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August 3, 2014 | by  | in Arts Film |
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The Dark Horse [Film Review]

Directed by James Napier Robertson
Reviewed by Charlotte Doyle
4.5 Stars

Sipping (albeit fizzy) red wine while munching on Bellinis (a stretch considering the lack of salmon) was a reeking statement of privilege after emerging from a movie which plunged the audience into gang-patched Gisborne. The potential post-film conversation starters thrown around included: “Do you feel an urge to play chess?”, “Isn’t this wine just so refined?” and, “Did you even know we had gangs in New Zealand?” Having arrived concerned about the cleanliness of my Palladiums and leaving feeling an immense gratitude for never experiencing a punch in the face, the Russell McVeagh Gala screening of The Dark Horse was thus an event with an immense reality check.

Avoid the temptation to consider this yet another Once Were Warriors saga, as the themes are infinitely more universal. Anyone can relate to the innate need for sympathetic companionship. The blind desperation for security. Loyalty to overbearing family members. An inability to visualise something beyond all you’ve ever known. At the same time, many members of the audiences paying easy money to see this film have most likely never been deliberately peed on to harden them up. Yet in spite of this transcendence of racial presumptions, it is also possibly about time people emerged from their indoctrinated apathy to social issues in New Zealand. Instead of tripping off to the other side of the world for philanthropic campaigns (e.g. Karen Walker and her sunglasses), there are immense challenges facing local communities, and often ones with an underlying beautifully rich, indigenous culture.

This is a story passionately told. Director and writer James Napier Robertson emphatically described the film’s creation over four years as a deeply personal and life-changing project, and each speaker at the Gala emphasised the touching charisma of Genesis Potini, its main subject. The culmination of their efforts was an intensely respectful, celebratory yet challenging film. Other than one shot of a geographical location that annoyingly didn’t match reality (while understanding the lack of beauty of a motorway), there don’t seem to be any other obvious faults. The story of Genesis Potini has been rightfully brilliantly told.

The Dark Horse is in cinemas now.

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