For more than three decades, Shirley Horrocks has been making documentary films in New Zealand as both director and producer. She has a long track record of documentaries in the arts and in science. Twelve of her documentaries have been screened in the NZ International Film Festival.
Horrocks started out as a high school English teacher in the 1970s, and a mother of two children. She took a year out of teaching to take the Drama Diploma at Auckland University. As part of that year she had to produce a piece of work and she decided to borrow university equipment to make a documentary, Ensemble, about a production by the Theatre Corporate group, which ended up being screened by TV One.
The following year, 1980, Shirley went to New York. She says: “I explored film-making non-stop, went to courses, and was an intern at PBS, When I came back I never returned to school teaching - I just went straight into the industry." She was encouraged by a TVNZ staffer to apply for a production attachment position with TVNZ but it turned out that they were only interested in hiring “younger staff’”! But she managed to get a job with an independent company as Production Manager. Obtaining an MBA as a part-time student helped to give her the confidence to start her own production company, Point of View Productions, in 1986, and it’s still going strong.
Starting with Pleasures and Dangers (1990), a documentary about women artists who deserved to be better known, Shirley has made a long run of documentaries on local artists and aspects of New Zealand society. She has profiled Len Lye, Marti Friedlander, Allen Curnow, Albert Wendt, Merimeri Penfold, Peter Peryer, John Reynolds, Tom Kreisler, and many other artists.
Along the way she won a number of awards, starting with the Premier Prize at the Media Peace Awards in 1993 for Act of Murder which featured Miranda Harcourt performing a one- woman play in New Zealand prisons.
Shirley’s documentaries about science have included Dancing with Atoms (the first profile of Sir Paul Callaghan), Venus: A Quest, and Science & NZ, her current series of short documentaries about urgent issues such as the fight against Covid-19. She is currently working on a profile of Dame Juliet Gerrard, the PM’s Chief Science Advisor, She views both artists and scientists as creative figures, and believes ‘There are so many important stories about both groups that our television channels are neglecting to tell.’
Shirley has also explored a number of disability topics, including documentaries about the Deaf community (such as See What I Mean).
She has chosen the subjects of all her documentaries, but says that the search for funding has taken her as much time and effort as the actual task of film-making. “In this country, be it a feature film or a television documentary, there's only a small pool of money and everybody's passionate about their ideas. Many projects never get beyond the planning stage. So the main strengths required for the job are heaps of patience and persistence.”
In the 2019 New Year Honours, Shirley was awarded an ONZM for ‘Services to Documentary Film-making.’