★★★★½ - STUFF
- Ms. Information is essential -
When Covid arrived, director Gwen Isaac was already working with Dr. Siouxsie Wiles, gathering interviews and shots towards a planned documentary about the microbiologist and communicator.
As the world was upended, Isaac found herself with a unique front-row seat to New Zealand's Covid response. Wiles was involved in advising the government, but also launched herself into a blizzard of interview requests from seemingly every TV and radio station in the country.
As someone who understood the science that underpinned vaccines and lock-downs, Wiles felt an immense responsibility to always turn up. She knew that if she didn't, the TV or radio station would just ask someone else to fill in – and that person might be dangerously ill-informed.
Put simply, Wiles figured that the more chances people had to hear the actual science, the more chance they had of saving their own life. And it worked. By the time the first lock-down was announced, there weren't many people in the country who didn't understand the reasoning behind it, and didn't welcome the government's quick action. The "team of five million" might have been a short-lived phenomenon, but it was real while it lasted.
When we stepped back outside four weeks later, there was a palpable feeling of pride and celebration up and down the motu. The little country that could, had done it. Pretty much alone in the world, we had beaten Covid.
Covid, of course, had other ideas. When the country went into a second lockdown in August 2021, there were mutterings – and an online disinformation campaign appeared. As Auckland and Northland remained locked until December, the toxicity took hold. A small, but very vocal minority were outraged at the vaccine mandates and the general loss of freedoms. And Siouxsie Wiles, with her pink hair, non-Kiwi articulation and ubiquitous presence, became a key target for the hatred.
Ms. Information is the only film I have ever seen that has the pre-credits disclaimer "all the threats in this film are real". The abuse and threats that Wiles – and others – were subjected to were vile, inhuman and despicable. Anyone who defends or tries to excuse the people behind those threats, should hang their head in shame.
Ms. Information is a bracing, sometimes shocking and superbly watchable film. Isaac had unprecedented access to our Covid response, and also to the splintering of our country. She has made a film that honours and interweaves those twin narratives in a way that tells both stories – and allows those stories to inform each other. Ms. Information is a very special achievement of editing and of sheer storytelling nous.
If you missed this film during its sold-out festival run, do make an effort to catch it now.
As a film about a terrific and unbelievably resilient woman, Ms. Information is great. But as an unexpected prism through which to understand what the hell has happened to us all in the last three years, Ms. Information is essential.
- Graeme Tuckett, STUFF
Ms. Information is now playing at Light House Cinema!