Friday June 20, 02:28 PM
The Hollow Men was a book, then a play and now its a film. Maggie Tait of NZPA talks the book’s author, the film’s maker and the reluctant star Don Brash.
As election year heats up a documentary based on Nicky Hager’s political blockbuster The Hollow Men is about to hit cinema screens.
And film-maker Alister Barry with Nicky Hager — who wrote the critical expose of the National Party based on 475 stolen or leaked emails from former leader Don Brash — are promising new "revelations".
Dr Brash, whose political career was brought to an untimely halt shortly after Hager’s book was published in 2006, won’t be in the audience. He went to a theatrical play based on the Hager book but said that was a mistake and told NZPA he was sick and tired of the issue.
"I made the mistake of going to see the play. I shouldn’t have — it wasted my time."
The Hollow Men will screen as part of this year’s New Zealand International Film Festivals.
Dr Brash questioned the timing.
"I confess to being highly suspicious as to why in an election year this film was appearing."
The book documented the behind the scenes goings-on in the lead-up to the last election.
It claimed that Dr Brash and other senior National MPs — including new leader John Key — did not disclose the extent of their contacts with the Exclusive Brethren and traced the influence of a number right wing organisations and individuals on Brash’s rise.
Dr Brash said the book gave a "highly distorted view" of National and the play had made him "appear not sinister so much as naive and I didn’t think that was a good look at all."
The full-length documentary is directed and produced by Barry. He said the film was about National but other parties; Labour, United Future and New Zealand First, do not escape criticism either. ACT escaped censure for being upfront about what they stood for and who supported them.
"It’s not a party political attack."
Barry has protected himself against potential claims the film could be treated as advertising under the Electoral Finance Act — a law intended to prevent covert campaigns like the Exclusive Brethren’s — by checking with the Electoral Commission first.
"Perhaps it will be attacked… by those who have been using this (Act) to beat up the Government," he said.
The commission said documentaries did not come under their area of interest.
"The film is a serious attempt to inform my fellow citizens about how politics works. If the consequences of that are that some people who see the film may be disinclined to vote for (one of the parties) I can’t be responsible for that."
The idea of the film had been with Barry for some time — he had wanted to take a look at political tactics and spin-doctoring. After Dr Brash’s Orewa speech in January 2004 which sent political shock waves through the nation Barry decided to look at National.
He had started his research when Hager’s book was published.
"Suddenly the research side of things was taken care of."
He approached Hager who agreed to work with him on the project.
"We’ve done more research so we’ve got a few more revelations."
These included developments since the book and "also there’s more extensive information that’s come to light about the Brethren".
Hager said the most important things in the film were already in the book.
"The main thing for the audience is that most of what I wrote about still applies. So some of what I have done is just updating what was going on then so people can see its still going on now."
The film also looks at the impact of the book and the relationship between media, politicians and the public.
Barry said the documentary uses "miles" of archive footage with fresh interviews with academics and journalists.
"As the techniques are described and discussed in the emails and in the narration we see this stuff being put into action."
Anyone who saw the film "would probably have a different take when they next view the TV news I’m sure".
The rise of John Key was a sub-plot.
"It was very interesting to see as we went through all the archive footage and the actual history the way in which John Key emerges."
Dr Brash and Mr Key were both new to Parliament in 2002.
"You see in the film the emergence of this other person coming in behind Don Brash."
He hoped the film would "better inform viewers and voters" about Mr Key.
Barry said it was challenging to make a visually interesting film when a large part of it was based on emails.
"What I didn’t want to have was miles and miles of printed words on the screen."
He used actors to voice emails with visual and other dramatic ways of presenting the information.
Hager told NZPA he was pleased the film was made; "I’m pleased because it means more people will see the material now."
The film got a $25,000 Screen Innovation Production Fund grant.
Dr Brash said that was "disgraceful".
But Barry could not see why — he hoped after DVD sales to break even.
Dr Brash was still smarting over the emails.
"I was appalled that Nicky Hager was able to write a book from which he presumably was able to make some money on the basis of stolen correspondence and the police were able to do nothing about it."
He described the police inquiry as desultory.
Hager has always maintained the emails were leaked to him by National Party sources and said those who claimed they were gained by theft should apologise to him.
Hager said people did not get rich writing books in New Zealand and he could have made more money per hour cleaning toilets than he got from publishing The Hollow Men.
Asked for comment on the film a National Party spokesman said "who cares? We are just focused on things that matter."
Barry has made films about the New Right reforms of the 1980s and 90 and A Civilised Society about the 1990s battle for school bulk funding which screened at the festivals last year.
The Hollow Men premiers on July 20 in Wellington.