Film festival to illuminate activist’s life

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Social justice leader . . . The extraordinary life and untimely death of leading New Zealand unionist and social justice campaigner Helen Kelly is explored in documentary Helen Kelly – Together, screening at the New Zealand International Film Festival. IMAGE: NZIFF

New Zealand documentary maker Tony Sutorius had the privilege of close access to unionist and social justice campaigner Helen Kelly for the final year of her life.

The resulting extraordinary documentary, Helen Kelly – Together, reveals some of the essential nature of a woman who continued care for and fight for the most vulnerable members of society, right up to the end.

Helen Kelly – Together is screening in Dunedin this week as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival.

Speaking to The Star by phone, Sutorius said Ms Kelly was truly a “woman of the people, who had networks of contacts right across all sectors of the community”.

Sutorius walked alongside Ms Kelly as she underwent hospital treatment for non-smoking related lung cancer, butted heads with Wellington bureaucrats, spent time with the Pike River families, and fought for justice on health and safety.

“I was very aware of the privilege of my position, to be able to spend that time with her. It was something very special,” Sutorius said.

“And it was a very positive experience as well, to be with such a seriously humanistic person, and to gain a sense of how she operated.

“Helen was very intelligent, she had a lot of practical knowledge, and she really listened to people’s issues and cared about them.

“And she had enormous energy – even when she was in the hospice, she was working.”

Along with its intimate portrait of a New Zealand social justice icon, Sutorius believes the film also reveals a lot about New Zealand society – the way we intersect with each other and who gets justice.

“I think people right across the political spectrum will find it interesting.”

Tony Sutorius will be in Dunedin for the New Zealand International Film Festival screening of Helen Kelly – Together on Wednesday, August 14, at 6.15pm in the Regent Theatre. The screening will be followed by a Q&A session.

The film will also be screened at 2.15pm on August 15 at Rialto Cinemas.