How Helen Missed Out

Prue Hyman

Movies you must see, starting with ‘My Year With Helen’

By Prue Hyman 

Maybe I should be writing about my thoughts on the election with Jacinda Ardern’s accession to the Labour leadership and Metiria Turia’s benefit stretching revelations, but so much has already been written and I just can’t face it – maybe in September or when the election is over.

Regular readers of my column will already know that I favour a change of government with as many Green MPs as possible – and none of the recent events has changed my views on that!

So instead I am covering the previous woman leader of the Labour Party and the splendid creative movies and dance I’ve been to recently.

Film Festival is a ‘Marvel’

The annual International Film Festival is a marvel: I don’t get to as many as I used to but I couldn’t resist two NZ-made movies and hope many others will come back on general release. Some of the international dramas and documentaries too I am crossing fingers that I will get to see later.

Gaylene Preston’s documentary ‘My Year with Helen’ was booked out for two performances at the IFF and will be on general release later this month. And Gaylene did interesting Q and As after both screenings.

For anyone interested in the machinations of international policy making at the United Nations or simply an admirer of Helen Clark it is a must see. Her bid to become the first Secretary General of the UN after eight men received much publicity and support in NZ, but seeing the meetings and various people involved live over the campaign still brings new insights.

Though unfortunately it was impossible for Gaylene or any other outsider to gain any real insight into how and why the decision to appoint António Guterres, former Prime Minister of Portugal with ten years tenure as UN High Commissioner for Refugees, was made.

UN vow on ‘transparency’

The UN had vowed to be much more transparent in this appointment than ever before – and indeed it was to an extent.

The names and backgrounds of all the candidates put forward by their respective countries were well publicised and they gave speeches and answered questions in fascinating sessions at the General Assembly – screened live world wide.

Being a political nerd, I listened to almost all of them at the time, and several candidates including at least three women were most impressive. In some polls on social media Helen was ranked top of the whole field.

The active external campaign for a first woman Secretary General (SG) was well covered in the movie, while the whole organisation is supposedly committed to greater gender equality throughout the UN.

Support from the men

All the male candidates somewhat ironically pledged their support of greater gender equality.  (They could of course have withdrawn from the election!)  Most, including Helen Clark herself, were also committed to appointment of the best candidate on merit, but as usual how merit is judged is unspecified, unseen and can contain gender bias.

The General Assembly officially selects the SG, but in practice simply ratifies the candidate picked by the Security Council, which still has five permanent members with a veto — China, the US, and France (all of which vetoed Helen Clark); and Russia and the United Kingdom.

Antonio Guterres takes the oath of office at the UN

After umpteen rounds of straw indicative voting (labeling each candidate favoured, neutral or disfavoured) Guterres emerged as the winner.

There are no criteria, no debates among the Security Council members and no reasons given for any country’s position which somewhat limits the real transparency of the process!

After the result was announced, Guterres said he was grateful to the Member States for their trust in him as well as for the transparent and open selection process they undertook.

I believe this process means that the true winner today is the credibility of the UN. And it also made very clear to me that, as Secretary-General, having been chosen by all Member States, I must be at the service of them all equally and with no agenda but the one enshrined in the UN Charter”.

UN Commitment and openness ‘open to question’

That commitment is fine, but the credibility of the UN and the openness of the process is much more open to question.

The movie shows all this with drama and humour – Helen was amazingly open and phlegmatic throughout the process and on screen at least unsurprised and undisturbed by the result.

However, after saying Guterres was a friend, she adds that he is a safe choice who will disturb little in the organisation. And I think there was insufficient outrage throughout the world at the hypocrisy demonstrated by the rhetoric about gender equality after this result.

Also how much have we heard about what the new SG has done since he took office seven months ago, generally and with

‘Well done’ Gaylene

respect to gender equality throughout the UN? Some of this may be due to our media, which love the thrill of the race but then turn to other things.

Overall on this film, well done Gaylene, Helen and all those involved – and I enjoyed the brief appearances of husband Peter Davis and Helen’s father.

Kobi, the life story

Moving on to the other NZ film I saw and would recommend, it is Kobi, the life story of Kobi Bosshard, born in Switzerland and ‘widely regarded as the grandfather of contemporary New Zealand jewellery’.

Exploring his philosophy of life and work, in the eyes of his daughter Andrea Bosshard (another lovely Q and A), it is a lucid and loving film portrait of her father – and her mother Patricia.

At nearly 80 Kobi continues to produce works of classic simplicity and elegance, while living an enviably rich life in the country in the South Island. You get to see much of his beautiful jewellery while enjoying without hurry his enviable life. Something of an inspiration and a welcome contrast to watching and participating in politics.

Jan Bolwell’s ‘C is for Climate Change’

The final performance I want to mention I confess I have not yet seen – I am going today to Paraparaumu College at 3 pm – it may be too late when you see this for that show but it is also on in Wellington 11th to 13th if I inspire you.

This is Jan Bolwell’s Crows Feet group of older women dancers who have come together to produce several inspiring shows.

This one is “C is for Climate Change” and is described as “a provocative and entertaining programme of dance in which we look at our own backyard: erosion on the Kapiti Coast, pollution of the Manawatu River, our use of plastic, and our role as guardians of planet earth.

But it is not all serious. We include two frivolous dances for the climate change deniers — ‘Singing in the Rain’ and ‘It’s too darn hot’.”

I can’t wait!  (Scroll down to 23 July to see details of performances.)