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Make the film and be damned

Written By: - Date published: 8:58 am, June 18th, 2021 - 23 comments
Categories: Deep stuff, film, Media, religion - Tags:

A company wants to make a film about the Christchurch mosque massacre on 15 March 2019.

It’s about time.

Both the Prime Minister and the Mayor of Christchurch have proposed that the film should not be made because there are other stories that ought to be told first.  Neither of them have the right to determine which stories about anything should or should not be told, in any order. Nor does the Prime Minister have the right to determine whether the film ought to receive state funding.

Despite claims by some Christchurch Muslims that they weren’t consulted, it emerged yesterday that they were.

They have now got their collective messages straight in a joint statement between the film-makers and the Muslim Association of Canterbury, which also said that the production team were “devastated by the pain and concerns caused by the announcement of the film by the members of the New Zealand public, the Muslim community of New Zealand and in particular the victims directly impacted by the events of March 15th 2019 in Christchurch.”

https://www.stuff.co.nz/entertainment/film/300333148/they-are-us-producers-consulted-christchurch-imams-but-deeply-regret-not-doing-more

This emote-and-counter-emote is a pretty basic freedom of speech issue, and also a history-teaching moment.

This week the NZ Herald reported:

Christchurch mosque shootings: They are not us, and it hurts to be props in a Hollywood movie

As a Muslim, I have never had any faith in Hollywood. It is an industry that for decades was the only source of information for billions of people on Islam and Muslims, and what they saw were monsters marionetted on screen to sell cinema tickets.

Grotesque antagonists screaming nonsensically, cloaked in black, firing AK-47 rifles in the air before getting mowed down by Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone or Harrison Ford or whatever heroic white saviour was in vogue that year.

A big lesson from the world of international film production is the one of perpetual creative ideological competition: if there isn’t a Muslim-oriented film company in the entire world that can’t make a film about this issue, then what happens is  this: others do it instead. So hurry up.

But there are good arguments to make the film.

Firstly, this history needs to be told, or it will be told for us. It was a racist and evil politics of representation that got us here in the first place, through a powerful engine of short films on Youtube, 4Chan, Reddit, 8Chan and elsewhere, effectively enough to incite people to commit acts of terror. If New Zealanders can’t tell a good story about a good New Zealander doing good, the existing evil narrative wins. It is a perpetual ideological contest which needs fresh content as its defence. Make the good narrative.

Secondly, Prime Minister Ardern now  has a unique place in the world, and her place in this terrible tragedy adds to that uniqueness. Of the rich nations in the world, she is one of no more than three i am aware of that has actively supported Muslims within her country in the last decade. That she had to do so within such shocking circumstances is also a story worth telling. Leaders across the world are begging for good examples of democracies and leaders who are both compassionate and high functioning. The idea of humane and tolerant democracy needs this story because such humane and tolerant democracy is itself at risk. The light of liberal, generous, tolerant democracy is dimming. Light the fire.

Thirdly, opposing this kind of representation about her leadership role stands against the entire Prime Minister Ardern publicity machine. No one complained when news stations and youtube clips compared her performance at the United Nations to that of Donald Trump: they wanted to promote a young, liberal left democrat against an autocrat. Ardern had yet another biography come out this week (which had no qualms about explaining her role), and these authorised-unauthorised hagiographies come out about once a year: Jacinda Ardern a New Kind of Leader, Jacinda Ardern Leading with Empathy, I Know This To Be True Jacinda Ardern, Jacinda Ardern, etc etcGushing magazines for months and months after the event, together with substantial legislative changes that she personally led, attest to her role.They are at one with the intentional publicity machine generating wall to wall coverage through news and journal publications in the months and years after the massacre precisely on her actions and the kind of leadership that this represents.

Doing a film on Ardern is what her team wants (even if it’s not this one), and there is no principle against why that’s a bad idea just because it’s a film.  Ardern herself is at the centre of this publicity machine and has used it all the way to power from the beginning.

So, should the Muslim community of Christchurch or New Zealand or the world if this petition goes worldwide, determine whether this film should be made? According to Mohammad Hassan from Christchurch’s Muslim community, yes. His petition wants it stopped.

And here we are again, being spoken about but not spoken to. Our intimate and devastating trauma packaged and sold by yet another twinkle-eyed Hollywood producer. Our voices are irrelevant. Our bodies props on a set designed to tell someone else’s fable.

Even I am surprised by how much this hurts. How angry it makes me. But it’s a reminder the pain is still fresh. These wounds have not healed. I write this from a place of utter exhaustion. I am tired. I do not want to deal with this today, but here we are again.

We should accept that it hurts. Full stop. I can’t imagine Prime Minister Sir John Hall at the smashing of Parihaka in 1881, wanting to see a play being done on that event or his role in it. He would look terrible. But it deserved one. It took over a century for interesting films to be made about the New Zealand Wars.

That’s the “too early” argument.

But that’s not a good argument. It simply points to a kind of creative and moral laziness that such films weren’t made, that histories weren’t told before the actual participants were long dead, and that the truths were buried with them. This creative and moral laziness has made the entire Treaty of Waitangi process damn miserable. Make the story live, or the moral force it has in our collective mind will dissolve. The result of this century of creative near-silence is that we are still having a stupid nationwide consultation about whether to include the New Zealand wars in our history curriculum. Let’s not repeat that.

Secondly films about far larger crimes against humanity through World War 2 were being made about national leadership before it began, while it was on, and for 70 years since. Same for Vietnam. This moment in Christchurch exists within a recent history of massacres of Muslims that have risen with the rise of the hard right – a crisis which many have seen as a precursor to those surrounding World War 2. Precisely because that WW2 story is told so often and in so many ways, World War 2 is and will remain our primary moral fulcrum weighing against the new rise of the racist hard right. Tell the story, so that its moral message helps define us anew from one generation to the next. Don’t tell the story and its entire moral force dissolves.

We barely know about the moral message of China and Russia’s massacres-of-millions-through-deliberate-famine, precisely because they were totalitarian regimes who suppressed such truths from being expressed – especially in film form from their own people. We struggled to put up a memorial in a rose garden to the 237 people who died in the Erebus disaster over 40 years ago.

So now we can imagine the effects if the film production company agrees, shuts the idea down, walks away, and we wipe the back of our hand against our collective forehead in relief.

The great Conservative machine about the hyper woke killing cultural expression gets a big confirmation.

The floor is open for another film company to do the film with as much or as little sympathy as they want.

The opponents of liberal, tolerant and generous democratic leadership get to stare down Biden’s challenge to find good examples of good leadership as a balance against rising tyranny.

The New Zealand film industry misses the kind of moral test that it needed.

Australia as an exporter of racist extremism goes unexamined, again.

Ardern looks like a total political hypocrite.

The failure of our own state to protect its own people goes unexamined (other than through an absurdly narrow Royal Commission).

The international machine of Muslims suppressing creative production gets another win, and also misses out on a major creative opportunity for Muslims.

But at least New Zealand is placated, its memory again erased.

Instead, make the film.

23 comments on “Make the film and be damned ”

  1. Anne 1

    Thank-you Ad for putting a big effort in putting together this post.

    I agree with much of what you have said but not everything. Yes, there is a need for such a film and for the reasons you have given, but there is also a time and a place for it to happen.

    As anyone who has been through a terrifying experience will know, it takes time to recover – sometimes years. A good example is those who were part of/or witnessed terrible scenes in the two world wars. But it took years for the full story of some of the worst atrocities to come out – the Jewish Holocaust is probably the most famous.

    The Christchurch Muslim community of NZ were the direct victims. They are not ready yet to watch a re-enactment of their experience on the screen. We need to respect that. Give them a bit more time to come to terms with what happened, and then go for it I say.

    • Forget now 1.1

      I agree with Anne that thanks are due to Ad for the time and effort to craft the OP. But the title could have used some work ("publish and be damned" is a newspaper line I think, though I don't know the context). Who is supposed to "be damned" here: The MAC? The filmakers? Ardern? Surely damnation is not a good thing, even if not used in a christian sense.

      However, I do not see this as a free speech issue. There is no way to prevent the film being made with greenscreen backgrounds in any studio anywhere in the world. It is more a question of whether the production company will be provided access to filming locations in Christchurch (probably involving closing off major roads around Hagley park). And whether the filming and screening of the film will be accompanied by vocal and disruptive protests that may make it uneconomic, or otherwise unattractive, for the production company.

      The Parihaka comparison is just confusing. Comparing Premier Hall to Prime Minister Ardern is a long enough stretch. But that was certainly not just a cultish loner acting out his delusions to tragic results. The tragedy of Parihaka was in how calculated and celebrated the invasion was by the settlers, and their government. Who were the Bryce & Gordon in the Christchurch attack? Though arguably, the displaying of the "evil" Te Whiti to various public gatherings during his unjust imprisonment in the South Island, did approximate a filmgoing experience for the time. A kind of play demonstrating the superiority of the civilized over the savage, using a person as a prop for the propaganda.

  2. ghostwhowalksnz 2

    Here we go … a project for a film about a recent event, which may or may not be made and may or maynot be the right time, and the article here veers off into an anti Ardern meme.

    'Thirdly, opposing this kind of representation about her leadership role stands against the entire Prime Minister Ardern publicity machine'

    So the idea that she said that 'others storys should be told, not mine' is not the right thing to do and say, and thus suspect because … womens magazines ! [pro tip womens magazines largely make up their own story leads without any input from Ardern, they use stock photos and such about events involving women…because they are womens magazines]. Seriously , its not part of any 'publicity machine'.

    • Marcus Morris 2.1

      Totally agree Gwwnz. This line,

      'Thirdly, opposing this kind of representation about her leadership role stands against the entire Prime Minister Ardern publicity machine'

      is a gratuitous slur on Jacinda Adern and totally out of order. Our Prime Minister is very much her own person and "what we see is what we get". In my opinion she is totally sincere and that is why she retains her popularity. She doesn't need a PR machine to give her polish.

      I also hold the view that now is not the time to make such a film.

  3. Stuart Munro 3

    I'm not sure it's the right time, or the right outfit having a go at this, but preventing movies isn't really part of the normal business of government.

    That said, there are more powers available than mere state coercion – if for example local Muslim groups, the PM, and the race relations conciliator all came out against it, the producers might well be persuaded to abandon it.

    Generally speaking, movie companies aren't keen to chance projects that seem poised to die in a hail of hostile tweets.

  4. Patricia Bremner 4

    Good arguments for the film Ad, but it will be made for money not so much for art or culture.

    A country where guns and massacres are common, where people live in gated communities with armed guards, have so little in common with us, I feel the human truths would get lost. After all, even people living here have abused victims and survivors.

    It is a known fact that telling the story will stir up good and bad outcomes. How soon is too soon? Who will be this film appeal to? Who will it affect? What are the parameters? What window of personal perception will guide the thinking?

    So much to consider, and once made, will this movie become the perceived truth? Can a US lens convey the nuances of Aotearoa?

  5. "about time" and "this history"

    Really ..History?

    And without getting into the other myriad of reasons this movie is so wrong ..I would have thought that Labour..when they first heard whispers of this project (which they would have ..its a very small country) should have actively said "No! No! No!"…a movie about a political Leader who is still in office, and arguably still in the prime of their political career is unheard of simply because it has great potential to backfire..

    • ghostwhowalksnz 5.1

      Thats what happened , she said NO. What do you think 'active No' is instead ?

      • Siobhan 5.1.1

        No. Like I said. I'm not talking about what was said after the damage was half done. I'm talking about the fact this is a small country ..and there is alot of family and friend connection between film and politics ..I'm talking about they should have said "No' before it became public.

        • ghostwhowalksnz 5.1.1.1

          That doesnt make sense. Apart from the consultation, so called ,no one knew they had a film project. It wasnt a public service type 'no surprises' situation and she was only asked in media rounds at the start of week.

          No means No, do you know what that even means ?

  6. Tiger Mountain 6

    Someone, somewhere is going to make the second and subsequent films about the Christchurch Mosque massacre whatever anyone here thinks or says–the first was made Cinéma vérité style by the white supremacist as he blasted away.

    Steven Spielberg made one of the best WWII movies–“Schindlers List” in 1993, almost 50 years after events depicted. There is absolutely no rush on this project apart from the film industry money trench.

  7. Pete 7

    The Prime Minister definitely shouldn't determine whether films ought to receive state funding. The Prime Minister definitely shouldn't have the right to determine which stories about anything should or should not be told. I'm sure she doesn't expect either of those things.

    She certainly has as much right as anyone though to have opinions about the issue and express them. She is entitled to her reasons for not wanting the movie too.

    The discussion reminds me of the cannabis referendum. Ms Ardern did not say how she was going to vote before the vote and was attacked. Had she indicated her preference prior to the vote she would have been attacked for 'trying to influence' it.

    It seems we want to hear from her – some for affirmation and for some so they can attack her for what she says or for actually saying anything.

  8. ghostwhowalksnz 8

    Theres a whole genre of film in central europe especially Germany, that were made immediately after wars end 'in the rubble' of bombed out cities, hence the name

    Trummerfilm

    'The style is characterized by its use of location exteriors among the "rubble" of bombed-down cities to bring the gritty, depressing reality of the lives of the civilian survivors in those early years'

    The Third Man (1949) is one that a lot of older people will remember, as it was a Hollywood production with a european director made in bombed out Vienna

  9. McFlock 9

    Absence of a hollywood movie doesn't mean that any issues, including Australian extremism, will go unexamined.

    Nor is there any censorship going on. Just other people exercising their free speech, so far.

    There is no rush to make a movie, other than for commercial reasons – and they're not good enough to risk stuffing this up.

    That having been said, the post is a good one. This isn't a simple issue, and has many facets for and against.

    I will say that the difference between the shootings and WW2 is that, e.g., everyone in Poland was directly affected by the Nazi invasion. Pretty much everyone had the cache to tell that story.

    Not sure there's a parallel yet with the chch prick, but it will eventually happen that someone with reasonable connection to the events will tell their story. No rush, though.

  10. Stephen D 10

    It would have been nice to credit Orewa College for the Kia Kaha pic.

  11. Anker 11
    • Agree with most of what you say Ad.

    cancel culture (not the Muslims who were against the film) but the people who did the pile on.

    worst was Golriz…….labelling it white supremacy is woke gone mad

    • I Feel Love 11.1

      Yeah what would Golriz know about racism compared to you right? Calling someone "woke" is just a way to shut them up, especially non white people, especially non white women. Maybe shut up and listen for a change.

  12. Treetop 12

    Review making a film on the Christchurch horror 15 March 2019 in 5 years. I do not think it right for a sitting Prime Minister to be part of a film when there is a political process which her government is involved in.

    If Hollywood want to make a film I suggest they seek the permission of the survivors who were at the Lake Alice child and adolescent unit from 1972 – 1978.

    Even though some of the Lake Alice accounts are currently being told at the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in State Care, many governments in NZ have seriously failed the survivors. The survivors are not getting any younger and many survivors would want full acknowledgement of what was done to them. To an extent the police also turned their back on the sadistic treatment which Dr Leeks authorised.

    Why Dr Leeks was not extradited from Australia is the question I would want a film to answer?

  13. Anker 13

    Wow I feel love. That was pretty strong i.e. "the shut up and listen for a change" bit.

    But I am going to agree, Woke is a label and probably unhelpful. A bit like Terf.

    I am not trying to shut anyone down. I merely don't agree with Golriz view that making a film about Jacinda Ardern's response to the terrorist attack is white supremacy.

    The movie was something I thought a lot about actually and did listen to a lot of views. I actually could see the both sides to the arguement over the movie.

    Probably Goriz has a more lived experience of racism (although you are making an assumption about my race

    By making the film there is a chance to show millions of people what good leadership looks like "the are us". and how it is possible to have a crack down on weapons. And how a young female leader initiated the Christchurch call. I think that is a worthy aim.

  14. ghostwhowalksnz 14

    Its an indictment in a way on the self important NZ film industry who are so obsessed with importing big budget and big noting Hollywood movies that a NZ made docu-series approach has been overlooked

    What the survivors are probably thinking about is something like this that streamed on Netflix

    "Survivors and first responders share personal stories of anguish, kindness and bravery that unfolded amid the Paris terror attacks of Nov. 13, 2015."

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/November_13:_Attack_on_Paris

  15. Jenny How to get there 15

    From the time our ancestors sat around camp fires in caves people have told narrative stories to each other. Of heroes and villains, of triumph and tragedy.

    Why do we tell such stories to each other.

    To try to make sense of the world.

    Why are we still waiting for that Hollywood treatment of the 9/11 attack?

    The problem with making a film about the 9/11 attack is that the terrorists always come out as cartoon characters, not human beings. Though the terrorists are central to the story, all suggested screen plays so far, have concentrated on bit players, Those who reacted to the attack. No screen play of the build up, which led to the attack.
    Who the hell is Ali Atta?
    To this day the identities and motives of the 9/11 attackers remain shrouded in silence and secrecy.

    What drove them?

    Left unanswered these questions make for an empty story. A story which doesn't satisfy our need to try and make sense of the world.

    Why the Trade Towers as their chosen target?

    All this is left unexplained and unexamined. This huge plot hole remains unfilled even by the once over lightly Hollywood treatment.

    The dramatisation does not fill our need to understand the world and so descends into superficial light hearted entertainment unsuited to retelling this grave tragedy.

    It makes no sense of the world.

    Now imagine a screen play that started with Ali Atta as a young boy playing in the street, innocent as all children are.

    What was it that this boy or young man witnessed growing up, that drove him as a grown man to kill himself and thousands of other innocent human beings?

    Now we would have a gripping story that would be the jumping off point to the tragedy and heroism of the victims and respondents.

    The same for the Christchurch Shooter (whose name we are not allowed to mention here) Who is he, What drove him? Who supported him? Who ignored the warnings?
    What was the society that formed him?

    Just like Ali Atta we are served up with an unrecognisable nameless shadowy figure.

    Why New Zealand?

    Are we blameless?

    Are we somehow to blame?

    Is racism a festering problem in our society?

    A narrative story that addressed these questions would be gripping.

    Against this backdrop the countering heroism of the response to the attack and the humanity displayed by our Prime Minister would be brought into sharper relief.

    In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 New Yorkers were shocked wandering around asking each other and any journalist who questioned them, "Why us?"

    George Bush wove a simplistic narrative of bad guys who hate freedom. Continuing the cycle of mindless violence into the present day.

    There has been no resolution on screen, or in reality.

    By concentrating on the decency of Jacinda Ardern will this new film be any different?

  16. Jenny How to get there 16

    I walked out of Christchurch counter-terrorism hui – Wellington hasn't been paying attention

    Mahvash Ali

    Mahvash Ali is a Kiwi Muslim journalist and currently works as an associate producer on The Project.

    …..While Juliet Moses has really copped most of the criticism, I was far more offended by the preceding speaker – Edwina Pio, she has an impressive portfolio and amongst a host of other prestigious roles holds the position of New Zealand's first and only professor of diversity.

    Pio's speech was peppered with quotes by Muslim philosophers and poets. For someone who quoted Rumi so liberally, I could not believe how tone deaf her speech was.

    She, like many others, chose to use the term "lone" actor terrorist.

    It's well and truly time to call it a day with that phrase.

    Far-right extremism is a collective identity.

    It is what the Christchurch terrorist subscribed to, as did the man who recently killed a Muslim family in Canada. The terrorist who carried out the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting was a white supremacist just like the 2011 Norway attacker.

    Nothing about their actions and ideology is a single, unconnected incident.

    And while the media gets all the blame for popularising the term "lone" gunman, perhaps it should start with academics changing the narrative…

    I walked out of Christchurch counter-terrorism hui – Wellington hasn't been paying attention (msn.com)

    .

    We have been told that the theme for this movie will be how, from our leaders down, what a wonderfully inclusive bunch we all are.
    I can pretty much guarantee you, that the 'lone gunman' narrative will be repeated very early in this film, (if not in the first credits).
    The Tuhoe 'terror raids', Don Brash's Orewa speech, the state sanctioned "racist" dawn raids targeting Pacific Islanders, The New Zealand Army being deployed against Ngati Whatua, our support for racist sporting contacts, all these searing images and events from our recent pass, will be brushed aside and not get any screen time, to be replaced by 'lone gunman'. The resurgence of white supremacism in this country, (if it ever went away) will all be swept under the carpet with one inclusive phrase, 'lone wolf', in a fluffy feel good movie that makes us feel better about ourselves.

    Uh Oh!

    I spent a year watching the alt-Right after the devastating Christchurch terror attacks

    Glenn McConnell

    …..we know this ugly underbelly exists. We know, also, that the alleged terrorist's views are not that of a "lone wolf". His views are shared among a uniting group of white supremacists and would-be fascists, who connect predominantly online….

    …White supremacy, xenophobia and the alt-Right have always been present in New Zealand. After all, anti-immigrant and "iwi v Kiwi" rhetoric has been treated as fair game during elections.

    ……The days after March 15 saw us all come together in the most powerful expressions of unity and aroha I have witnessed.

    This week, I searched for commemoration events and found the most frightful comments I have seen all year.

    These comments were not hidden. They did not come from anonymous accounts. They were not shared on encrypted apps or on the dark web.

    They were posted in neighbourhood Facebook groups across the country.

    Pākehā men and women complained, "stop ramming this down our throats". They said they were sick of this, bored of these community events, and annoyed with Islamic associations opening their doors.

    Poor, bruised Pākehā victims … and Brian Tamaki. Wait, they aren't the victims.

    They have no right to complain. New Zealand, get yourself together.

    This ambivalence to what was the greatest tragedy of our time scares me more than anything.

    As we approach the anniversary, we need to take another hard look at ourselves. This white-victimhood, which has become so popular, cannot go uncontested.

    I spent a year watching the alt-Right after the devastating Christchurch terror attacks | Stuff.co.nz

    In this environment, “Make the film and be damned ” takes on a different meaning.

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