Operation 8

by David Larsen / 26 April, 2011
Errol Wright and Abi King-Jones's documentary about the 2007 anti-terrorism raids deserves a wide audience
Have you noticed that when people, especially politicians, say "We need to have a national discussion about this", it generally means, "We are not going to have a national discussion about this"? I'm not sure exactly what a national discussion would look like, or where it would take place; on any given subject, we seem to go in for lots of little discussions, in lots of different places, often with very little cross-pollination. But imagine for a moment that you are in a giant room filled with every other New Zealander, and someone says, "Now we're going to watch a film, and afterwards maybe we could talk about it".

That is the spirit in which Operation 8, Errol Wright and Abi King-Jones's documentary about the 2007 anti-terrorism raids, needs to be viewed. And I say "needs to be viewed" advisedly, because this is a film that every New Zealander ought to see. It has a very clear political agenda, and we ought to welcome that: there is no way to deal with this subject without taking a position on it, and a film which attempted to present itself as innocently objective would strike me as far more suspect than one which wears its heart on its sleeve. A two-hour film about three years in the life of a police case and the people it targeted simply cannot tell the full story; there isn't time. The devil is in the things you choose to leave out. I'm much happier with the selection bias of the film-makers out in the open.



As you'll gather from the trailer, the film speaks for the 18 people who were arrested in 2007, and their families, communities and friends. Three years on, they are finally on the verge of having their day in court. This puts obvious limitations on what can be discussed in the film. Wright and King-Jones avoid focusing on the charges the 18 are facing, aside from noting that the original attempt to charge 12 of them under the Terrorism Suppression Act fell over when the Solicitor-General ruled the act's requirements had not been met.

Instead the film asks questions about who was targeted, how evidence was gathered, and what the implications are of having a dedicated anti-terrorism squad as a permanent feature of New Zealand's law enforcement apparatus. For example, Police commissioner Howard Broad is shown implicitly acknowledging in media interviews that part of the Crown case rests on evidence gathered by informants. The film examines past cases where informers have been caught lying or inciting the people on whom they're informing to break the law; we see an interview with Patrick O'Brien, a former police undercover agent who says, very straightforwardly, "I tampered with evidence; I lied; that was my job". (He was not involved in evidence-gathering for Operation 8; he makes it clear, however, that he does not think police culture has changed since his time.) Ross Meurant - hardly a left-wing radical - is interviewed on the phenomenon of police isolation and self-reinforcing paranoia, a condition thanks to which, he says, their selective reading of ambiguous evidence is not reliable. "Much of what they deduce is bullshit."

It would be perfectly legitimate to question how relevant these discussions are to the Operation 8 case; questioning is what the film asks you to do. Likewise, the fact that Operation 8 targeted activists from a wide range of unrelated left-wing causes may be simply because those activists were covertly working together, and not, as the film suggests, because those are the people the police are institutionally programmed to target, and sooner or later, an anti-terrorism squad is going to target someone. It would be as naive to imagine New Zealanders are incapable of plotting armed insurrection as it would be to suppose that the police are incapable of abusing their powers.

Some people will vehemently disagree with this film. Others will endorse it whole-heartedly. A lot of people will have things to say about whether and where it crosses over from advocacy into factual distortion. I want to hear all of those voices. This is not an issue to stay quiet on. The film is currently screening at World Cinema Showcase. It may screen at the New Zealand International Film Festival later this year, and it's possible it will get some sort of theatrical distribution as well. I hope so. Personally, I want to get hold of it on DVD and watch it at least twice more. It's a densely argued, detail-rich two hours, and it deserves to be watched, absorbed, and discussed. Yes, nationally.

OPERATION 8, directed by Errol Wright and Abi King-Jones, at the World Cinema Showcase.
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

Jacinda Ardern pregnant: Politicians past and present lend their support
86105 2018-01-19 15:45:44Z Politics

Jacinda Ardern pregnant: Politicians past and pres…

by RNZ

Politicians from at home and abroad are reaching out to offer congratulations to the Prime Minister mum-to-be.

Read more
Jacinda Ardern is going to be a Prime Minister AND a mum
86091 2018-01-19 12:36:44Z Politics

Jacinda Ardern is going to be a Prime Minister AND…

by Katie Parker

New Zealand’s newly minted PM and bizarrely cool and normal lady Jacinda Ardern has announced that she and partner Clarke Gayford are expecting a baby

Read more
Jacinda Ardern announces pregnancy
86074 2018-01-19 11:11:36Z Politics

Jacinda Ardern announces pregnancy

by RNZ

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced that she is pregnant, with the baby due in June.

Read more
What the media silly season taught us
85933 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Politics

What the media silly season taught us

by Graham Adams

To the eternal gratitude of media chiefs, each holiday period seems to throw up at least one minor scandal that runs in the absence of anything newsy.

Read more
Richard Prebble: Jacinda Ardern will face the tyranny of events
86009 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Politics

Richard Prebble: Jacinda Ardern will face the tyra…

by Richard Prebble

I predicted Bill English would lose the election and the winner would be Winston Peters. But no forecaster, including the PM, predicted her pregnancy.

Read more
Aokigahara: More than just the ‘suicide forest’
85966 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z World

Aokigahara: More than just the ‘suicide forest’

by Justin Bennett

It's known as a 'suicide forest', but Justin Bennett found Aokigahara's quiet beauty outweighed its infamous reputation.

Read more
Truth and Lye: New perspectives on the brilliance of Len Lye
85816 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Arts

Truth and Lye: New perspectives on the brilliance …

by Sally Blundell

New essays on New Zealand-born US artist Len Lye elevate him to the status of Australasia’s most notable 20th-century artist.

Read more
Brain activity may hold the secret to helping infertile couples
86046 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Health

Brain activity may hold the secret to helping infe…

by Nicky Pellegrino

For about a third of infertility cases in New Zealand, there is no obvious reason why seemingly fertile couples struggle to conceive.

Read more