Friday, November 03, 2017

My year with Helen film review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 120 plus films later, here is the review for October 2017. It’s a review that met a deadline, but I sent it wishing I had a bit more time.

My Year with Helen
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

In this, a year of election, Aunty Helen is back. In our cinemas, on social media and active at Labour party events. On the movie screen she is the star of My Year with Helen, leading the United Nations Development Programme while also seeking election as the next Secretary General of United Nations.

The movie explains her current real life, 2017 election presence. In one cinema scene, Clark demonstrates to the camera her social media skills as she cross-posts photos between Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. The movie “conveys how tough it is to break the remaining glass ceilings. May it motivate future generations of women to keep at it!” No wonder Aunty Helen is back, tweeting her support for a potential female Prime Minister in Jacinda Ardern.

My Year with Helen is documentary. Behind the camera is Gaylene Preston and her singular passion for telling New Zealand stories. For Preston, “the basic responsibility of New Zealand filmmakers is to make films principally for the New Zealand audience. If we don’t, no-one else will.” For over thirty years, Preston has told our stories, from Kiwis touched by war in Timor (Punitive Damage (1999)) to the impact of Parikaha (Tatarakihi (2012)). Recognised as Officer of the NZ Order of Merit for her services to the film industry, Preston’s skills are clearly evident in My Year with Helen.

All movies have stars and at times, Helen seems more actor than real life Kiwi. The final interview, as Gaylene questions Clark about her election loss is a masterful en-act-ing of reticence. Clark’s reluctance to reveal more than necessary suggests a movie more aptly titled My Year with a Guarded Helen.

Guarded Helen is however warmed by relationships. We see her in Waihi preparing meals for her ninety-five year old father. We see her husband Peter, patiently waiting after an Auckland speech. While each of these scenes humanise Clark, they also reveal her doing more than her being. We glimpse what Helen gives more than what Helen receives from these significant domestic relationships.

The movie is devoid of religion. Such an absence is consistent with Clark in real life. Raised Presbyterian, as Prime Minister she described herself as agnostic. Yet the UN is not New Zealand. As a global organisation, the UN works for 193 countries. Many in these countries are deeply religious. One wonders how these religious needs impact on the development work of the UN, especially given recent research has urged development studies to take seriously the role of religion in development.

Despite being devoid of religion, the movie does offer a commentary on the difficult task of justice making. Breaking the glass ceiling is an expression of the equal worth of all humans a way of making sense of Galatians 3:28. This provides a theological lens by which to understand My Year with Helen. The agnostic Clark, movie star, tweeter and politician is playing her activist part in re-making the world, seeking to make an equal place for generations of future women.

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