How Not To Make A Movie

Those Filmmakers Are Not Us

Well, the news cycle was spinning in overdrove on Friday and then over the weekend.

First we were told that Rose Byrne would be playing Jacinda Ardern in a movie based on the aftermath of the Mosque shootings. Instantly it didn’t feel right. And I’m not talking about the casting. The whiff of White Knight Saviour Complex was strong instantly. Andrew Niccol, a successful Kiwi filmmaker (Gattaca, The Truman Show) was behind a film called They Are Us.

We were told that it was going to focus on Ardern’s strong leadership in the immediate aftermath of one of the world’s worst mass shootings; New Zealand’s worst ever hate-crime.

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By lunchtime that same day a petition had started to get the film shit canned. The only logical resting place for such a tone-deaf idea – a smug project that is void of empathy or any real concerns beyond milking money from a tragedy, and one that is far too raw. It’s far too soon for such a film. I’d argue there’s never a time for this particular film. And I’m clearly not alone in that argument. The petition numbers are now up over 30,000 and counting.

Several Twitter Users were all commenting. Since that’s what Several Twitter Users do.

Some of them even made some strong points.

Ardern pointed out ‘my story is not the one to be told’, confirming she had not been consulted.

More worrying to many of us – anyone with a heart, I would hope – was the fact that the local community had not been consulted. The families of the victims had been left out of the conversation in a profound misplacement of cultural competence.

The best piece about it was penned by Mohamed Hassan for RNZ.

This is an important opinion piece to read. One that you’d hope might stop the filmmakers in their tracks.

Well, on top of that a letter was written to Rose Byrne asking her to refuse the role. This from a family member of one of the victims from the Mosque shooting.

And then, today, we hear one of the film’s producers has resigned. She has realised this film’s tone – or the announcement of the film – is all wrong. She has heard the people. She is slipping away from the project.

Over the weekend there was an article that looked at previous Kiwi films about Kiwi tragedies. Aramoana – made into the film Out Of The Blue, Heavenly Creatures – Peter Jackson’s take on the Parker-Hulme murder case and the recent TV series Black Hands, taken from source material gathered for a book and podcast series – all exploring the Bane Family murders.

In all three cases – and the article points this out – the production started at least a decade after the event. Time passed. Some healing had happened. It wasn’t quite as raw.

But there’s a bigger thing here isn’t there. In those three cases and, um, I don’t know how to put this any softer, white people inflicted murderous harm on other white people. There was neither racial nor religious component.

That’s the real issue here with the film about the Mosque shootings, isn’t it? This was a despicable hate crime. A horrible mind schemed and planned and furthered racism with his actions. So, yes, it’s raw – and will always be. And the film’s tagline, its proposed title, wasn’t good. They Are Us might have worked as something to say in the moment, an attempt at unifying the situation. It feels far less open as a film title.

Pitching the film under a strapline “You Should Have Been Safe Here” might have given the film a tiny sliver of a chance. It would, at the least, have shown an arms-are-open approach. Beginning with consultation – or an announcement that consults would take place – would have been even better. But now we are looking at the likely best-case scenario: The film won’t happen at all. Because it isn’t our story to tell. And the lesson from it wasn’t about strong leadership in the wake. That happened because it needed to – but it didn’t fix anything. And couldn’t. So therefore there is in fact nothing about this to celebrate.

Now instead we see a masterclass in how not to get your dumb movie pitch over the line.

And all within about a couple of days. This is like some Anti 48 Hour Film Project.


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