Janet McAllister: Chilling experiences in our own backyard

Photo / Supplied
Photo / Supplied

Imagine we live in a city where children are woken at gunpoint by police, taken outside their homes and forced to their knees. Where their grandmothers are warned not to go near those children when they start to cry.

Imagine we live in a country where a family with children as young as 4 are held in their own shed for most of a day by police while their mother pleads for them to be taken to the police station so they can at least get "what human beings get": food, water and a toilet.

A country where a police road blockade is set up on a historic confiscation line, so that masked gunmen clad in sinister black can stop, shock and awe all-comers and arrest them if they refuse to get out of their cars when ordered.

You don't have to imagine it - this is (allegedly?) modern New Zealand, as we're reminded by Operation 8, a forceful new documentary by Errol Wright and Abi King-Jones on the "terror raids" of October 15, 2007.

Showing at Auckland cinemas from next week, the film, described as important and a must-see, is getting well-deserved rave reviews around the country.

Whatever your political views, the details it presents of the actual raids are horrifying: we're used to seeing other countries' injustices portrayed in festival documentaries, but to see ordinary New Zealanders describe chilling behaviour by state representatives against children in our own country is disturbing.

According to Operation 8, for three months after their ordeal, the Ruatoki family, who had been held in their shed, slept in their lounge because the children were too scared to sleep in their own beds. A family held by outlaw gunmen rather than police gunmen would presumably get much-needed victim support; according to the film, this family was offered no counselling and had to seek and pay for their own.

Feature documentaries can fit in more information and analysis than feature articles or television programmes. Operation 8 explores several contexts for the whole immense and expensive years-long police operation, including the continuation of colonisation and the American-led "War on Terror".

It raises questions rather than answering them, pointing out that the police are subjective, too, and that media look for the most exciting story. There's even humour: one particular revelation of recorded conversation is hilarious.

In other local documentary news, last year's warm-hearted Gordonia, about a Titirangi car wrecker's battle with the then-Waitakere City Council to keep a community of eccentrics on his land, is now available on DVD on Trade Me. It's a smaller story than Operation 8, but it also shows the violence of the state (metaphorical and otherwise), in the form of petty bureaucrats conveniently and repeatedly losing lodged documents, and diggers crushing dwellings. Films like these are evidence of how much we need (and are exploiting) self-funded, non-commissioned film-makers who take up stories which professional media don't touch. Without the film-makers' impressive commitment, research, skills and general concern about society, marginalised voices would have remained suppressed.

As Gordonia film-maker Tom Reilly says, self-deprecatingly, about his subjects: "They wanted media involved and, unfortunately, I was the best they could get."

What other stories are out there?

* Operation 8 opens at Rialto cinemas from Thursday and the Academy Cinema from June 16; see gordonia.info.

- NZ Herald

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