Unfortunately, by the time this comes to print, the DocNZ festival will have just concluded in Wellington, and will be on its way to Christchurch. Though it is a bit late to plug the festival, it’s still worth noting the programme operates as a useful guide for seeking out some great documentaries. One of the films I was able to see was Shustak, a film about the Jewish American photographer Larence Shustak, a larger than life character who relocated to New Zealand in the Seventies. Shustak is a loving, yet honest eulogy, obviously made with great care by Shustak’s friend Stuart Page.
Shustak is a difficult man to like, this is largely due to some of the less than fond memories related by some of his children who only ever refer to him as “Larry”. Despite this, humanity emerges in his photographs and in the accounts of his friends and students here in New Zealand. Shustak’s devotion to photography and his rolling stone gathers no moss credo make him a irrepressible character, who was undoubtedly magnetic, and influential to those who surrounded him. Page has succeeded in garnering good interviews from his subjects, as well as mixing the talking heads with candid home video footage of Shustak, and interviews with the man himself.
A problem with documentaries about artists is the temporal nature of film means we are often not accorded enough time to spend with the works themselves. The problem extends further when attempting to cover an artist’s lifetime in a mere ninety minutes. This is not a failing of Pages film but rather a failing of the brevity of feature length documentaries. A retort to this is that it offers the viewer an opportunity to then seek out the artist’s work themselves, and in Shustak’s case this is something I am compelled to do.
This documentary is typical of why Creative New Zealand funding is a good thing. Through their help Page is able to make a tribute to a man many New Zealanders would otherwise never hear of. Whether documentaries chronicle our nations defining moments, or offer smaller portraits of artists like Shustak, the more we produce the better, because in my opinion New Zealanders are pretty good at making them.