Helen Clark’s ill-fated bid for the top job at the UN is documented with extraordinary proximity and passion in My Year with Helen. Alex Casey sits down with the former NZ prime minister and director Gaylene Preston, in an empty foyer at the movies, to discuss the shit that happens.
Of all the firm handshakes in the world, ‘twas Helen Clark’s that nearly crushed my brittle, brittle bones to a very fine dust. Last week – long before the streets of Auckland’s CBD ran red with the sacrificial blood of Don McGlashan – the ex-Prime Minister, ex-Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme and tremendous emoji-user was in town with filmmaker Gaylene Preston to yarn about her new documentary My Year With Helen.
Filmed last year during Helen Clark’s bid to secure the position as the first woman secretary general of the UN, My Year With Helen is angering evidence of a reinforced glass ceiling in action. See, no matter how much light it appears to be letting in, a woman is always going to get a big old donk on the head for trying to charge through it. Because, spoiler alert: like a lot of people towards the tail-end of 2016, Clark doesn’t really come out of the experience smiling.
Despite being what looked like a shoo-in to win on paper, a favourite of the media, and surrounded by a group of unwavering optimists, My Year With Helen is all the more fascinating for chalking up a loss over a win. It’s a portrait full of extraordinary candid moments of pause, heavy disappointed air, and a puzzlingly devastating wooden Buzzy Bee atop an office desk. And if that moves you to tears, wait till you see the oceans of curry she cooks for her 94-year-old father back home in Waihi.