★★★★ - STUFF
- When unionist, advocate, campaigner and all-round good sort Helen Kelly died in 2016, of a cancer the restlessness and impatience of which were nothing if not appropriate to the host, we lost one of the great ones.
Tony Sutorius' film Helen Kelly: Together picks up Kelly's life in what would be her last nine months. Without preamble, narration or much in the way of introduction, we are dropped into a life, with Kelly still fighting on all fronts.
There is Kelly's ongoing campaign for a better training and safety regime in the New Zealand forestry service, a burgeoning campaign for better working condition on farms – a meeting with farming industry mouth-pieces on the no-brainer of improving safety on quad bikes quickly turns into an intractable mess of PR platitudes and weaselisms – and Kelly's advocacy on behalf of the Pike River families. These scenes, as often as not at rain-sodden memorial services and protests, provide the film-makers with some of their most indelible images. A recording of the miner's last moments – a phone call – as the first explosion ravaged the mine, is something I will never forget having heard.
And then there is the fight against the cancer, paired with Kelly's new found championing of the freedom to use medical marijuana.
Kelly knew early the tumours would win, but wanted to stay alive every day she had to keep up her work on behalf of everybody who would come after her. A refrain throughout the film is Kelly's belief that her work – and the joy she took from it – is what is holding back the end.
What will stay with you from Helen Kelly: Together isn't the details, the victories, or the battles yet to win. It will be the sheer quality of Kelly's spirit. The absolutely boundless faith she had that her fellow human beings were always worth the effort and that what is good, honest and true will always eventually prevail, as long as we don't sit on our hands and allow any other outcome to ever take root.
Helen Kelly was distinguished by her ability to talk to and take on anyone, anytime. She was a fierceless and fantastic friend and advocate to the people who needed her. And an unerring thorn in the side of the hypocrites, liars and self-servers she went up against. She was, in every definition of the word that matters, a hero.
Tony Sutorius might not have made the definitive biopic of Kelly, but he and his team have made a fascinating, illuminating and often humbling record of a life being superbly lived. Very recommended.
- Graeme Tuckett, STUFF
Helen Kelly: Together is now playing at Light House Cinema!