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Go South: The NZ travel show with no narration or score

Go South, Saturday.

With Go South, New Zealand jumps on the captivating, if time-consuming, bandwagon of televising cross-country journeys.

Imagine a TV programme as a literal journey – as every minute of, say, a long train trip unfolds on screen, endlessly present and without the bother of commentary. Well, you don’t have to imagine it: it’s a thing.

The “slow television” trend has been building – slowly, obviously – since 2009, when the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK aired the seven-hour surprise hit Bergensbanen minute by minute – train journey across Southern Norway. Successors included 2011’s 134-hour live broadcast of a coastal voyage from Bergen to Kirkenes, which was watched at some point by half of the country’s population.

Macro alias: ModuleRenderer

Last January, Australia’s SBS presented a three-hour documentary of a journey aboard the Ghan, the passenger train from Adelaide to Darwin, following it up with a 17-hour cut. The response was such that SBS is showing four more slow delights in January 2019 – one of which is actually New Zealand’s introduction to slow TV.

Go South (Prime, Saturday, 9.30pm) traces the journey from Auckland to the deep south over three commercial-free hours. An hour after that journey ends, at 1.30am Sunday, an extended 12-hour version begins.

New Zealand’s geography being what it is, Go South has a key difference from most slow TV: multiple modes of transport. Three trains, a Land Rover and two sea vessels. It was, says director Spencer Stoner, like making “six different programmes in one”.

The other thing that becomes evident is that the keynote of Go South is not the pictures but its environmental sound. There is no score and no narration.

“We paid just as much attention to that, if not more, than to the visuals. We talked through with the sound recordist about how we wanted to capture different soundscapes from each vehicle. So at times, we’ve got mics right up against the locomotive engine, which is a really intense sound, at other times near the brakes, and mics in the back that offer a more gentle sound.”

Compressing the 40-hour journey into just three for broadcast was heartbreaking at times, says Stoner, and he is keen for viewers to see the 12-hour cut.

“Absolutely. If you’ve got a rainy day and you’re going to be around the house, set aside 12 hours. You don’t have to be focused on the TV the whole time. Just have it there and engage with it as you feel compelled to.

“There are so many special moments there you’ll be glad you did.”

This article was first published in the January 19, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.