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August 4, 2008 | by  | in Film |
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The Hollow Men

Directed by Alister Barry

Blending an astonishing array of archived footage with excerpts from leaked emails and reports, The Hollow Men follows Don Brash and his campaign team as they seduce and are in turn seduced by big business, big money and big political marketing guns from Australia and the US. Viewers who have developed an allergy to the political documentary genre in recent years need not fear: veteran documentary maker Alister Barry (Someone Else’s Country, In a Land of Plenty) has created a visually stimulating adaptation of Nicky Hager’s book without lapsing into sensationalism a la Michael Moore. Less happily, the political deception uncovered in the film is not safely ensconced in Washington but lurking around the corridors of our very own Beehive.

Barry is familiar with his subject matter, having previously released three films dealing with the continued legacy of the New Right revolution. His latest collaboration with Nicky Hager began with a frantic call to secure the film rights, in that turbulent week that saw Don Brash lift the injunction preventing the book’s release and step down as National Party leader. Much of the 20 months since appears to have been spent trawling the TVNZ archives for the rough and unaired footage that makes up the bulk of the film’s visuals. Brash being groomed by his minders and interacting with media personnel prior to press releases comes as a refreshing antidote to sound bite political media coverage, and is supplemented with re-enactments and retrospective interviews with political commentators as needed.

A sly sense of humour guides the first half of the film. While the smirking voiceovers to some of the leaked emails read as excessive, the live footage cannot be dismissed as artistic license. When told by a virulent Kim Hill that his campaign is “right wing populism… to be frank, [your] supporters are right wing rednecks,” Brash meekly admits “that may be right.” The enthusiastic opening-night laughter that followed such gaffes suggested that in this case The Hollow Men had the luxury of preaching to the converted.

Laughs are off, however, as the narrative hits Orewa. The leaked discussions of “dog whistle” tactics and instructions to “massage the message… tell ‘em what they want to hear” will shock the politically naïve, while Brash’s repetition of a stock party line in response to media questioning is as ridiculous as it is appalling.

Sure, it is election year, but The Hollow Men should not be sideswiped with accusations of political bias. Those who have not read Hager’s book will find the film adaptation an entertaining and revealing insight into modern New Zealand politics.

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Nina Fowler (BA), former Salient feature writer, is excited about Salient '10.

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