TV Preview: The Day That Changed My Life

The Day That Changed My Life: TV1, 8.30 Wednesday

A Personal View By Doug Coutts

By Doug Coutts

Four years on, the Christchurch earthquake is still making the front page. We’ve had cricket matches in its honour, Dave Dobbyn’s been trotted out at least twice to sing to its memory, and politicians both local and national have been falling over each other to claim the credit for the rebuild. Christchurch is on the up!

In the past few months it’s seemed, to this viewer at least, there’s been an orchestrated litany of hype, with spin doctors scrambling either to persuade the people of Christchurch that things really are getting better when it doesn’t look like it from ground zero, or to con the rest of us into re-investing in the city so it can get back on even more of its feet. A pale copy of the Basin Reserve and an outdoor concert or two doesn’t really translate to a solid case of recovery.

But in case you were getting a bit sick of all the fuss, The Day That Changed My Life brings the earthquake back into perspective. Not a marketing exercise, just real people talking about their own experiences.

And what experiences … from the woman who spent several hours pinned under what she thought was an office desk but turned out to be a concrete beam (“I don’t know if I should tell you that,” said the rescuer who reached her first) to the man who was flying home to Christchurch but got sent back to Auckland. He managed to grab a lift on an air ambulance back to the devastated city but was unable to find his wife who had been in the CTV building. He never saw her again.

And then there was the Press reporter who escaped from her office and set out with a colleague to document the carnage close up only to find two people she knew well both badly hurt – one made it but the other didn’t.

In all, six people speak frankly and openly about their experiences that day. The interviews were simply and sensitively shot – no wobbly pans or slow zooms to pick up the tear just as it formed – and backed up with re-enactments, also done without the sensationalism and am-dram techniques we’ve come to expect (especially if you spend too much time in the top end of the Sky channels). The soundtrack is never intrusive or jarring but underscored and accentuated where it needs to – again, unlike what we’re used to.

There was also a good deal of never-before-seen footage. Some of it we have seen before, but there’s a lot of new material, taken both during and immediately after the quake – reinforcing just how many lives changed that day, and how quickly.

Those raw, first-hand accounts give us an intimate portrait of the day, said the network’s publicist, and that’s true. And it’s an example of how documentaries work – or should work: by dealing with specifics they help us see the bigger picture, bringing home, at least to this small rock-solid corner of the country, just how tough a blow Christchurch has been dealt.

We don’t really need someone from Auckland belting out Loyal or Welcome Home, or anyone rattling their mayoral chains at largely irrelevant sports events, to point that out.

Doug Coutts has had a career in and around television for close to 40 years.  He spent 13 years as a floor manager at Avalon Studios before going freelance and never earning as much again. His writing has spanned TV genres — from Shortland Street dialoguery and quiz shows to documentaries and comedy — while a lengthy stint as TV reviewer in the Auckland Star earned him two mentions in Metro magazine’s Hot List and an angry letter from Jon Gadsby. You can read more of Doug (the satirist) at: Weakly Whirled News.

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