Zealand and sitting in the archives; many of the political protagonists are still alive and more willing to go on the record from a disinterested position (which usually offers more compelling and surprising narratives). And if anyone should need a few pointers, I'm available to give useful tips on how to organise this kind of social documentary to get the best bang for your buck in the shortest possible production time, and how to avoid political pressure while doing so.

A social historian who was asked to examine the proposal for Revolution on behalf of NZ on Air back in 1995 initially gave it a thumbs down saying: "This isn't a documentary, it's a re-run." We survived that assessment and the series was made; but I realise, on reflection, that he was right and that that was exactly the point. We wanted to make Revolution because we believed that unless we re-run and re-examine our recent history we are in constant danger of forgetting, and forgetting can render us passive about the present, and slaves of the future.

- Journalist and producer Marcia Russells, OBE, was second in command of TV3's news and current affairs team. She worked with her partner Tom Finlayson on a number of documentaries, including Revolution. Russell died on 1 December 2012.

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