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The Kaipara Affair

The Kaipara Affair is a document of urgent importance to a nation still too easily inflamed by the rhetoric of politicians who rail against race-based privilege.

The Kaipara Affair, New Zealand, 2005

Director: Barry Barclay
Producer: Don Selwyn
Screenplay: Barry Barclay
Photography: Fred Renata
Editor: Davorin Fahn
Sound: Dick Reade
Music: Stephen McCurdy

With: Helen Smyth, Emad Jabbar, Mikaera Miru

133 minutes, M-offensive language

“....The Kaipara Affair, Barry Barclay’s provocative yet often lyrical examination of the threat posed to the Kaipara Harbour by rapacious commercial fishing and development, is the work of a man who took his time. He lived for almost three years in the small settlement of Tinopai on the harbour’s north side, getting to know the story he wanted to tell and winning the confidence of the people he needed to talk to. And he eases the viewer in slowly, too: we’re 26 minutes into the film before the issue that everyone’s been skirting around is precisely spelled out. The payoff is remarkable. The Kaipara Affair is a document of urgent importance to a nation still too easily inflamed by the rhetoric of politicians who rail against race-based privilege. It’s a sobering reminder of the damage still being caused to the natural environment by heedless development which seeks to use the hinterland simply as a playground for city-dwellers. It’s a chilling indictment of the ponderousness of a centralised bureaucracy whose protocols demand endless consultation and expert reports when locals are calling for action and leadership. And it’s a timely and lucid reminder of the principles of tino rangitiratanga and the obligations contained in the Treaty of Waitangi. Like all the best documentaries, The Kaipara Affair has a main character who is irresistibly watchable. Plenty of people, Maori and Pakeha, make it plain that they’ve had their differences with Mikaera Miru over the years – although, interestingly, even his ancient enemies speak in his defence here because of what he is trying to do. We see instantly that he can be pig-headed, rude and unlikeable when he wants to be, but his passion and clarity and his dedication to his mission to save the harbour drag us headlong through the story.” – Peter Calder, 10/08/2006,

“Pistols have been drawn over allegedly "disgusting and offensive" alterations made to The Kaipara Affair, an award-winning documentary to be screened on TV One on Saturday. A top New Zealand movie-maker, Barry Barclay, of the Wairarapa, wrote and directed the film about the Tinopai community's fight to ban commercial fishing and save fish stocks in the Kaipara Harbour. Mr Barclay said yesterday that Tinopai was "a little town that roared". Maori and Pakeha combined to impose a rahui on commercial fishing which was eventually endorsed by the Government. The film, made in 2004, was edited to one hour 33 minutes and earned critical praise at the Auckland International Film Festival a year ago. It also won an award at a festival in Canada. When Mr Barclay was named an Arts Foundation laureate in 2004, he used the $50,000 prize to buy a video projector to show The Kaipara Affair to the people whose story it tells in community halls in Tinopai, Kaiwaka and other small towns. "The beauty of the film is that it shows Maori and Pakeha working together on a hot topic. It was loved around the country. Viewers respected where the Tinopai people were coming from," he said. "When the boffins get on to it in 20 years it could be regarded as a landmark documentary." Mr Barclay made the film as a freelance director for He Taonga Films with New Zealand on Air funding. He had understood it was to be edited to 90 minutes for television, but last year a decision was made to trim it to 70 minutes without his involvement. He considered the edit "offensive" and was "ropable" about the way it had changed the way two Tinopai leaders, Mikaera Miru and Raewyn Macdonald, were portrayed. Mr Barclay wrote a 22-page critique called "Pistol on the table" explaining in detail his objections to the re-cut and sent it to Prime Minister Helen Clark and the board of New Zealand on Air three months ago. He got no reply. "I've demanded the credits be changed as it is going out as my work and they have agreed to do that," he said. "I'm 62 and I wouldn't hoot and holler over arty-farty issues about editing style or the rights of the director being impinged. "The cut is disgusting. It has betrayed the Tinopai community. It has made Maori mere protesters, with the Government on track and everybody else can just shut up. "I don't have any real anger with He Taonga, but I do have with New Zealand on Air. TVNZ bullying is part of the game, but New Zealand on Air use public money and I would like their production funding frozen while their protocols are looked at." Ms Macdonald said she had liked the long version of the film, but felt the shortened documentary portrayed her as "a white middle-aged racist" and Mr Miru as a "rabblerouser". "The little bits about me left in are very hurtful. It would be better if I had been left out," she said. "We fought for seven or eight years to get the Government to listen to us. Mikaera had some good things to say, but they have all been cut out." Mr Miru said he suspected cuts in the film, such as references he had made to tino rangatiratanga (Maori sovereignty), could indicate political interference. "I find the changes devious and sinister. The new version tries to undermine the collective input of the community," he said. TVNZ public affairs manager Megan Richards said the broadcaster had commissioned He Taonga Films producer Don Selwyn to provide a 70-minute documentary for television screening. There had been an "error" in a New Zealand on Air document saying the television version of The Kaipara Affair would be 90 minutes long, but this “mistake'' had included advertisements, she said. It was normal for TVNZ to maintain "some kind of editorial oversight" over the editing of documentaries. "If we felt, for instance, that the narrative was not clear we would relay that to the producer," Ms Richards said. TVNZ was involved in "fine-tuning the product" and there was "nothing unusual" about that. Ms Richards said that Mr Selwyn had accepted "full responsibility" for editing the documentary to 70 minutes and made the cuts “entirely at his own discretion.'' The TVNZ position was that Mr Barclay's dissatisfaction stemmed from conflict between the director and producer, she said. Mr Selwyn said he had taken it upon himself to do the cuts because the documentary was outside its delivery date and He Taonga Films had to fulfil its contractual obligations toward TVNZ and New Zealand on Air which had funded the project. Describing his situation as "being caught between a rock and a hard place", he said he understood how Mr Barclay felt creatively. The 70-minute cut of The Kaipara Affair retained the information and thrust of the feature documentary, but was different because it was for television. Mr Selwyn said the full documentary could still be screened in festivals around the world where it was certain to be appreciated because of increasing interest in indigenous rights.” — ‘Film editing `betrays' Tinopai's brave stand’, by Mike Barrington, The Northern Advocate, 13/7/2006

Screenings: The Kaipara Affari screened on 24 September 2008 in a series of feature films by the late Barry Barclay; and on 13 June 2007 as part of the Arts Foundation Laureates season