On K Road

On K Road

For the second time in recent years, Auckland’s Karangahape Road and its community finds itself the subject of a web series.

In 2016, anthology series K Rd Stories shared a bunch of narrative and apocryphal tales about the street. Now unfolding on Stuff, K Rd Chronicles is a web doc series focusing on the homeless people who form part of the street’s community.

Producer Brian Holland and Production Manager Ella Wells shared some of the stories behind the stories.

K Rd Chronicles’ key subject is journalist and former homeless person Six – “an overqualified, underemployed, trans-gender journalist”. She produces the street’s newspaper, The K Road Chronicle, and offers an eloquent, informed and trusted entry point into the world of street whānau, for both the series’ makers and viewers.

The series came about from a chance meeting between Six and director/cinematographer Naashon Zalk at an event a couple years back. Six is a fan of Naashon’s work, which includes documentaries for broadcasters including Al Jazeera, ABC, RTL and CCTV, as well as work for non-profit organisations such as Fairtrade, UNAIDS, UNDP and the World Bank.

“Naashon,” Six says, “pretended to know who I am.”

It’s fair to say much of Naashon’s doco work, such as South Africa: Corruption Inc. and New Zealand: Polluted Paradise (both for Al Jazeera) is issues-focused.

A year after that meeting, Naashon and Six’s shared interest in journalism had brought them to the point of developing the web series with longtime factual producer Brian Holland. Brian pitched the idea to Stuff, who came on board as the primary platform for the show.

The show secured NZ on Air funding in October 2018, and began shooting a month later.

Homeless person Keith

Given the large number of negative stereotypes around homelessness and homeless people – and homeless people’s equally negative experiences of media portrayals of their situations – Six’s credibility among the street whānau was key to the success of K Rd Chronicles.

Building relationships on trusted touchstones is something production manager Ella understood from her short film Coco’s, which was selected for Doc Edge last year.

As Coco’s Cantina is on Karangahape Road, Ella already had some understanding of the environment and characters going into K Rd Chronicles. She said that the Chronicles team’s intentions were always honourable towards their subjects and subject matter. “It was important to contribute,” she said, “and not to just ‘get the story’.”

That story or, more accurately, those stories focus on the people. People who are vulnerable, find themselves in vulnerable situations, some temporarily, some longer term. They’re ripe for exploitation by people and systems that don’t care – or at least often give a good impression of not caring.

One episode looks at what can happen when people within those systems act differently – like the monthly Te Kooti o Timatanga Hou/The Court of New Beginnings (aka The Homeless Court). It addresses homeless people’s offending, but also delivers inter-agency support to ensure underlying causes of a person’s offending and homelessness are being addressed.

City Mission outreach worker Nicola

Six made introductions to people on the street and vouched for the production team’s intentions, delivering that all-important element of any documentary – access. That’s not to say that actual access was easy. During production, there were a number of occasions when subjects didn’t turn up for appointments. Being homeless and phoneless, producers often didn’t have a quick way to track them down.

‘Patient’ and ‘flexible’ are perhaps good words to describe the production process.

The shoot finished in April, by which time post was well under way on several episodes. Stuff’s Head of Video/Audio, Carol Hirschfeld, was “very hands on” during post, helping shape and crystallise the episodes, while preserving the integrity of Six and Naashon’s vision for the series.

Naashon and Brian are now developing and pitching more online series.

As is often the way when you’re focused on a topic or issue, it suddenly seems as if there many connected events or instances or news reports about similar or related issues.

As winter sets in, it’s the time of year for Lifewise’s annual awareness and fund-raising event The Big Sleepout, in which Coco’s Cantina founder Renee is participating.

The day before NZ Web Fest interviewed Ella for this piece, The Guardian published this article about a court case in Spain, where a YouTuber was sentenced to jail time for humiliating a homeless man.

The article serves as a reminder of the status of homeless people in a developed society and, more positively, as a rare example of a system affording homeless people some sense of dignity.

Six herself notes that when she was homeless, using a NZ flag as her blanket while she slept resulted in few less problems. “People will piss on a human being,” Six says, “but they won’t pee on a flag.”

Lifewise volunteer Uwe

Watch K Rd Chronicles here on Stuff. (It’s not geo-blocked). The series will also release later on TVNZOnDemand.
Published on 17 June 2019