Dunedin Study doco goes global

A documentary based on a ground-breaking University of Otago study is set to screen in dozens of countries.

Why Am I? - The Science of Us examines the Dunedin Study, which has followed the lives of 1037 people from their birth in Dunedin in 1972 and 1973 to the present day, and monitored almost all aspects of their physical and mental health through regular assessments.

Auckland documentary maker Mark McNeill, of Razor Films, who received about $750,000 from New Zealand On Air to film a four-part documentary based on the study, said it would be aired on dozens of networks around the globe, including SBS in Australia and BBC Asia.

He believed the documentary - which will screen on TVNZ this year - attracted worldwide interest because the Dunedin Study addressed "fundamental'' questions about what it meant to be human.

Findings from the study to be examined in the series included being able to spot behaviours in kindergarten pupils which suggested they were more likely to become criminals in later life.

Another topic was the interaction between genes and environment, which gave a new twist on nature versus nurture.

"They are kind of rewriting the book on that a little bit, because it's not nature or nurture; it's a really interesting combination of one operating through the other.''

Because the study was "completely confidential'', the documentary makers were unable to speak to participants.

"So what we did was we took the findings from the study and we looked at those findings and how they applied to real people in everyday life. So if they talk about criminal behaviour, we went and found criminals.''

He hoped the documentary would make the study more well known in New Zealand.

"We went all around the world filming and constantly people would say to us, ‘Look, I suppose everyone in New Zealand knows about the Dunedin Study,' and you would go, ‘No, they don't'.

"I really hope that this series changes that because I think it deserves to be much better known.''

The documentary had taken longer to put together than initially thought - Mr McNeill previously hoped it would be aired in 2012 or 2013 - largely because of the complex nature of the project and a desire to do the study justice.

"Once we started doing the research on this, we realised it was quite special and unique and we wanted to do it justice.''

The director of the study, Richie Poulton, who was unavailable for comment, previously described the study as arguably "the most detailed study of human health and development that has ever been undertaken''.

Information gained from the study has formed the basis for more than 1000 publications.


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