When New Zealand film-maker Gaylene Preston rang Helen Clark to discuss making a documentary about Clark's role as head of the United Nations Development Programme she had little idea how her year would unfold; or her film.

What begins as an observation of Clark's six-year tenure at the UN becomes a fascinating analysis of how the Secretary-General is selected - the UN's top job, and a position that's been held only by men.

We know the outcome of our former Prime Minister's bid to make history in 2016, but this doesn't make Preston's film any less intense or gripping. Clark's role as leader of the Development Programme (I didn't appreciate the position's magnitude and responsibility) made her a worthy candidate, and yet, as we discover along the long-winded, bias and farcical election process, Clark never had a shot.

Helen Clark on the campaign trail.
Helen Clark on the campaign trail.

On one hand, Preston presents a UN making a real impact, its Development Programme spending $7 billion to improve the lives of millions. On the other, we see a seemingly ineffectual organisation controlled by select countries for their own benefit.

The campaigning, however, is still fierce, and in her typical calm and collected fashion Clark travels the world and campaigns tirelessly. She seems happy to chat to Preston about her life but, as you expect from a professional politician, it doesn't feel we ever get beyond what she'd like us to know.

There are delightful, unguarded moments, such as Helen's father George (who steals the film) showing us a chest freezer filled with months of meals made by Helen and stored in margarine containers, watching Clark rocking social media, and drinking a beer out of a wine glass at a function.

There's also a moving post-election interview that perhaps comes as close as we'll get to Clark expressing her true disappointment at losing.

Preston should be applauded too for gaining unprecedented access to the UN, regardless of what you think of this strange world, filled with people whispering among themselves and checking phones during important discussions, it's riveting being part of it for 93 minutes.

Cast:

Helen Clark

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Director:

Gaylene Preston

Running Time:

93 mins

Rating:

Exempt

Verdict:

Not quite what you expect, but intriguing all the same.

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